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Food Packaging & Hardware

Every year, over 10 million tonnes of packaging is placed on the UK market according to latest Government figures. About half this amount goes to households, where it accounts for about 20% of the waste stream.

We are passionate about offering a wide range of safe, high quality products, and recognise packaging and containers play an important role in helping to deliver this to our customers. We also know that although packaging is only a small fraction of the overall waste that is generated, it’s very visible and in a world of scarce resources it attracts a lot of stakeholder attention.

Packaging is a complicated issue, and it can of course present significant issues. For instance, domestic packaging often finds its way into natural habitats on land, at sea and in rivers. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council 80% of marine litter originates on land, and most of this is plastic, which poses risks to marine life. Having said this, we would not be able to live the way we do today without packaging as we wouldn’t be able to get products to the consumer. It also prolongs the life of food and helps prevent waste. In fact, the Government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging suggests that food waste has at least ten times the environmental impact of packaging waste and that’s before taking account of the impact of methane from decayed food.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services that they expect from us while respecting our planetary boundaries and need for social equity.

We are committed to sending zero waste to landfill from our operations and construction activities in the UK and Republic of Ireland. We also work across our value chain and take action on key areas of waste such as packaging. We support the transition to a sustainable circular economy and will prioritise business model innovation and put circular ways of working into practice.

Approach
We want our packaging and hardware to be right for our customers, right for our brand, and right for our products. We want to ensure our products remain protected, hygienic and fresher for longer to help minimise food waste. At the same time, we want to be as resource efficient as possible and use materials from the most sustainable sources, which in turn can be reused or recycled.

In this context we use materials to serve two broad purposes:

Packaging Materials for the containment, protection, handling, delivery and preservation of products. Most packaging will typically be discarded, although it can have an after-use. We currently handle around 60,000 tonnes of packaging material each year – a third of which is glass. We also use wood-derived materials such as paper and card, metal, and plastics like PET, PE, and small amounts of polystyrene. 
HardwareItems with an intended or perceived after-use or that provide added value to a product. For example, containers for flowers and plants such as ceramics, baskets, and vases, as well as containers for food such as ceramics, wooden gift boxes, biscuit tins and acrylic bowls and add-ons like ribbons or bows. Hardware also includes toys and gift items such as cheese knives and boards. Ceramics, metal, paper and board and glass make up the majority of materials used by volume.
Our Technical Terms of Trade sets out our minimum requirements for suppliers of packaging and hardware.

Our Technical Terms of Trade are supported by specific policies and Codes of Practice (which set out our requirements in detail for a particular topic) and Guidelines (which are advisory in nature). These can be found on Connect – our online Quality Management System – and should be read alongside our Terms of Trade. Find out more about our approach to supplier management and product standards.

We believe that both voluntary and regulatory actions are important. For example, during the 1990s we seconded a senior manager to help draft the UK’s packaging waste regulations. Since the introduction of this legislation the recycling and recovery of packaging materials in the UK has improved from less than 30% to over 70%.

We are signatories to WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment which is pushing for improved resource efficiency and reduced waste within the grocery sector. We also support the British Retail Consortium’s Better Retailing Climate initiative which is pushing for the retail sector to send less than 1% of their waste to landfill by 2020.

Over the years we’ve achieved a number of significant packaging and hardware successes too including some industry firsts. For example, we were the first UK retailer to introduce reusable food transit packaging systems in the late 1960s and over 70% of our food is now transported in this way saving around 20,000 units of single trip packaging each year. We were also the first to launch and deliver on pack recycling messaging on our food packaging in the UK.

We are a registered producer under the packaging obligations regulations and are a member of the Valpak compliance scheme. We also monitor our waste performance on a monthly basis. Annual progress is independently assured and reported in our Plan A report. Find out more about our approach to waste and the circular economy.

Our approach to packaging and hardware focuses on:

Ensuring the safety and integrity of raw materials

Quality and safety management
We require all packaging and hardware suppliers to have an appropriate Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) based food safety management system, foreign body control, pest control, hygiene policy and material traceability in place.

