Sainsbury’s criticized over new plastic packaging

After Sainsbury’s received backlash from consumers over the introduction of new soft plastic packaging for minced beef, campaign group A Plastic Planet has added its own criticisms.

Consumer complaints over the supermarket’s new vac packs centred predominantly around their impact on the product within; several shoppers noted it turned the meat to mush and made it difficult to cook with. But A Plastic Planet’s feedback focuses on the material’s recyclability – or lack of.

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of the global environmental solutions group, is critical of the retailer’s approach, telling the BBC: “While there will be a saving in the weight of plastic used, switching to flexible plastics over rigid ones is no more green than changing from a petrol to a diesel vehicle.”

Sutherland notes that soft, flexible plastics are ‘almost impossible to recycle’, especially when they are contaminated by food. “The old, rigid plastic packaging would at least have gone into recycling, however limited the UK’s systems are. The new vacuum packs will instead be thrown into general waste and end up in incineration.”

Switching to flexible plastics over rigid ones is no more green than changing from a petrol to a diesel vehicle

Richard Crampton, head of fresh food at Sainsbury’s, defended the move, telling the BBC that while ‘it’s true you can’t pick it up at the kerb yet’ the supermarket had the same problem with the plastic film which covered the hard plastic trays previously used for its mince. “It’s the same problem but now there’s a lot less plastic.”

On 3 April, as part of its pledge to reduce plastic packaging by 50% by 2025, Sainsbury’s announced it had removed single-use plastic trays from the packaging of its own-brand whole chickens – saving 140 tonnes of plastic a year. The new beef mince packaging is estimated to save 450 additional tonnes of plastic annually.

In 2021 the chain rolled out an in-store flexible plastic recycling system, allowing customers in selected stores to return Polypropylene film, and is working towards piloting a Deposit Return Scheme using reverse vending machines which will accept plastic packaging, among other materials.