Three innovative ways retailers are tackling sustainability issues

22 October 2021 by Camilla Thomson
blog author

​While eco-savvy consumers have good intentions towards safeguarding the planet, sometimes standards slip – in the same way a packet of crisps might ‘accidentally’ slip into your shopping basket.  

Unfortunately, those lovely, crunchy crisps are protected by flexible plastic packaging not commonly accepted for kerbside collection (by a staggering 83 per cent of local authorities), a fact which will undoubtably leave a nasty taste in your mouth. 

In the past, this unsustainable packaging was disastrous for the planet as more than 16 million crisp packets were discarded every day in the UK, making a mountain out of the plastic pollution’s already gargantuan molehill. In addition, a report from WRAP estimated that flexible film contributed towards 290,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste in 2019. 

However, retailers are jumping on the sustainability bandwagon and firmly securing themselves there, to enable them – and their consumers – to actively work towards tackling the sustainability issues that the UK faces. 

Here are three ways retailers are doing their bit to tackle sustainability issues and better the world. 

1. Implementing in-store packaging recycling system 

Sainsbury’s now offers a recycling system at 520 of its stores across the UK to enable customers to recycle all flexible plastic packaging that can’t be easily recycled at home. 

The supermarket chain joined the Flexible Plastic Fund initiative in May, to ensure flexible plastics are properly recycled. Just six per cent is currently collected for recycling despite representing a fifth of all UK citizen plastic packaging. 

The recycling points at the front of the selected stores enable easy disposal of flexible plastic packaging. Besides crisp packets, packaging that can be recycled through the scheme includes salad bags, food pouches and biscuit and cake wrappers. 

The supermarket was the first retailer to pledge to halve its use of plastic packaging by 2025 with some ranges already reduced by 70 per cent. Sainsbury’s is also the Principal Supermarket Partner for COP26, the United Nation’s international climate change conference, this November. 

Claire Hughes, Director of Product and Innovation at Sainsbury’s, said: “We’re really excited to announce the mass rollout of the Flexible Plastics Recycling Scheme in over 520 of our stores, helping our customers to recycle more of their plastic packaging, instead of it ending up as waste. 

“Making recycling easier for our customers is a key part of our strategy to minimise the impact of single-use plastics on the environment, alongside our own ambitious target of reducing the use of plastics in our own operations by 50 per cent by 2025.”

2. Phasing out plastic hangers for reuseable, recyclable, biocomposite ones 

H&M plans to banish the plastic and enhance its own circularity by focusing energy on innovation and smart design for packaging clothes. It is introducing recyclable garment hangers and phasing out standard non-recyclable hangers to help make the industry greener. 

The fashion chain has also committed to eliminating polystyrene plastic by 2023 as part of its action plan to tackle waste and improve sustainability. 

These moves pave the way for the company to meet its ambitious pledge that will see 100 per cent of its packaging made from recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030, while all packaging will be reusable or recyclable by 2025. 

H&M has created a recyclable packaging system using certified paper rather than single-use plastic for online orders, an initiative which enables customers to receive goods and then easily recycle the packaging afterwards. 

One of its biggest partners in helping H&M drive change is Fashion Pact, a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry that set environmental goals for bringing global warming to a halt, restoring biodiversity and protecting our oceans. 

As part of the collaboration, H&M has pledged to eliminate any unnecessary, environmentally-damaging plastic in its consumer packaging by the end of 2025 and in business-to-business packaging by 2030. It has also set a target of using 50 per cent pre and post recycled plastic in consumer packaging by 2025 and in B2B packaging by 2030.  


3. Reusable packaging containers for in-store shopping

Tesco is keeping customers in the Loop, literally, when it comes to better packaging for the environment. 

The groceries retailer has joined forces with Loop, a global reusable packaging platform, that enables consumers to buy products in reusable packaging that can be later returned to the store when empty, for cleaning, refilling and reusing. 

The scheme is currently rolled out across 10 large Tesco stores in the east of England where 88 products will be available in the new reuseable range. They include Tetley Tea, BrewDog, Persil and Fever-Tree, as well as 35 of Tesco’s own brand essentials such as sugar, rice, oil and pasta. 

Customers keen to try the reusable packaging at the selected stores can visit the instore Loop fixture and select products. The Loop range is prefilled and ready to use with a fully refundable deposit paid on each product at the checkout (starting at 20p) which is then refunded once the packaging is returned. 

Ken Murphy, Tesco Group CEO, said: “We are determined to tackle plastic waste and one of the ways we can help is by improving reuse options available to customers. Bringing Loop to our stores is a significant milestone in this journey. 

“With 88 everyday products available, we’re giving customers a wide range of options and we’ll learn as much as we can from this to inform our future packaging plans.” 


Camilla Thomson is an Interim Lead at Acre, helping to develop the interim function. She provides flexible support to clients who may face challenges or who are embarking on new projects related to Sustainability. 

Prior to Acre, Camilla spent seven years in Technology interim recruitment working with clients across various industries. Her career to date has been focused on business development and growing contract teams internally.