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2020 meant less plastic on Tesco shelves across the UK

Customers shopping for food and household products in the Hove branch of Tesco, the U.K.’s biggest supermarket chain.

Customers shopping for food and household products in the Hove branch of Tesco, the U.K.’s biggest supermarket chain.

Philip Reeve

Tesco claims to have made significant headway last year in cutting back on the plastic stocked on its shelves, after working closely with more than 1,000 suppliers to meet its annual goal to slash the amount of excess material wrapped around its products, it announced last week.

Britain's largest supermarket said it removed 1 billion pieces of plastic from across its U.K. business in 2020, including the bags used to pack loose vegetables, fruit and baked goods, plastic shrink wraps around multi-packs of tinned food, plastic in Christmas products and plastic wrapping around greetings cards.

The milestone means the firm has met its November 2019 pledge to remove 1 billion pieces of plastic packaging from its U.K. stores, as the retail sector faces growing pressure to reduce its reliance on plastic.

"Our own-label and branded suppliers have had a lot to contend with in 2020 so removing a billion pieces of plastic is fantastic progress," said Tesco quality director Sarah Bradbury. "Our work to remove, reduce, reuse and recycle will continue into 2021. There is no place for unnecessary or non-recyclable packaging in our business."

Tesco calculated banning plastic-wrapped multipacks from its shelves in early 2020 saved 67 million pieces of plastic alone.

Tesco calculated banning plastic-wrapped multipacks from its shelves in early 2020 saved 67 million pieces of plastic alone, and it also expects its nationwide partnership with online shopping service Loop, which it launched last summer, to see an increasing share of the supermarket's groceries delivered in reusable packaging.

In August 2019, 1,500 Tesco suppliers were informed that packaging would form a key part of all future procurement decisions, with partners warned that products reliant on excessive packaging or hard-to-recycle materials would be at risk of being axed from Tesco supermarket shelves, it said.

Paula Chin, sustainable materials specialist at conservation charity WWF, commended Tesco for its progress in tackling plastic waste and urged other firms to launch similar initiatives.

"Plastic pollution continues to be one of the most visible symptoms of the environmental crisis we're currently facing," she said. "Businesses, governments and households have all got an important part to play, so it's encouraging to see Tesco delivering against their commitments to significantly reduce the amount of plastic we use. We look forward to welcoming further initiatives of this scale in 2021 and beyond."

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