5 things supermarkets can do to reduce plastic use

Supermarket chain Iceland aims to be the first plastic-free major retailer by eliminating plastic packaging from its products by 2023.

This announcement is added to the list of changes and demands to reduce plastic use, like the extension of the 5p plastic bags charge and the debate around the ‘latte levy’ on disposable coffee cups.

Other retailers already implemented changes towards this goal. Here are 5 measures for more plastic-free supermarkets:

1. Change to paper-based trays

One of the measures Iceland has announced is to stop using black plastic trays. They are coloured with carbon black pigments which make them unsortable by the existing recycling systems.

tomatos on a black plastic tray

CC – vedatzorluer

2. Allow bulk shopping of fruit and vegetables

Letting consumers bringing their own reusable bags as it’s possible in markets and zero waste shops reduce the use of plastic bags and unitary packaging.

CC Victòria Oliveres

3. Redesign of containers

Sainsbury’s calculates they save 580 tonnes of plastic a year after reducing the plastic of their two-pint milk bottles. Asda also made its water bottles lighter achieving up to a 13% reduction in the two-litre bottles.


4. Dispense returnable packaging

Morrisons started using “returnable bins” for fish products to reduce the use of poly boxes. After, they are reused by local supply chains or their own supermarkets.

Fish bin

Jiaqian AirplaneFan [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

5. Switch to biodegradable cotton buds

Because of their small body, they bypass filters of waste system, which makes them one of the most found beach litter items. Waitrose estimate to have saved 21 tonnes of plastic with this change.

CC Gadini


These changes could also help Birmingham reduce the amount of collected waste – 368 kg per person last year – as 17% of it is plastic (7% film and 10% dense), according to Birmingham City Council calculations.

It could also boost the city’s recycling rate of just 24.4% of its household waste. This number ranked Birmingham the 10th worst local authority in England.


There will be more updates on the story of waste reduction and recycling in Birmingham.

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