DS Smith, a leading international sustainable packaging company, has today released new research which finds that 1.5 million tonnes of plastic could be replaced each year from just five areas within supermarkets across Europe.
Its report, ‘Transforming the Supermarket Aisle’, was developed in conjunction with White Space, the leading growth strategy consultancy. It identifies plastic packaging, such as fresh produce punnets and shrink wrap, which supermarkets can replace with alternative, renewable materials. The five categories identified account for over 70 billion individual units of plastic (over 1.5 million tonnes) per year and are highlighted as targets for reduction and replacement by the packaging company.
Miles Roberts, CEO of DS Smith commented :
It is clear that we all have a big job to do, but we can already see through our research some of the potential answers. Our research demonstrates that simple changes in the materials used could make a big difference for retailers, thereby reducing plastic use by millions of tonnes over the next decade. While there is no silver bullet, we know that sustainable fibre-based packaging has a huge role to play, appealing to our customers and consumers alike.
Paper and cardboard has an 85 per cent rate of recycling across Europe and brings additional benefits for brands like digital printing and customisation. DS Smith has identified the following areas for innovation or substitution in retail :
- Plastic display trays : Often overlooked as shoppers don’t take them home, plastic trays on supermarket shelves have fibre alternatives and could be eliminated from the shelves.
- Fresh produce punnets : Plastic punnets are commonly used to package fresh produce across Europe and there is a significant opportunity for replacement.
- Shrink wrap : Nearly all soft drinks units are shrink wrapped at one stage of their life. As manufacturers consider non-plastic alternatives, corrugate and glue solutions were seen by our panel as ‘next generation’.
- Ready meals : Packaging needs are more complex in the ready-meal category, but change is on its way as corrugate alternatives are introduced following further innovation.
- Meat, fish and cheese : This segment represents a significant opportunity for innovation and replacement, with fibre-based alternatives well positioned.
There is a strong approval rate for cardboard among consumers at 55 per cent, compared to plastics at 7 per cent and polystyrene at 1 per cent in Europe. Meanwhile, with 85 per cent of European consumers willing to pay a 12 per cent premium for sustainably packaged goods, only a third (36 per cent) of Europeans believe brands and retailers are doing enough to introduce more sustainable packaging.
Miles Roberts added : “The replacement opportunity is just the tip of the iceberg, particularly when you consider additional sectors such as e-commerce or industrials. More work needs to be done, but we are making a start today by identifying a significant opportunity within the retail sector. We look forward to collaborating with our customers in response.”
The 1.5 million tonnes identified is just part of the 20 million tonnes of plastic packaging, which includes retail, consumer goods and e-commerce, produced in Europe each year. While industry is responding with packaging innovation and redesign using eminently recyclable materials, industry and government are important stakeholders in future progress.
The report commissioned by DS Smith estimates that the total market for replacement of these items is worth around £5.7 billion per year. The fresh produce punnet category alone is potentially worth over £2 billion per year to the fibre industry.
In addition to industry collaboration, DS Smith is calling on governments to do more. In the UK for example, there are a number of key pieces of upcoming legislation which will impact the sector. Once in place, initiatives such as a Plastics Tax, Extended Producer Responsibility reforms, collection policy and the introduction of deposit return schemes could deliver improved packaging circularity and promote innovation.
DS Smith will be hosting an Innovation Think Tank in Brussels in September to support its ongoing drive to tackle the plastic replacement challenge and invites industry leaders and our customers wishing to collaborate to register their interest here.
 White Space Analysis
Eurostat ‘Packaging waste by waste management operations and waste flow’ 2016 data
 White Space Primary Research
 Procarton, European Consumer Packaging Perceptions Study, October 2018
 PlasticsEurope – The Facts 2018
 White Space and DS Smith Analysis