Sainsbury’s is announcing an ambitious new commitment to reduce plastic packaging by 50% by 2025.

This new target includes all branded food packaging, Sainsbury’s brand food packaging and packaging across all of Sainsbury’s operations. Sainsbury’s currently uses almost 120,000 tonnes of plastic packaging per year and believes a transformational leap in thinking is required to move the industry beyond existing efforts at reducing packaging. Sainsbury’s reduced plastic packaging by 1% in 2018.

To meet this goal, Sainsbury’s will launch a programme to accelerate change, which will include switching to alternative materials, using lighter-weight plastics and introducing refillable packaging at scale. Following rigorous analysis of its plastic footprint, the key areas of focus for the biggest impact are: plastic milk bottles, packaging for fruit and vegetables, fizzy drinks, water and fruit juices.

Some of these alternatives will require customers to change their behaviour – for example, plastic milk bottles are currently one of largest sources of plastic packaging. Sainsbury’s is reviewing alternative options including the introduction of refillable bottles, introducing returnable milk bottles or offering a reusable jug with milk in a lightweight plastic pouch.

Sainsbury’s recognises it cannot achieve this commitment on its own. To achieve its ambition, Sainsbury’s will pioneer new ways to collaborate with food manufacturers, packaging suppliers, raw material scientists and other retailers, alongside the waste and recycling industry. To kickstart this collaboration, Sainsbury’s is co-hosting a summit with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), today Friday 13th September, which will bring together branded suppliers, researchers and government stakeholders to identify potential breakthrough innovation projects.

Sainsbury’s is also looking to open source ideas. From today, it will have an area on its website for customers, colleagues, manufacturers, entrepreneurs and other interested parties to submit ideas to help reduce plastic packaging:

Sainsbury's will work with Greenpeace on this commitment and will report publicly on progress every six months.

“We have set ourselves a bold ambition because we understand that we urgently need to reduce our impact on the planet and to help drive change across our industry," said Mike Coupe, Chief Executive of Sainsbury’s.

“Reducing plastic and packaging is not easy. Packaging plays a vital role in keeping our food safe and fresh and minimising food waste. We must therefore find alternatives to plastic that protect the quality of our food while minimising our impact on the environment.

“We can’t do this on our own and we will be asking our suppliers and our customers to work with us to help us make this important change.”

Theresa Villiers, environment secretary commends the leadership shown by Sainsbury's and its efforts to introduce new industry-wide standards and reporting, ensuring that the environment is protected for future generations.

“This is a brilliant example of the integral role business has to play in cutting plastic waste, empowering consumers to make more sustainable choices," said Villiers.

After today’s summit, Sainsbury’s will continue to work with suppliers and other partners to develop and implement innovative solutions to the plastics challenge, including through collaborative project bids within the Government’s new £60m Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging challenge programme:

Sainsbury’s existing plastic reduction commitments:

• Lightweight loose produce bags will be removed by September 2019 (489 tonnes)
• Plastic trays are being removed from asparagus and sweetcorn (144 tonnes); cream pots (114 tonnes); tomatoes (102 tonnes); carrots (38 tonnes); and herb pots (18 tonnes)
• Plastic has already been removed from cauliflowers, organic bananas, easy peeler citrus fruit, brassicas and tomatoes
• Microbeads were removed from Own Brand products in 2013

• Fresh food black plastic trays will be replaced with recyclable alternatives (6000 tonnes) by end of this year
• PVC and polystyrene trays will be replaced with recyclable alternatives (1213 tonnes)
• Plastic film on fruit and vegetables will be replaced with a recyclable alternative (2518 tonnes) by end 2020
• All Own Brand flushable wipes are plastic free and compliant with industry guidelines which are recognised across the UK and Europe. Sainsbury's also working to meet the new ‘Fine to Flush’ standard in the future while ensuring we do not compromise the quality of the product.
• Plastic cutlery was replaced with wooden cutlery in Food to Go, saving 38 tonnes of plastic

• Fresh water stands will be available for customers to refill their own water bottles in 326 supermarket cafe's across the country
• Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers to meat and deli counters

• A 'pre-cycle' area will be trialled in stores for customers to remove unwanted packaging and leave it for recycling
• Customers will be able to use recycling facilities at further 125 stores (currently 275).
• Collaboration with others on research to develop new packaging and recycling technologies
• Deposit Return Schemes are being piloted so customers can return recyclable packaging simply and easily

This month Sainsbury’s will remove single use plastic bags from bakery aisles and single use plastic bags from loose produce – removing a total of 489 tonnes of plastic.

Sainsbury’s has previously committed to making all plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2023.

In 2005, Sainsbury’s signed up to the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary government target to reduce packaging in the grocery sector. This agreement focused on reducing the weight of packaging and resulted in retailers reducing glass and fibreboard packaging in favour of lighter weight and more versatile plastic packaging.