Suppliers are required to input key information in the packaging section of the relevant finished product specification on FIND (our Food Innovation Database). Suppliers are not permitted to deviate from the agreed specification.

This must include a detailed specification, supply chain information including the base material manufacturing site, and reference to certificates of conformity to all relevant EU legislation and regional international legislation where our products are sold through our stores internationally.

Our packaging and hardware must be safe. It should at all times avoid the transfer of particles from the material to the product in levels that could be harmful to human health or bring about an adverse change in the product. 

We’ve developed clear guidelines for any items which have potential child appeal. All such items undergo a safety assessment at concept stage by an independent child safety consultant and M&S internal experts. These items must also meet the relevant EU Product Safety Directives and standards. EN71 (safety of toys) is used as a benchmark for product safety. However, for many tests, we have developed industry-leading standards and these are considered to be minimum standards. Where no M&S standard is specified, then EN71 is a requirement for all hardware items, whether considered to be a toy or not.

Sustainable wood
We are committed to ensuring that, by 2020, all our wood comes from the most sustainable sources. Together with forestry, sustainability and industry experts, we’ve developed a clear policy to ensure wood is consistently sourced across our business.

All our suppliers are required to comply with our Global Sourcing Principles and our Wood Policy. Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is our preferred certification scheme. We will purchase non-certified wood if we have sufficient evidence that forests and communities are protected (or that the risk of this is low). We also encourage the use of wood from secondary sources (reclaimed, reused or recycled). Find out more about our approach to sourcing wood and protecting forests.

In 2015/16, 99% of our food and household packaging by volume was sourced in compliance with our Wood Policy. 84% by volume was FSC certified with full chain of custody in place.

Whilst we’re very proud that most of our wood-fibre is FSC certified, we know the production of paper and wooden items does have some impacts which aren’t covered by the FSC standard. As a result, in 2010 we developed our Model Forest programme to go beyond the usual bounds of FSC by including paper mills, transport and social welfare.

We want to understand the specific challenges that our suppliers face and to identify new approaches that are practical and will help mitigate sustainability challenges in the paper and pulp industry. We plan to share these findings across our wider supply base.

Currently we are sourcing cardboard for our food packaging via a single Model Forest in Sweden.  Products packaged with material sourced from our Model Forest are also eligible for a Plan A product attribute. Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.

Chemicals management
A number of chemicals may be used in our packaging and hardware materials. Some have the potential to give rise to concerns about their impact on human health and the environment.

There is myriad chemical-related legislation to which we need to adhere - for example, UK legislation on food contact materials and the EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation.

In addition, we’ve taken a policy stance on the concerns associated with a number of chemicals which are not currently covered by legislation. For example, we do not permit acrylamides, novolac glycidyl ethers, perfluorooctane sulphonate, and phthalates to be present or used in our packaging.

We’ve also operated to a no-PVC policy for many years and this applies to PVC derivatives as well. However, where there is no alternative we do permit the use PVdC.

In line with French legislation we also do not permit the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in any items intended to come into direct contact with food in France.

All fabric must also conform to our Clothing & Home Environmental & Chemical Policy. For example, the use of azo dyes are not permitted. Find out more about our approach to responsible chemicals management.

We do not permit the use of packaging material (including films) made from materials which incorporate a chemical additive to initiate degradation by light, heat, mechanical stress and moisture over a period of time as they are not suitable for recycling with mainstream plastics and wider environmental impacts are uncertain. 

Where there is no functional barrier (a barrier used to prevent migration of some chemicals released by food contact materials into food) in place we only use virgin fibre in paper and board. In these instances we also only use low migration inks.

Checking compliance with our standards
All suppliers are required to ensure that packaging used in both the finished product and for any food contact packaging has been sourced from a manufacturer audited and approved to the BRC Global Standards Packaging Standard (A or B Grade). We require this audit to be carried out by one of BRC Global Standards 4 or 5 star rated certification bodies.

