Supermarket chain Iceland has pledged to become “plastic neutral” from 2022 in what it claims is an industry first.
The retailer said it will recover and recycle waste plastic to the equivalent of its own total plastic consumption from next year as it pledged to “continue to work towards” being plastic-free across its own-label packaging.
It has announced a partnership with Seven Clean Seas, which works with companies to pull plastic out of the ocean on their behalf.
Iceland has reported a 29% overall reduction in plastic packaging across its own-label range since 2017, removing 3,794 tonnes of plastic.
Iceland managing director Richard Walker said: “The UN Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution is stark –plastic pollution is out of control and a major threat ecologically, to our climate and to human health.
“We are committed on our journey to become plastic-free across our own label range, but we need to do more than that and we need to do it immediately.
“We all know that, in the long term, the industry cannot recycle or offset its way out of the plastic crisis and, while we remain firmly fixed on plastic reduction, this is another important milestone in our journey to becoming plastic-free.
“I would ask our other supermarkets to urgently consider becoming plastic neutral as they too look to turn down the tap on plastic production altogether.”
Mr Walker noted that plastic use and waste had increased through the pandemic, adding: “We are just one business challenging the 580 billion US dollars global plastic industry.
“However, we are privately owned and can be agile, so we have decided to invest our own money to become permanently plastic neutral as we progress to becoming plastic-free.
“Whilst we may not achieve our target by the end of 2023, due to setbacks caused by the pandemic and lack of commercially viable innovation, we remain focused on our target and will not stop until we have delivered what we set out to.”
Seven Clean Seas chief executive Thomas Peacock-Nazil said: “Our partnership with Iceland comes at a pivotal time for ocean pollution and the action they are taking reflects the urgency of the situation.
“This investment is transformational – it will enable us to generate enormous environmental and social impact whilst protecting our oceans, the Earth’s most important ecosystem from plastic pollution.
“We are hopeful that it will prompt other retail brands to minimise their plastic footprints and take a more conscientious approach to managing their plastic consumption.”
The move received a mixed response from campaigners, with Surfers Against Sewage saying it would “go some way” in ridding oceans of the plastic – but Greenpeace UK dismissed the offsetting plan as looking to be “little more than a creative accounting trick”.
Hugo Tagholm, the chief executive of marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Eliminating plastics is of course the ultimate goal, however other additional measures to contain, collect and recycle plastics are also currently vital. Beach cleaners will be the first to tell you this.
“As Iceland continues in its journey to reduce and ultimately remove plastic from own label ranges, its investment in plastic neutrality will go some way in ridding our oceans of the plastic which has become so prolific in our daily lives.”
However Greenpeace UK senior plastics campaigner Nina Schrank said: “While Iceland’s goal of going 100% plastic free across their own brand products is commendable, this new offsetting plan looks to be little more than a creative accounting trick that means Iceland will continue to be part of the plastic waste problem.
“Iceland’s plan still operates within our broken recycling system. This means the vast majority, if not all, of the degraded and mixed plastic waste that is collected from our environment through this scheme will end up right back in the environment – via landfills, incinerators or dumped via exports to other countries. This does not add up to going ‘plastic neutral’.
“Offsetting plastic waste cannot be the real solution, only reduction is.”