Exclusive: Iceland’s managing director says he has come under ‘huge pressure’ from plastic manufacturer.
Plastic manufacturers are putting “huge pressure” on UK supermarkets to abandon their efforts to eliminate plastic bags and food packaging from their stores, the managing director of the frozen food chain Iceland has told i.
“Big Plastic” is pushing retailers and brands to embrace recycled plastic – which environmentalists argue is fuelling the nation’s plastic pollution problem – and has employed lobbying groups to convince journalists of the pitfalls of using alternative materials, the supermarket’s boss Richard Walker revealed.
In January 2018 Iceland announced its intention to become the first major retailer in the world to eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own-label products, promising to achieve this by the end of 2023. Anti-plastics campaigners have applauded Iceland for its hardline stance, with one group, A Plastic Planet, describing the company as “one of the most progressive retailers in the UK”.
However, following the supermarket’s pledge, which won praise from former Prime Minister Theresa May and prompted Greenpeace to call on other major grocers to make the same commitment, the plastics industry “closed ranks”, according to Mr Walker.
Big Plastic press briefings
“There have been a lot of briefings by Big Plastic about the negative impact of some of the plastic alternatives,” he said. “Some of [the claims] have merit, some, I believe, don’t.”
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With consumers becoming increasingly intolerant of plastic, particularly single-use plastic, the industry has attempted to present recycled plastic as the solution – but, Mr Walker insisted, “we’re never going to recycle our way out of the problem”.
While recycling may keep plastic in circulation for longer, the material can only be reused a finite amount of times.
“To deal with the crisis…we’ve got to turn down the tap on production,” Mr Walker said.
Iceland facing ‘huge pressure’
The supermarket boss said Iceland and its competitors were facing “huge pressure” from producers to keep churning out plastic regardless, in the form of bags for life, for example. Bags for life tend to contain two to three times as much plastic as single-use carrier bags, but are often only used a couple of times before being discarded.
“As an industry, by getting rid of single-use plastic bags we’ve tripled the amount of plastic in circulation, which is terrible,” Mr Walker said.
Mr Walker spoke out about the pro-plastic campaigning he’d encountered at an event to showcase Iceland’s 2019 Christmas offering. The company has developed a range of at least 25 products, including whole turkeys, that will be sold free of plastic packaging, this year.
‘Cringe-worthy and reckless’
Commenting on Mr Walker’s remarks, Sian Sutherland, co-founder of the campaign group A Plastic Planet, said: “[Plastic is] the tobacco of our generation…The plastics industry is using every tactic it can to maintain the status quo and squeeze every penny they can out of a marvellous but toxic material.”
Louise Edge, head of Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign, said: “These industry giants are trying to stop supermarkets from doing the right thing just so they can keep making money from plastics which harm wildlife and pollute our environment. It’s cringe-worthy and reckless.”
The British Plastics Federation (BPF), which represents manufacturers across the plastics industry supply chain, and bills itself as the “most powerful voice in the UK plastics industry”, rejected the criticism, claiming “it is important that brands, retailers and the general public do not think that ‘plastic free’ necessarily means ‘better for the environment’.”
A BPF spokesman said: “Plastic is extremely resource efficient and switching to alternative materials could result in an extra 61 million tonnes of CO2-equivalents being put into the atmosphere every year.”
Published on inews.co.uk