Britain's biggest grocer is hoping to get rid of a billion pieces of plastic from its products

Key Points
  • In order to achieve its targets, Tesco will be making changes to the way it packages and offers its products. 
  • In attempting to reduce its use of plastic, Tesco joins other major firms such as Unilever. 
Tolga Akmen | AFP | Getty Images

Major U.K. grocery chain Tesco announced plans to remove 1 billion pieces of plastic from its own-brand products in its U.K. stores by the end of 2020.

The firm said Friday it would be making several changes to get rid of plastic. It will remove plastic trays used for ready meals; replace small plastic bags used for fruits, vegetables and baked goods with paper ones; get rid of straws and sporks from drinks cartons and snack pots; and remove secondary lids on items like yogurt and cereals.

Additionally, it will remove 200 million pieces of plastic that are currently used for greeting cards and clothing. Overall, the plans will essentially result in the removal of a total of 1 billion pieces of plastic by the end of next year. 

The retailer says it has adopted a strategy of "remove, reduce, reuse, recycle." In practice, this means Tesco will "remove non-recyclable and excess packaging from its business."

If this cannot be done, the grocer says it will collaborate with suppliers to reduce packaging to an "absolute minimum." Efforts will also be made to reuse packaging and recycle anything that is left over.

In a statement issued Friday, Dave Lewis, the CEO of Tesco, said the strategy was "already transforming our packaging."

"Over the next twelve months, we will remove one billion pieces of plastic, further reducing the environmental impact of the products we sell," Lewis, who recently announced his decision to leave the company, added.

In a statement on the Tesco website Paula Chin, WWF U.K.'s sustainable materials specialist, described plastic pollution as "the most visible symptom of the environmental crisis we're currently facing."

In the U.K., awareness of plastic pollution has been raised by shows such as "Blue Planet II." Presented by David Attenborough, the program highlighted the shocking impact plastic has on wildlife.

Tesco has a 27% market share in Great Britain's grocery sector, according to Kantar, ahead of rivals such as Sainsbury's and Asda, which have market shares of 15.3% and 15% respectively.

Tesco is the latest major business to announce efforts to reduce its use of plastic. At the beginning of October, consumer goods giant Unilever said it would halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025.

The business, whose brands include Dove, Ben & Jerry's and Lipton, said it would achieve this by cutting its "absolute use of plastic packaging" by over 100,000 tons and "accelerating its use of recycled plastic." Virgin plastics are produced using raw materials, rather than recycled ones.

The Anglo-Dutch firm also vowed to "help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells." Unilever's current plastic packaging footprint is around 700,000 tons each year.

In September, it was announced that Burger King in the U.K. would no longer have plastic toys with its kids' meals.

The fast food giant is also installing "plastic toy amnesty bins" in its U.K. restaurants, enabling people to return their free or giveaway plastic toys so they can be reused. The idea is to turn the recycled plastic toys into restaurant play areas or items such as trays.