Too much plastic isn’t fantastic

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15 November 2018

Globally, 320 million tonnes of plastic is produced annually, of which only 9% gets recycled and too much is leaching into the environment. We know action on plastics is very important to our customers and at M&S, we're doing everything we can to reduce the amount of plastic we use.  We think packaging should only be used as a last resort and that's why, our goal is to remove over 1,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from our business this year.

We welcome Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency’s (EIA) latest report on major UK retailers’ actions to tackle plastic pollution. This survey shows transparently where the retail sector stands today, and crucially how much more we all need to do. 

At M&S, we’re rethinking our packaging – taking plastic out, replacing it with eco-friendly alternatives and making sure that any we do use can be easily recycled. We were the first retailer to announce that 100% of our packaging will be widely recycled by 2022 and to commit to removing the most problematic plastics for recycling, such as polystyrene, by 2019.

Earlier this year, we recognised we needed to do much more to curb our plastic consumption and set year-on-year 5% reduction targets to reduce our single use plastic footprint. We have already replaced the 75 million pieces of plastic cutlery with FSC certified wooden alternatives, removed the two million plastic straws we use in M&S Cafés by swapping with paper ones and taken the plastic out of all 450 million tea bags we sell per year.

We are removing unnecessary plastic from items such as greetings cards and cashmere jumpers and we’re phasing out non-recyclable black plastics from our products. For example, all our produce is now in clear plastic and we are rolling this out across our meat and poultry ranges by July. All plastic in coffee pods will also be recyclable aluminium by June. Already 99% of the 52 million hot drinks sold to our customers in our cafés are served in reusable china and since April 2018, we’ve been offering incentives for customers to bring their own reusable cups and help eradicate the small number of single use cups we do use. We also freely refill customers’ water bottles to help them avoid buying new single-use bottles.

Our award-winning packaging team was recently recognised by the UK Packaging Awards as Development Team of the Year. This reflects their influential leadership in tackling the big thorny issues impacting packaging today, including how to recycle coloured plastics and thin films, assessing whether biopolymers are really better, in terms of their impact on land use, food security and biodegradability in the real world and tackling laminates where different materials are bonded together (for example cardboard and plastics) to the detriment of recovering either.

Vital to our efforts is collaboration between the government, organisations and businesses, as when we work together we go further and faster. We're part of the UK Plastics Pact and recently signed the New Plastics Economy's Global Commitment to reduce plastic waste and pollution by 2025. Two of the biggest challenges we all face is shifting consumer behavior towards recycling and ensuring the UK recycling infrastructure is fit for purpose.  We are part of two flagship initiatives, working with Hubbub on the #LeedsbyExample to step change the recycling of food-to-go packaging and with Plastic Bank to monetise plastic waste recovered from the oceans. In terms of the UK’s recycling infrastructure, we are actively working with the government on Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) reforms to ensure the tax changes for brands and retailers enable a much-needed recycling transformation.

Led by our Food Managing Director Stuart Machin, every member of our team plays an active role in bringing M&S's Five Plastic Principles to life - Refuse, Redesign, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - to help M&S reach its plastic reduction targets. These values are enabling a step change in packaging innovations across our product ranges and there has never been a more exciting time to be part of our team!

Read more about our Plastics Plan here

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