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Iceland lobbies for DRS and calls for grocers to stem plastic production

Frozen food retailer Iceland continues to lobby the UK and Scottish government in support of a nationwide deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles, according to managing director Richard Walker.

The supermarket boss said that Iceland’s reverse vending machine trial, where machines in some of the retailer’s stores collect used plastic bottles and reward shoppers with money-off vouchers in return, prove the model could work in an official guise.

He said Iceland has recycled over 1.1 million plastic bottles as a result of implementing the machines in six stores, which highlights a consumer demand for such services. The UK government said earlier this year that it is looking into the viability of a nationwide scheme but has quietened on the subject in recent months, while Scotland has committed to launching a DRS north of the border.

Walker’s comments came as he published a blog urging the wider supermarket industry to make moves to help reduce the need for plastic production.

“With the exception of dedicated channels like reverse vending machines, though, recycling cannot be the answer to the plastics crisis,” he explained.

“So while we welcome the moves the other supermarkets are making, we also urge them to recognise that there is a desperate need not just to improve recycling rates, but to turn down the tap of plastic production. The more of them that come on board with this concept, and agree to work with us, the easier it will be to deliver customer- and planet-friendly solutions that will drastically reduce ocean plastic pollution and make our world a better place.”

In January 2018 Iceland said it was starting the process of removing all plastic packaging from its own label range by the end of 2023, and Walker said this represented “the boldest and bravest of all the supermarket pledges” in terms of cutting down use of this material, which is linked to a significant percentage of the globe’s pollution levels.

Walker indicated that the retailer is “firmly on track” to achieving its five-year plan, despite challenges with sales

His comments follow the publication of an Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace survey, this week, which revealed plastic from the top ten UK supermarkets rose to 903,000 tonnes last year. Seven out of ten supermarkets reported an increase in their plastic footprint, according to the report.

EIA and Greenpeace said ‘bags for life’, although seemingly an environmentally-friendly measure, are actually contributing to the problem because, in many cases, they are not being reused. Iceland itself reported a near tenfold increase in bag for life sales, from 3.5 million in 2017 to 34 million last year, according to the report.

Walker addressed some of these issues in the blog, which can be read in full here, but questioned whether all retailers were being as transparent as they could be when compiling data on sales involving plastic packaging.

“We opened 45 new stores in the UK last year, mainly larger units under our The Food Warehouse fascia, so our sales overall have gone up and bulk buy packs of small plastic branded water bottles were indeed a popular purchase,” he noted.

“Even so, it seems literally incredible that Iceland, with 2.2% of the UK grocery market, sold half the number of plastic bottles shifted by Tesco, with a share more than 13 times greater. I think one of us needs to invest in some new batteries for our calculator.”