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Sustainable supermarket choices: Easter, electrified deliveries, and food banks

Which UK food retailers rank best on the environment? What should we look for when choosing where to buy our groceries? Ben Mercer unpacks the facts, from plastic wrapping to refill stations. 

bunch of vegetables

As we strive to become more sustainable, we are constantly on the lookout for ways we can reduce our eco footprint and incorporate more environmentally friendly practices into our daily lives. 

Supermarkets have also been riding the sustainability bandwagon and introducing new initiatives to reduce their impact. As consumers, we can make smart choices about where we buy our groceries from and what initiatives we support. Here is what to look for in a supermarket if you want to shop more sustainably. 

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions 

Greenhouse gas emissions are one of the biggest contributors to climate change. The consumer group Which? compiled the first supermarket sustainability table by examining accurate data from annual reports to measure how retailers compare when it comes to eco-friendliness. 

From introducing measures to use energy more efficiently, to switching to low-carbon and renewable fuels, supermarkets are reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in a number areas. However, Lidl indexed top on organisation-wide operational greenhouse gas emissions.

Becoming electrified 

Another way supermarkets are reducing their carbon footprint and helping their consumers to do the same is by switching to electric vehicles. Grocery chain Tesco recently became the first UK supermarket to use electric delivery lorries in a bid to make their delivery system more eco-friendly.  

Research showed battery-powered HGVs can compete with diesel lorries.  

Currently, the grocer has two 37-tonne battery-powered DAF lorries that are transporting food and goods from the outskirts of Cardiff to a location close to Newport. By obtaining over 2,000 electric trucks, the company has pledged to make its delivery service ‘fully electrified by 2028’. 

vegetable stand photo

Along with electrifying their delivery system, Tesco and other supermarkets are battling to be the go-to destination for EV drivers. Tesco has at least one EV charger installed at 455 of its stores, the majority of which can charge at 7 kW with a few stores boasting higher voltages.  

Morrisons is providing rapid charge with its minimum 50 kW chargers available at more than 200 of stores. And Waitrose will see 800 charging stations installed at up to 100 of its stores by 2025. 

By introducing EV chargers across their estates, supermarkets are encouraging customers to use more sustainable modes of transportation, such as e-bicycles and cars. 

Tackling plastics 

Every year, 56.5billion units of single-use plastic packaging are sold in the UK, according to Greenpeace. About 99% of plastic packaging is made using fossil fuels. 

Many major supermarkets are waking up to the damage this causes. And, as a result, they’re increasing recycling efforts. According to Which?’s supermarket sustainability table, Waitrose has the best plastic intensity score, while Iceland has the worst. Putting it into context, buying 20 typical items at Iceland can result in 73% more plastic packaging than an equivalent Waitrose shop. 

Supermarkets are investing in recyclable packaging, and Co-op is leading on this front. 94% of the grocer’s own-brand plastic is already recyclable at home, with the remainder recyclable in-store. 

At the same time,  supermarkets are introducing refill stations with dry goods such as pasta, rice, cereals, nuts, and grains, as well as household and personal care products such as washing-up liquid, handwash, and shampoo. 

‘We’re delighted to be joining forces with the mutual objective of reducing single-use plastic packaging,’ said M&S, Morrisons, Ocado, Waitrose & Partners and CHEP in a joint statement. By 2025, all supermarkets plan to make their plastic packaging 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable. 

woman selecting packed food on gondola

Cutting food waste 

Food waste is another major problem we’re facing, but supermarkets are taking big steps to reduce it. Which? found that all UK supermarket have stopped sending food to landfill. One popular way to dispose of it is by sending it for anaerobic digestion (AD), turning waste into biogas and compost. Currently, Ocado has the best food waste intensity score, as for every kilo of food bought, just 0.4g go to AD. At Aldi, Co-op, and Lidl, around 10g of food is wasted for every kilo bought. 

A more sustainable way of dealing with food waste is distributing surplus for human consumption, for example through foodbanks. This is an initiative that Tesco and Ocado are embracing, and M&S has donated 34million meals to charity since 2015. 

Another initiative that supermarkets are taking is removing best before labels on certain products, leaving customers to use their own judgement as to whether something is safe to eat or not. In January 2022, Morrisons became the first supermarket to remove best before dates on own brand fresh milk, one of the most commonly wasted items, and switched to selling it in carbon neutral cartons. 

Similarly, Tesco, Ocado, and Co-op are doing away wit ‘best before’ labels where possible, including yoghurt ranges. Research by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) shows that half of the 6million yoghurts bought daily in the UK are thrown away unopened. Often this because they have not been consumed in time. Considering the most common packaging we use for this type of food is plastic, the situation is particularly troubling. 

‘[Our] research showed that getting rid of best before dates on fresh fruit and veg can help reduce the amount of food we throw away from our homes by a staggering 50,000tonnes a year,’ said WRAP chief executive Marcus Gover

Making conscious choices about the supermarkets you shop at is a step towards reducing our environmental impact. Supermarkets have embraced various green initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint, waste generation, and energy consumption. But as consumers, we can also contribute to sustainability by bringing reusable bags, choosing eco-friendly products, buying in bulk, choosing local and organic products, and reducing food waste. 

Ben Mercer is Director of active travel specialist Leisure Lakes Bikes. 


More features:

Biodiversity Net Gain is now active policy, here are its limitations

Protecting ancient woodland and reforestation are key to tackling the climate crisis

What Downing Street can offer local authorities on energy efficiency

Images: nrd (top) / Thomas Le (middle) / Joshua Rawson-Harris


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