- Coles comes 2nd, followed by Woolworths then Metcash (IGA and Foodland)
- Supermarkets not doing enough to cut their plastic use to help Australia achieve its National Packaging Targets
- Plastic-wrapped fresh fruit and vegetables are often cheaper than loose produce
- Supermarkets are only applying plastic reduction targets to own-brand products, not all the other brands they sell
- Most supermarkets could not show significant increases in recycled plastic use
- Our oceans are choking in plastic and killing our marine life. Nearly 70% of plastic found in cleanups is soft plastics, food packaging and beverage litter
The first independent audit of supermarket plastics use has found that Aldi is leading the race to cut plastic packaging. Despite its success, Aldi achieved a score of only 20%, showing that supermarkets have far to go to reduce the amount of plastic they use, according to environmental organisations Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and the Boomerang Alliance.
Coles finished second with 15%, followed by the biggest chain, Woolworths, on 10%. Metcash, which operates a franchise with IGA and Foodland stores, trails a long way behind on just 3%.
The Unwrapped plastics audit report, prepared by AMCS and the Boomerang Alliance, used data provided by supermarkets, public reports and volunteer shopper surveys to analyse their 2022 performance in five categories. The methodology was developed with the support of leading environmental organisations Clean Up Australia, WWF-Australia and the Environmental Investigation Agency.
The bulk of the score (80%) was made up of the three practical measures: plastic reduction (40% of score), recycling and reusables (20% each). The other 20% was made up from two policy categories: transparency; and policy, planning and governance (10% each).
The report uncovered a serious lack of transparency, with most supermarkets hesitant to publicly release data on their packaging footprint.
AMCS Plastics Campaign Manager Shane Cucow said: “Plastic has been around for only about 80 years, yet our oceans are already choking in plastic, killing our marine life and even turning up in our food. An estimated 11 million tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans every year, and that figure is expected to triple by 2040 if we don’t take action.
“Plastic packaging is one of the worst offenders, with soft plastics, food packaging and beverage litter accounting for nearly 70% of all plastics found by Clean Up Australia volunteers, it’s time to get serious about cutting back on soft plastics and other hard-to-recycle packaging.
“We’re pleased to see Aldi leading the way with specific targets for cutting plastic packaging, including a target to reduce plastic in the fresh produce section. It was also the only supermarket found to be enforcing policies on supplier packaging.
“It’s extremely disappointing to see Woolworths trailing behind in third place, due to a lack of clear targets to cut plastic use and poor transparency over its plastic footprint. As the largest retailer by market share, Woolworths should be using its influence to get suppliers to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging.
Boomerang Alliance Director Jeff Angel said: “Supermarkets have a huge influence on the plastic in our daily lives, selling the vast majority of household products. Yet our audit shows most are not doing enough to help Australia meet the National Packaging Targets. Instead we continue to see wasteful plastics, such as unnecessary packaging of produce, plastic multipacks with several layers of packaging, and tiny plastic toy promotions that inevitably end up polluting the environment.
“Concerningly, our in-store surveys showed that plastic-wrapped produce is frequently being sold cheaper than loose produce, providing a perverse encouragement for shoppers to use even more plastic. It’s madness.”
“Our audit identified a range of practical actions supermarkets can take to reduce their plastic footprint. Minimum actions include ensuring loose fresh produce is cost competitive with plastic wrapped produce, and eliminating plastic fruit stickers, produce bags and pre-packaged straws and cutlery.
“The findings also show that reuse and refill systems are a huge missed opportunity. Australians have shown an incredible willingness to embrace reusable bags, cups and bottles, and supermarkets can help them go further.
Supermarkets have a widespread presence and capabilities in terms of reverse logistics, so we would like them to offer services such as drink refill stations for milk and juice, BYO container options for the deli and dry goods, and genuine plastic-free reuse options for laundry and cleaning products.”
The report also highlighted an urgent need for government to implement laws that enforce sustainable packaging requirements.
Mr Cucow said: “Australia has a target to recover 70% of plastic packaging by 2025, but recovery rates have stagnated at just 18%, with rising use of soft plastics a major problem. Even before the collapse of the REDcycle, Australia was capable of processing less than 5% of soft plastics annually.
“While supermarkets have plenty of work ahead, ultimately every product manufacturer needs to be held accountable for their packaging choices. Unless the government is willing to step in and regulate, many companies will continue using unrecyclable and unsustainable packaging, undercutting their competitors.
“We need clear laws on packaging use. We urge the Australian Government to set binding national targets for plastic reduction, to ensure all retailers are doing their fair share to reduce their impacts on the environment.”
The report can be downloaded from supermarketplastics.org.au