In the quest for sustainability, Australian supermarkets are under scrutiny for their plastic reduction efforts. A recent audit spearheaded by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Boomerang Alliance has cast a spotlight on the industry’s approach to plastic use, revealing a concerning lag in meeting national targets.
Plastic Reduction: A Grading System Reveals All
ALDI has emerged as a leader in the supermarket sector, scoring two out of five for its transparency, plastic reduction, reusables, and recycling initiatives. Coles follows with a score of one and a half, while Woolworths trails with one. Metcash, associated with IGA and Foodlands, unfortunately, scores zero, indicating a significant gap in their plastic reduction strategies.
Associate Professor Tillman Boehme, a specialist in circular economies and plastic waste from the University of Wollongong, describes the findings as “disturbing” yet unsurprising. The report, which draws on data from the supermarkets themselves, public reports, and shopper surveys from 2022, paints a picture of an industry that is struggling to align with the national sustainable packaging targets set for 2025.
Woolworths: A Closer Look
Woolworths, holding the largest market share, is particularly spotlighted for its lack of clear progress against national packaging targets. Criticisms include an inability to produce comprehensive data on plastic reduction across its range and accusations of “cherry-picking” statistics. In response, Woolworths has highlighted its efforts, including the removal of over 1.4 million kilograms of virgin plastic since 2018 and achieving an average recycled content of 49% in its packaging.
Global Standards: Learning from Europe
The report commends ALDI for its transparency regarding national packaging targets and its internal standards for reducing plastic on fruits and vegetables. European standards, which often lead the way in waste reduction, are suggested as a benchmark, with consumer awareness and demand for recycling options being significantly higher.
One of the more concerning findings is the cost disparity between plastic-wrapped and loose produce, with the former often being cheaper. This pricing strategy inadvertently penalises customers who opt for plastic-free shopping. The report suggests that selling fresh produce loose could reduce food waste, as customers would only purchase what they need.
Supermarkets’ Role in the Supply Chain
The audit calls for supermarkets to leverage their influence in the supply chain to introduce biodegradable substitutes and reduce reliance on plastic packaging. It’s a call to action for these retail giants to lead by example and make sustainable packaging the norm rather than the exception.
Which supermarket scored the highest in the plastic reduction audit? ALDI scored the highest with two out of five for its efforts in transparency, plastic reduction, reusables, and recycling.
What are the national sustainable packaging targets for 2025? The targets include ensuring 100% of packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.
Why did Woolworths receive criticism in the report? Woolworths was criticised for not providing clear progress against national packaging targets and for allegedly cherry-picking statistics.
How does the cost of plastic-wrapped vs. loose produce affect consumer choices? Plastic-wrapped produce is often cheaper, which discourages customers from choosing plastic-free options and can lead to increased food waste.
What actions are supermarkets taking to reduce plastic use? Supermarkets like ALDI and Coles are making strides by removing certain types of plastic packaging and introducing recyclable alternatives, while Woolworths has removed a significant amount of virgin plastic from its range.