Image for Hundreds take part in UK’s first supermarket plastic mass ‘unwrap’

Hundreds take part in UK’s first supermarket plastic mass ‘unwrap’

Shoppers handed back up to four shopping trollies worth of “unnecessary” plastic packaging per hour during the event earlier this month

Shoppers handed back up to four shopping trollies worth of “unnecessary” plastic packaging per hour during the event earlier this month

Supermarket customers across the UK handed back unnecessary plastic packaging to shop owners on 3-10 March as part of the UK’s first ever mass unwrap. It was organised by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), who described the action as “a fun, high impact” way to show how much plastic waste is produced in UK supermarkets after every shop. It was a “non-confrontational opportunity for customers to leave excess plastic at the till, instead of taking it home,” they said.

Some 33 supermarkets – from Anglesey to London – took part, all with the support of local store managers. Some even provided paper bag alternatives and helped recycled the waste created.

Shoppers handed back up to four shopping trollies worth of packaging an hour, highlighting the scale of avoidable plastic waste. In one case at Tesco in Braunton, north Devon, 1,660 items were handed back. It was estimated that less than 10 per cent of the plastic packaging could be recycled.

“So many customers want to reduce plastic but are given no options,” said Rachel Yates, plastic-free communities project officer at SAS. “Others didn’t realise that a lot of the plastic packaging in their trolley couldn’t be recycled. We now need to send a strong message back; the way we use packaging needs to change, and fast. Supermarkets must radically reduce waste, redesign packaging and take more responsibility.”

Together we can kick our addiction to throwaway plastic and change the system that produces it

Supermarkets flood Britain with 59bn pieces of plastic each year, estimate Greenpeace, yet the burden of plastic waste is put on to consumers, tax payers, and ultimately the environment, as businesses contribute just 10 per cent of the end-of-life disposal costs of their product and packaging.

SAS is urging supermarkets to be part of the solution, calling on them to:

1) Cut out avoidable single-use plastic and redesign packaging
2) Use recycled content and stop using virgin plastic
3) Take responsibility and invest in proven systems technology such as an ‘all in’ deposit return schemes for drinks containers

Mass Unwrap is part of SAS’ Plastic Free Communities campaign, to free where people live from avoidable single-use plastic. They say it is now active in more than 450 communities across the UK.

Yates added: “These communities are leading the way, as they start the journey to tackle single-use plastic where they live. We have a huge thank you to say to all of the volunteers and shoppers who took part in our first national Mass Unwrap. The voice of our network of Plastic Free Communities is growing and together we can kick our addiction to throwaway plastic and change the system that produces it.”

Mass Unwraps were held in:

  • Morrisons, Abergavenny
  • Waitrose, Anglesey
  • Morrisons, Holyhead
  • Co-op Food, Benllech
  • Co-op Food, Bingley
  • Tesco, Carbis Bay
  • Waitrose, Crouch End
  • Lidl, Crowthorne
  • Coop, Crowthorne
  • Lidl, Falmouth
  • Sainsbury’s, Falmouth
  • Sainsbury’s, Ferndown
  • Tesco, Formby
  • Booths Supermarket, Gartsang
  • Tesco Express, Mortimer
  • Budgens Supermarket, Mortimer
  • Morrisons, Newquay
  • Sainsbury’s Ladbroke Grove, London
  • Morrisons, Penzance
  • Tesco, Penzance
  • Sainsbury’s, Penzance
  • Co-op, Boscowen Road, Perranporth
  • Co-op, Station Road, Perranporth
  • Co-op, Porthcawl
  • Morrisons, Totnes
  • Little Waitrose, West Hampstead
  • Co-op Food, Ilkley
  • Morrison’s, Woking
  • Tesco, Bideford
  • Tesco Extra, Barnstaple
  • Tesco, Ilfracombe
  • Tesco, Braunton
  • Tesco, Rose Lane, Barnstaple

In photos: the UK's first mass supermarket plastic 'unwrap'

Featured image: a mass unwrap in Newquay, Cornwall, photographed by Clare Ball
Gallery images 1-2: Clare Ball
Gallery images 3, 8-10 and 12: Matt Alexander

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