Ministers under fire

Shoppers’ Covid fear sees rise in single-use plastic

Plastic waste campaign by John Cobb Greenpeace, not for general use

Plastic waste campaign has been set backwards

Shoppers’ fears about catching Covid-19 could undo years of campaigning against single-use plastic.

Supermarkets are seeing the rise of single-use plastic bags, particularly in the fresh produce sections, says plastic waste collection company Divert.co.uk.

Tesco committed to removing one billion pieces of plastic from its stores by the end of 2020, while Asda introduced its first sustainable packaging-free section in their Leeds store in January last year.

Almost all of the UK’s major food retailers are signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, launched in 2018, which aims to eliminate single-use plastics and increase the use of recyclable or compostable packaging. Consumer behaviour has, largely, followed suit.

The pandemic, however, has halted many of these waste reduction schemes in their tracks, as customers are increasingly returning to plastic bags for their produce.

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Of 250 shoppers surveyed, 83% said they had bought the majority of their fruit or vegetables in some form of plastic bag or packaging. 

Just 17% said they were continuing to make use of reusable or recyclable bags and choosing fresh produce where it was available – whereas 28% reported having done so before the pandemic.

Over a third – 40% – of plastic food packaging is used just once, and UK supermarkets produce 1.2 billion plastic fruit and veg bags a year, making this sharp increase in use a concerning statistic.

Mark Hall, Divert.co.uk’s spokesperson, said it was a tricky issue.

“It’s understandable that people – and businesses – want to avoid the risk of Covid-19, and on the face of it, bundling food back into plastic packaging seems like an obvious choice.

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