If a site has not held a valid BRC Global Standards audit we may accept an equivalent Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) benchmarked standard (e.g. Food Safety System Certification 22000, IFS PacSecure, or SQF Food Safety Management Certification). 

All hardware must only be sourced through an M&S approved hardware agent. We carry out Agent Audits to ensure that their management of and compliance with our requirements is evident for their relevant supplying sites and that they have the appropriate competencies. 

Agents are audited by FSIG (our approved audit provider) to a defined protocol that covers their responsibilities with regard to the application of our relevant policies, Codes of Practice and Guidelines at the sites they source finished products from.

All sites involved in the final finishing and assembly of packaging and hardware must be registered on the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex). Each must be linked to M&S Food on the system and have completed in full the Sedex Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) modules on labour standards, health and safety, environment and business ethics.

These sites are also risk assessed for ethical trade audit requirements. Where required all audits must be conducted to the 2-Pillar Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit Methodology (SMETA) which is based on the ETI Base Code

Reducing the overall impact of packaging and hardware

Reducing the packaging footprint
We want to use the most environmentally efficient forms of packaging systems throughout the supply chain to help reduce the overall carbon footprint of packaging and products.

We require our suppliers to use the optimum level of materials to ensure that products are protected in the supply chain and remain as fresh as possible for the duration of their shelf-life.

For example, between 2007 and 2012 we reduced our packaging by 25%. Since 2012, we’ve continued to support the delivery of WRAP’s Courtauld Commitment targets which aim to reduce the carbon impact of food packaging, providing a more balanced assessment of environmental impact. As a result, between 2012 and 2014 our food packaging usage has reduced by a further 10% per item.

We are currently actively exploring the use of plastics made from plant-based materials. Not to be confused with biopolymers (e.g. PLA), these are conventional plastics such as PET which are made using plant-based oils rather than petroleum-based oils. Plant-based plastics typically have a lower environmental footprint and are recyclable.

Transit packaging
We were the first UK retailer to introduce reusable food transit packaging systems in the late 1960s to tackle our biggest use of packaging – how we transported our product from farm or factory to store. Over 70% of our food is now transported in this way saving around 20,000 units of single trip packaging each year.

We continue to take action on transit and home delivery packaging. For example, with home delivery items we’ve reduced the levels of wrapping used on individual products within a single parcel. Furthermore, in collaboration with our suppliers we’ve launched water-free packaging for bouquets of flowers bought online. The flowers are sealed in a water-free airtight bag during transit from our warehouse to the customer’s home. These packs significantly reduce water usage and damage to the flowers. We estimate that this packaging saved over half a million litres of water in 2014/15.

Ensuring our packaging is right for our consumers

Fit for purpose and ease of use
We are committed to protecting our brand integrity and maintaining customer trust by ensuring that our products are safe, legal and high quality. We have a duty of care to ensure that our customers are reassured that the product they’ve bought is in the same state in which it left the factory.

Our suppliers are required to ensure that any tamper features must be very evident. For example, it must be visible and obvious to the naked eye if the packaging has been opened and re-sealed.

Whilst packaging needs to be robust and secure enough to protect, it’s also important that our customers are able to access the contents easily. According to BSI, nearly half of over-65s, and one in six people under 40, find it hard to open everyday packaged items. We require our suppliers to ensure that their packaging meets the requirements of DD CEN/TS 15945:2011 ‘European Technical Specification for Ease of Opening’. For example, we ask consumers aged between 65 and 80 to open the packaging and reach the contents inside, taking note of how long this takes and how easy users find it.

Reuse and recyclability
Our current strategy is to optimise the amount of packaging that we use which in turn can either be reused or recycled. Whilst we are supportive of the use of compostable materials in the right circumstances we do not believe that they are right for our business at this time.

We have recognised the importance of recycling for well over 10 years. Over 90% of all the packaging we use is recyclable in the UK and we’re working with partners to develop facilities for the other 10% which includes lightweight and carbon efficient packaging such as black CPET recipe dish trays and multi-layered pouches. We also discourage the use of polystyrene as these materials aren’t widely recycled. Currently less than 1% (by weight) of the packaging we use is attributable to either EPS or PS. 

