Report finds European retailers promoting false plastic solutions

A new report has found evidence of European supermarkets promoting false solutions to the plastic pollution crisis and perpetuating double standards.

SupermarketThe analysis, entitled ‘Under wraps? What Europe’s supermarkets aren’t telling us about plastic’, asked retailers questions across three categories: Transparency and performance, Commitments, and Support for government policy. The overall average score was 13.1 out of 100.

The Changing Markets Foundation, the report’s creator, said that out of 130 retailers contacted, only 39 retailers (30 per cent) provided a written response to the questionnaire. Many of these responses ‘did not provide meaningful replies to the questions’, with further analysis of 74 retailers across 13 countries revealing a ‘concerning lack of actions to tackle the plastic crisis.’

Although supermarkets are performing well in the UK, the report identified double standards for brands with international operations extending across Europe. For example, Lidl achieved 44.7 per cent in the UK, but this fell to 13 per cent and 23.7 per cent in other countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic.

ALDI Süd was the top performer in the UK and Ireland, with 65.3 per cent and 61 per cent respectively, but achieved only 11 per cent in Austria, where it operates under the name Hofer, and 25.7 per cent in Germany.

Overall, retailers from the UK and France scored 39.6 per cent and 23.3 per cent, respectively. No other country achieved a total average of more than 20 per cent, with the average score of retailers in Spain, the Czech Republic and Estonia below 10 per cent.

The analysis put together a fictional ‘best-in-class’ retailer by combining the best responses to each question, with the mode scoring 82.7 per cent. The Changing Markets Foundation said this showed that ‘abysmal results do not have to remain the reality.’

Nusa Urbancic, Campaigns Director at the Changing Markets Foundation, said: “Our report shows that even the best performers, such as ALDI and LIDL have double standards, when it comes to addressing the plastic crisis. They performed well in the UK and Ireland, but show abysmal results in Spain, Germany and other countries where they operate.

“Such differences cannot be explained through different national legislation and show that not a single retailer is responding to the plastic crisis with the urgency this situation demands. Instead of investing in systemic solutions, such as plastic reduction and reuse systems, retailers were found to be greenwashing and delaying legislation.”

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Ocean Campaign Leader, Christina Dixon added: “EIA and partners have been surveying UK retailers on their plastic use since 2018 and in that time we've seen a marked improvement in transparency, the quality of the data they provide and the targets they are setting themselves.

“That said, being European leaders when the bar is set so low is little cause for celebration. Ultimately, tangible reductions in plastic use and the pace towards a packaging-free future built around the concepts of reuse and refill is still far too slow to meet the scale of the crisis the planet is facing.”

Rosa Pritchard of ClientEarth commented: “A number of the supermarkets included in this report are public companies and as such, they have legal obligations to be transparent about their performance on plastics.

“But crucially, disclosure obligations are going to become much stricter for all companies in the coming years. That's why those at the bottom of the ranking need to start preparing now to be able to adapt to tomorrow's legal environment."