It can often be difficult, for a cynic such as myself, to differentiate between an outbreak of opportunistic bandwagon jumping and a genuine sea change in corporate behaviour.

But my sense would be that the ‘war on plastic’ in the UK grocery sector is the real deal.

In the last few months alone, Morrisons has said it will making paper carrier bags available; Waitrose has confirmed the removal of 5p single-use bags from its stores; Asda has announced it has removed 6,500 tonnes of plastic from its own-brand packaging since February 2018; and Tesco has unveiled a two-store pilot where it has increased the availability of loose produce at the expense of packaged lines.

All of these developments come on the back of sterling work from Iceland and the discounters’ longstanding environmental policies – the latter proving what is best for the planet is often rather handy from a bottom-line point of view, too.

“A lot more collaboration is going to be required if retailers are going to deliver against shoppers’ expectations”

Morrisons noted that plastic packaging is now the main environmental priority for its shoppers, an observation that is backed up by our own research of UK consumers in general.

We found that 87% of shoppers want to see retailers reduce their use of plastic – well ahead of other priorities such as reducing food waste and improving recycling.

A lot more collaboration, principally between suppliers and retailers, is going to be required if retailers are going to deliver against shoppers’ expectations.

Asda said that its own reduction programme involved collaborative work with private-label suppliers, such as removing plastic covers from over 50 million greetings cards and getting rid of plastic windows from over 1.6 million boxes of mince pies at Christmas.

Anti-plastic Easter?

The forthcoming chocolate binge at Easter will be revealing in terms of seeing how much more progress retailers and suppliers have made in reducing the excessive use of rigid plastic in Easter egg packaging, with other categories in grocery under the microscope including soft drinks, ready meals, produce and non-food.

It’s not often that we see such a perfect storm of factors coming together to create real impetus over such as issue. Blue Planet really created a head of steam in terms of public awareness and anti-plastic sentiment, and retailers have reacted very well.

How far they will take it remains to be seen, but I will be intrigued to see if the provision of loose ambient lines (commonplace across the world, but so far the preserve of independent retailers like The Refillery and Naturally, and chains like Whole Foods Market, in the UK) gathers a bit of traction.

I’ve been genuinely impressed by the strong work from major multiples on issues like food waste and plastic packaging.

There are other environmental concerns – water management and biodiversity are two good examples – that have yet to see the same type of momentum, but I’m confident British retailers will treat these problems (aka: opportunities) with similar finesse.