The dedicated refillable zone at the Botley Road Waitrose store in Oxford. Photo: Waitrose & Partners

Seven out of top 10 UK supermarkets had increased their plastic footprint in the 2018, despite the public commitments to cut down their plastic packaging, finds a new report from Greenpeace.

Prepared in partnership with Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), the report, Checking out on plastics II: Breakthroughs and backtracking from supermarkets, reveals that supermarket plastic has risen to more than 900,000 tonnes per year.

Campaigners have urged retailers to offer packaging-free products or switch to reusable and refillable packaging to tackle the menace.

“Our survey shows that grocery retailers need to tighten up targets to drive real reductions in single-use packaging and items,” said Juliet Phillips, EIA Ocean Campaigner.

“It’s shocking to see that despite unprecedented awareness of the pollution crisis, the amount of single-use plastic used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets has actually increased in the past year.”

Eight supermarkets pumped out 58.3 billion billion pieces of plastic packaging. Only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s had achieved marginal reductions, the report finds.

“We hear piecemeal supermarket announcements on plastic every other week, but in reality they are putting more plastic on the shelves than ever,” said Fiona Nicholls, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

“Supermarkets need to buck up and think bigger. They must change their stores to offer loose food dispensers, reusable packaging, and move away from throwaway packaging altogether.”

Waitrose and Morrisons topped the ranking of supermarket plastic policies while Asda and Aldi occupied the bottom. Iceland, last year’s topper, dropped to seventh place and Sainsbury’s went from bottom of the 2018 table to third place this year.

Several leading brands, including symbol groups, failed to respond to the survey for the second year running, Greenpeace said in a statement. The non-respondents include Ocado, Best-One and Booker Group.

Costcutter and McColl’s provided a full response to the survey while SPAR UK submitted a partial response.

“A large data gap therefore remains among the UK’s leading convenience chains, including those owned by Booker Group (such as Premier, Londis and Budgens) and Best-One,” the report noted.

Mentioning the reported trials of refill stations for wine, oil, cereals, pulses and detergents in four SPAR stores, the report urged the group to share its experience across the industry as there are claims that the ‘convenience’ format is a hurdle to reusable systems.