Compacted plastic waste

Almost a billion plastic bottles are flying off supermarket shelves

Plastic pollution from bottled water sales is soaring as UK supermarkets reveal they sold almost a billion plastic water bottles in 2018.

Supermarkets surveyed by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace reported that sales of plastic water bottles increased 8.2 per cent from the six leading supermarkets which provided year-on-year figures.

None of the top 10 UK supermarkets offer water dispensers across all stores for customers to refill their own reusable bottles.

We are calling for retailers to drastically cut plastic water bottle sales and install water dispensers in store. Retailers must also force brands to offer soft drinks from refill stations so customers can refill their own bottles and help themselves.

EIA Ocean Campaigner Juliet Phillips said: “Single-use water bottles might seem convenient yet their impact on the environment is anything but.

“There’s untapped potential for a refill revolution in the drinks market – we urge supermarkets to work with brands to make these options available and accessible to customers across the country.”

The new report Checking Out on Plastics II: Breakthroughs and backtracking from supermarkets on plastics will be published on Thursday (28 November).

It reveals:

  • six supermarkets reported they sold 788.3m bottles in 2017 and eight supermarkets sold 805,000m bottles last year;
  • Asda and Sainsbury’s did not report how many bottles of water they sold in either year;
  • customers at Tesco, Aldi and Lidl do not have access to water dispensers
  • where other supermarkets offer taps, they’re limited to cafes or are only available in new stores.

Aldi, Iceland, Tesco and Waitrose all increased their sales of plastic water bottles between 2017 and 2018. At Iceland, plastic water bottle sales increased by 20.5m, up more than a fifth.

Recycling collection rates for plastic bottles in the UK are stagnant at about 59 per cent, demonstrating the need to drastically reduce how many plastic bottles we’re making in the first place as well as the importance of improving plastic bottle recycling.

EIA and Greenpeace call for reduction and reuse strategies to be complemented by the introduction of an all-inclusive deposit return scheme which covers cans and bottles of all sizes and materials.