Asda has undressed their swedes this August, removing all plastic wrapping from this entire range. Asda was the first of the big four supermarkets to create a comprehensive plastic unwrapped proposal. Their pledge “to use less and recycle more” commits to reduce the amount of plastic in its packaging by 10 per cent this year alone, as well as work with suppliers to research new alternatives to plastic packaging and find more recyclable solutions.
Produce Business UK sat down with Nikki Dixon, Asda’s first Senior Manager for Plastic Reduction, to discuss this new initiative, as well as her new role.
How did the Swedes initiative come about? Was it proposed by Asda itself or a collaborative idea with farmers?
As part of Asda’s plastic unwrapped project (which focuses on using less and recycling more plastic) we are working line by line to identify where we can remove or reduce plastic. We thoroughly test the impact of removing plastic before making the decision, as it’s extremely important that we can still offer the same quality of product with the same shelf life. We work closely with our farmers in all our decisions, and swedes was one where we were able to say confidently that removing the wrap would not impact on customers.
What is the projected impact of this decision?
We will remove nearly six million individual pieces of plastic each year by removing plastic from swedes alone, which is the weight of 14 tonnes of plastic.
Since Asda sells a comprehensive selection of vegetables, why did you decide to unwrap swedes in particular?
Swedes are a vegetable which don’t dehydrate too much through removing its plastic wrap, as opposed to products such as cucumbers, so we can be confident that, by doing so, we will retain their quality and shelf life.
You have an important role at Asda as Senior Manager for Plastic Reduction, could you explain exactly what it is and how it came about?
I have been at Asda for nearly 15 years in a variety of roles within the Marketing and Own Brand teams. My current role is a brand new role to Asda, which I started in February. We believe that Asda are the only retailer who have a full-time senior manager whose role is solely to focus on plastic reduction, improving recyclability and ensuring our packaging is sustainable. Asda is extremely passionate about reducing plastic. For this reason, this role was created as a new to the business.
What are your objectives, and how does this impact Asda in general?
My objectives are to work across the entire business to deliver the commitments we have made in our Plastic Unwrapped manifesto. I’m also the internal and external representative to keep everyone informed and updated on the progress we are making.
You are also responsible for the delivery of the Plastic Unwrapped manifesto. Could you elaborate on this a little?
Plastic Unwrapped contains the pledges we’ve made to use less and recycle more plastic. This includes a commitment to reduce plastic packaging in our own label products by an initial 10 per cent within a year and making all our packaging 100 percent recyclable by 2025. We’re also working with the Retail Institute at Leeds Beckett University to look at the future alternatives to plastic. For more information on our commitments, you can visit this link.
More broadly speaking, what is the current situation in the UK regarding plastic?
Nobody can avoid how big an issue plastic has become for people in the UK, and so we have a responsibility to take the serious action our customers demand. However, we do also need to be aware that plastic does its job very well and balance plastic reduction with the other commitments we’ve made, such as reducing food waste and reducing CO2 emissions. Plastic does an important job protecting our food through its life and, because it is so light and malleable, it also uses less energy than other products, such as glass or paper.
We also need to be aware that in some cases, such as plastic film or microwaveable plastic, there are currently no viable and scalable commercial alternatives. It’s really important that industry collaborates to find solutions — that’s why we’re working with Leeds Beckett University to horizon-scan for new materials and why we’re part of the UK Plastics Pact. We’ve committed that anything that we discover, we’ll share with other manufacturers and retail. In the meantime, we need to make sure that we only use plastic where it is absolutely necessary and remove or reduce as much as we can.
To that effect, what are some of the concrete areas that you have worked on for this so far?
So far, in the six months since we launched our manifesto, we have delivered the following:
- 4 per cent of plastic removed from our Own Brand packaging, on the way to our 10 per cent target.
- Single-use carrier bags phased out by the end of this year.
- Moved our pizza boards from plastic to cardboard saving 194 tonnes of plastic — the equivalent weight of 16 London buses.
- All produce moved from black to clear plastic — making them easier to recycle.
- Paper straws will replace plastic straws in our cafes from September
- Asda magazine will be paper wrapped from November — saving four million plastic bags every year.
- Re-useable non-profit coffee cup in-store now and 25p discount in our cafes to customers using their own cups.
- New ‘Less plastic packaging’ logo on packs where we’ve reduced plastic by 10 per cent or more.
- Founder members of WRAP UK Plastic Pact
Since we are a B2B publication focused on produce, innovations in produce and trends, we are really interested in how a UK retailer can affect this and also bring new products into the market. Any other produce in the pipeline to be “unwrapped”?
We are currently working line by line to identify other products which can be unwrapped, or where we can move to an alternative material. We hope to have more things to announce in the future. We’re also working with Leeds Beckett University on future materials that we hope will bring us some insight into packaging alternatives that can be scaled up for future commercial use.
Any other initiatives that you envision in the future?
It’s a long journey for us, so we’ll be continuing to look at how we can keep reducing our plastic usage across all parts of our business.