A Lidl less conservation – up to a third of supermarket packaging not widely recyclable

Which? is calling on the Government to make clear and simple recycling labelling compulsory after it found up to 29 per cent of plastic packaging used by supermarkets is either non-recyclable or difficult to recycle.

In a snapshot investigation, the consumer champion analysed the packaging on a shopping basket of 27 everyday own-brand items at 10 major supermarkets and found that Lidl had the lowest proportion of widely recyclable packaging (71 per cent).

Iceland (73 per cent), Ocado (74 per cent) and Sainsbury’s (75 per cent) were also close to the bottom of the pile.

Which? researchers attributed Lidl’s poor performance in part to the use of hard-to-recycle plastics for some foods, when rivals like top performer Morrisons (81 per cent) had found greener alternatives.

For example, Morrisons packaged its chocolate cake in a widely recyclable plastic box, while Lidl’s cake came in mixed packaging comprising a non-recyclable film within a widely recyclable box with a non-recyclable window.

Some groceries had non-recyclable packaging no matter which supermarket they came from. All the packaged easy-peel oranges, for example, came in nets with plastic labels.

The Which? investigation found that between four per cent (Iceland) and 10 per cent (Waitrose) of the packaging analysed could only be recycled at supermarket collection points or “bring banks” rather than at the kerbside.

But this wasn’t always made clear on the labelling. And a separate survey showed that fewer than one in ten shoppers (9%) always or often take packaging back to a supermarket to be recycled.

Which? researchers were surprised to find huge inconsistencies, with different systems of labelling used and some items not labelled at all. Our expert also believed some products – for example, M&S and Waitrose apples – were labelled as non-recyclable but the type of plastic they’re made of is recyclable at supermarket bring banks.

Still more had labels that were only visible once the food was unwrapped – not helpful to those trying to make a considered choice in the supermarket aisle.

That’s why Which? is calling on the Government and manufacturers to simplify current recycling labels and make recycling labelling compulsory on all plastic packaging, so shoppers know what can and can’t be recycled, and how.

Along with simpler labelling, Which? is calling on manufacturers to stop using non-recyclable packaging where recyclable options exist.

Nikki Stopford, Director of Research and Publishing at Which?, said:

“Which? believes a lot more can be done to increase the amount of recyclable packaging and the way it is labelled so that consumers know what can be recycled and how to recycle it.

“The plastic pollution crisis makes it more crucial than ever that the Government, manufacturers and supermarkets do the best they can to banish plastic that cannot be recycled and promote the use of less damaging packaging.”


Notes to Editors:

Problematic plastic

  • All plastics are technically recyclable and by “non-recyclable” we mean this cannot be done at kerbside or supermarket bring banks in the UK.
  • Black plastic trays – While often technically recyclable, pure carbon-black plastic is not picked up by the infrared sorting machines at UK recycling facilities and is rejected. Mixed coloured packaging or off-black colours are OK. But trials are starting to try to fix this issue.
  • Easy peeler nets – These are not only non-recyclable, but they can also cause huge problems if they wrongly end up in a recycling sorting plant by running the risk of getting caught in the machinery and causing a breakdown.

Supermarket pledges

  • Previously Morrisons and Waitrose announced that customers who bring in their own containers to purchase meat would be incentivised with loyalty points.
    Vending machines which allow customers to deposit plastic bottles in exchange for points or coupons that shoppers can use in-store are being trialled by Iceland and Morrisons.
  • Asda has pledged to replace the polystyrene boards in fresh pizzas boxes with cardboard. M&S have promised to replace plastic cutlery with wood and Waitrose has vowed to stop the use of black plastic packaging for all own-label goods by the end of 2019 and stop the use of black plastic packaging for own-label meat, fish, fruit and veg by the end of this year.
  • Aldi, Asda, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose have signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, which pledges the following by 2025: 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable; 70% of plastic packaging recycled or composted; eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging items; 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.
  • Iceland has not signed up but has pledged to eliminate plastic packaging from its own-label range by 2023 and will replace all black plastic ready-meal trays with paper-based or aluminium alternatives by the end of 2018.

Government pledge

  • The Government plans to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050 and double resource efficiency by 2042, outlined in the 2017 Clean Growth Strategy, but this timeline has been criticised for being too long.

Supermarket right of replies

  • Lidl: We fully support the need to tackle the important issue of plastic waste, which is why we recently launched our ambitious plastic reduction targets and have a cross-departmental team in place, who are dedicated to delivering these commitments. We are in the process of conducting a comprehensive review of our entire packaging footprint and estimate that the vast majority of our packaging is widely recyclable under the industry standard OPRL (On Pack Recycling Labelling) scheme. We, therefore, do not believe that the small sample used in the report is representative or reflective of our full product range.
  • Iceland: We are in the very early stages of a project to remove single-use plastic packaging from our own label food completely by 2023, and will make substantial progress during 2018 that will include the elimination of all non-recyclable black plastic trays from our frozen meal range. We are working to ensure that all the replacement packaging we use is readily recyclable, reusable or compostable, and are lobbying hard for improvements in the UK waste collection and recycling infrastructure to ensure that this can be achieved.

Shopping basket details

  • 27 everyday groceries included: shepherds / cottage / Cumberland pie, fresh minced beef, 5% fat, skinless chicken breast fillets uncooked, pre-packed mature cheddar cheese, white potatoes, fresh salmon fillet (or fillets), sausage rolls, unsmoked back bacon, salad / classic round tomatoes, chocolate cake – or a variation of eg chocolate fudge cake, white / green seedless grapes, whole red or green eating apples, carton of pure orange juice,low fat natural or Greek-style yoghurt, bunch of bananas, pork sausages (chilled), pack of fresh strawberries, standard toilet roll, fresh pork ribs (chilled), bagged salad of mixed leaves, chilled lamb chops, fresh clementines – easy peelers, fresh blueberries, white whole mushrooms, still bottled water, mixed peppers any colour, standard size avocados.

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