Tesco could ban products with 'excessive' packaging to cut plastic use

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
A shopper carries a Tesco plastic bag in London. The supermarket wants to cut plastic waste. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Tesco (TSCO.L) could decide not to stock products with “excessive or inappropriate” packaging from 2020 as part of a push to reduce plastic waste, its CEO said on Thursday.

The supermarket giant will assess the size and suitability of all packaging from its suppliers and will “reserve the right not to list the product” from next year if it uses more plastic than necessary, according to Dave Lewis.

“We can’t overlook the fact that for too long, packaging on consumer goods has been excessive,” Lewis said, writing in the Guardian.

“We have all looked at the settled contents of a cereal packet and puzzled over the comparative size of the bag and box. Or opened a bag of crisps and wondered why the packaging is twice the size of the contents.”

Noting that the need to reduce plastic waste was “urgent,” Lewis nonetheless said each individual category of product would be examined separately, products would be treated “fairly,” and suppliers would be given “sufficient time” to make changes.

The statement comes as Tesco moves into the second stage of a plan to tackle excess plastic usage.

The chain, Britain’s largest, audited all packaging materials in its business in the first quarter of 2018 and said it is “taking action” to remove all non-recyclable and unnecessary packaging.

“Over the last year we’ve changed the packaging for 800 Tesco brand products, removing 4,000 tonnes of hard-to-recycle packaging,” Lewis said.

“By the end of this year, we will have removed the hardest-to-recycle materials from Tesco products and are working with our branded suppliers to do the same.”

This month, Lewis noted, Tesco scrapped plastic bags with home delivery orders — a move that will cut down on 250 million bags a year.

He said his company was examining how it could reduce waste across its business based on trials being run at a Tesco Extra store in Cambridge, which includes a loose-only fruit and veg aisle.

Tesco remains the market leader in the UK, with 27% of the market, according to the latest marketshare data released on Tuesday.

But discount retailers Lidl and Aldi, as well as online supermarket Ocado, are growing at a much faster pace.

Overall, UK consumers spent £27bn on groceries in the three months to 11 August.