However, we need more materials at a higher quality collected at the kerbside and made available to our suppliers.

We’re collaborating on projects to improve the availability of recycled materials and reduce the carbon footprint of packaging. For example, we’ve investigated ways to improve the recycling of black CPET trays used for many of our recipe dishes, we’ve trialled a new recyclable barrier paper to replace foils in the packaging for crisps and biscuits, and continued to replace our polystyrene packs with other more easily recyclable types of plastic.

We were one of the founding partners of the cross-industry partnership, Pledge 4 Plastics developed by WRAP and Recoup to promote awareness of the importance of recycling plastic bottles, tubs and trays. The campaign was trialled with Kent Resource Partnership in 2014 where there was a 17% uplift in plastics collection during the trial. It was rolled out as a UK wide toolkit in November 2015 across regions via Recoup. We continue to be actively involved and have a seat on the Recoup Board.

We also support WRAP’s Ten Cities campaign and have sponsored specific action in Greater Manchester. For example, in 2014 we supported an event with the University of Leeds and the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) on the role of packaging in helping to extend product life with students, academics and local businesses. To help reduce food waste, we also ran a series of cookery classes in Greater Manchester to help people plan and portion effectively, cook with confidence and make the best use of their leftovers. This initiative reached 180 residents and ran in conjunction with an event in the centre of Manchester to help educate consumers about how to avoid food waste and also the important role that packaging plays to protect the product.

We’ve also invested in partnerships to improve national levels of packaging recycling, the first of which was with Somerset County Council’s Waste Partnership. This has enabled the council to add plastics and cardboard to the materials it collects from homes across its five district councils. 

Fresher for longer
We’re identifying opportunities to help reduce food waste in the home by improving the design of our packaging and the guidance we give to our customers.

We’re also working in collaboration with suppliers to reduce supply chain food waste using innovations in packaging.

We’ve taken action to improve the clarity of food date code labelling and changed freezing instructions from ‘freeze on day of purchase’ to ‘freeze by date code’. Together with the actions of other retailers and food suppliers this has already succeeded in reducing UK household food waste by over 1m tonnes.

We support and helped launch WRAP’s Fresher for Longer campaign and have taken action on packaging to extend product life and make it fresher for longer. For example, we’ve introduced PerfoTec Respiration Control System for packaging of strawberries and raspberries which measures the moisture content of the fruit and then perforates the film accordingly so that the product respires at the optimum rate to extend its shelf life by 2 to 3 days.

Our close working relationship with Kent Resource Partnership enabled us to reach 20,000 Kent residents as part of the Fresher for Longer campaign. The aim of this was to raise awareness about how packaging can extend the life of food products.

Labelling
We initiated work with WRAP which led to the development of the On Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme which aims to improve communications with consumers about what types of packaging can be recycled.

We were the first to launch and deliver OPRL on food packaging in the UK. Over 75% of our retail packaging now carries these standardised labels.

We continue to be actively involved in the development of OPRL and have a seat on its Board.

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

To develop our approach to packaging, we’ve worked with many partners, including INCPEN and WRAP. Operationally, Smithers Pira, BRI Global Standards, Sedex and Campden BRI are helping us ensure the safety and integrity of our packaging. And we’re also working with a number of organisations (Recoup, OPRL and Somerset County Council’s Waste Partnership) to promote the reuse and recycling of packaging.

We’re working closely with the Government, the Institute of Grocery Distribution, and the British Retail Consortium on various initiatives and are signatories to a major voluntary agreement overseen by WRAP.

We’ve already done a lot to improve our packaging sustainability credentials, but we know there’s much more to do. And we don’t pretend to have all the answers. That’s why we welcome the views of stakeholders who can help us improve our approach to packaging. You can share your views or open dialogue with us at PlanA@marks-and-spencer.com

Key documents

Find out about our approach to protecting forests


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Find out about our approach to responsible chemicals management


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Find out about our approach to waste and the circular economy


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Find out more about our approach to reducing food waste


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