Packaging design in the spotlight as Tesco ditches multipack wraps

Product packaging is in the spotlight again in terms of its environmental cost. UK supermarket Tesco has committed to a reduction in the amount of plastic it uses in its packaging, by scrapping plastic-wrapped multipacks. It says its move – made possible by collaboration with FMCG manufacturers – will remove hundreds of tonnes of plastic from the food chain.

The multipack wraps – popular for products such as baked beans and other tinned goods – will be replaced by multibuys which are triggered by barcodes when multiple products are bought. The retailer said that 183,000 tinned multipacks are bought in its stores every day, equating to 67 million pieces of plastic being removed from the supply chain.

More than 40% of Tesco customers include multipacks in their shops – with multipacks of beans, tuna, tinned tomatoes and soup being among the most frequently-bought grocery SKUs in the UK.

As well as applying the changes to own brand products, Tesco said it is working with manufacturers such as Heinz to ensure they introduce the same reduction in plastic.

Tesco CEO Dave Lewis said: “We are removing all unnecessary and non-recyclable plastic from Tesco. As part of this work, removing plastic wrapped multipacks from every Tesco store in the UK will cut 350 tonnes of plastic from the environment every year and customers will still benefit from the same great value ‘multipack’ price. This is part of our plan to remove 1 billion pieces of plastic in 2020.”

Georgiana de Noronha, president of Kraft Heinz Northern Europe, added: “We’re excited to be partnering with Tesco on this. While we know we have more to do, this initiative is good news for the environment, and for the millions of people who enjoy Heinz varieties every day, as they’ll still be able to benefit from the same great value for money.”

The supermarket sector has been under substantial pressure to reduce its levels of plastic waste. Late last year a report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace claimed that while Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury's had achieved marginal reductions in plastic waste, seven out of the UK's top ten supermarket companies had actually increased their plastic footprints.

“Supermarkets need to buck up and think bigger. They must change their stores to offer loose food dispensers, reusable packaging, and move away from throwaway packaging altogether,” said Greenpeace ocean plastics campaigner Fiona Nicholls.

The survey – 'Checking out on plastics II: Breakthroughs and backtracking from supermarkets' – shows that supermarkets are failing to stand up to food brands that use too much plastic. “Only Tesco had given suppliers an ultimatum to cut excessive plastic or face products being delisted, and campaigners urge others to follow suit,” said Greenpeace.

Paula Chin, sustainable materials specialist at environmental campaign group WWF, said:WWF supports Tesco’s steps in the fight against plastic pollution. We need to remove unnecessary single-use plastic wherever possible, to stop the contamination of the natural world. If we want to protect nature we need more businesses to follow Tesco’s lead, before we run out of time to fight for our world.”