Tackling Plastic Pollution

We cannot recycle our way out of the problem of ocean plastic pollution: it is essential to turn down the tap of plastic production.

This is why Iceland is the only supermarket to commit to eliminating plastic packaging from our own label food range by the end of 2023: an industry-leading and challenging pledge which has stimulated debate and encouraged others to take action.

We also strongly support the early introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme to increase plastic recycling rates, and are trialling Reverse Vending Machines in our stores, while our Charitable Foundation is working with Surfers Against Sewage to empower and reward plastic-free communities.

What's the problem with plastic?

By 2050, ‘there will be more single use plastic waste than fish in our oceans’ according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Over 12 million tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, causing serious harm to sea animals who often mistake broken fragments of plastic for food or become entangled in plastic nets, lines and bags.

UK supermarkets produce around a million tonnes of single use plastic packaging each year. Plastic pollution can no longer be ignored by retailers and that’s why we’re taking important steps to promote a plastic-free future.

What we're doing about it

We began by putting our house in order at our head office by banning plastic water bottles and cups, and by stopping the use of non-recyclable coffee cups. Every member of staff was given a reusable aluminium water bottle. We also banned the sale of plastic straws in our stores.

We then wrote to over 400 suppliers of our own label products and branded goods inviting them to get involved in the work of plastic removal, receiving a positive response. We now have 11 active Supplier Working Groups, involving 100 suppliers, sharing best practice and working proactively on innovation. Through this collaborative work, we have conducted more than a hundred plastic free or reduced plastic packaging trials.

In the first two years since we made our pledge to eliminate plastic by the end of 2023, we reduced our own label plastic packaging usage by 29%. That’s a total of 3,794 tonnes out of the 13,000 tonnes we were using in January 2018.

In October 2018 we removed 5p single use carrier bags from our tills removing 120 million of them a year from circulation.  Following a successful trial at our store in Hackney in July 2019, we rolled out reusable paper bags across all our stores and now have 50 stores that are completely plastic bag free, offering reusable paper or jute carrier bags as an alternative to plastic.

Across our range of approximately 1,500 own label products, we had reduced the number of lines packed in black plastic to 81 by July 2019, and ended all packing in black plastic by the end of January 2020.

Read our 2019 Plastics Annual Report here

Read our 2018 Plastics Annual Report here

Our #toocoolforplastic manifesto

We have shared our #toocoolforplastic manifesto with our entire supply chain so that we can work together to find innovative solutions to reducing and removing plastic.

We commit to:
1) Remove plastic packaging from Iceland own label products by the end of 2023 – because it is essential to turn down the tap on global plastic production.
2) Collaborate with and support our suppliers, and work with competitors and the packaging industry to find solutions.
3) Focus on materials that our customers can recycle easily at home and provide clear on-pack recycling information.
4) Minimise or remove packaging without creating more food waste or compromising food safety.
5) Go back to basics and use traditional materials like paper, board, glass, metal and wood.
6) Work quickly to remove PVC (polyvinyl chloride), polystyrene and black plastic, which are all very difficult to recycle.
7) Use widely recyclable plastic such as HDPE, PE, PP and PET*, but in smaller and smaller quantities as our journey progresses.
8) Use composite materials that are mainly made of paper and board but include small amounts of plastic – while we look for ways to replace it.
9) Lobby the Government to put in place national food waste collections for industrial composting alongside the consistent collection of a core group of packaging materials for recovery and recycling.
10) Report on our progress and what we have learned at the end of each year.

*High density polyethylene, polyethylene (film), polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate.


We believe it is impossible to solve the challenge of plastic pollution without first understanding the real scale of the problem. New research suggests that the world’s plastic consumption is much greater than realised, [1] but currently the overall usage by retailers and manufacturers is not available to policy makers or the public in a consistent and accessible way. This lack of transparency makes it impossible for anyone to judge which organisations are trying to make a difference and which are simply generating headlines with their new pledges and initiatives.

That’s why in September 2020, Iceland joined forces with four of the UK’s leading campaigners against plastic pollution – Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, A Plastic Planet and Surfers Against Sewage – to urge the Government to amend the Environment Bill to incorporate mandatory reporting on plastic packaging and UK plastic pollution reduction targets.

In addition, and along with our partners, we called on other big businesses to commit to enhanced transparency in reporting on all plastic packaging consumption.

Iceland has committed to publishing its total plastic packaging footprint annually, reporting transparently on all own label and branded products. By working towards #OnePlasticFootprint, we can all ensure real progress is delivered.

Read Our Plastic Packaging Footprint 2019 here.

[1] A report published 18th August 2020 by the National Oceanography Centre showed that more than 10 times as much plastic has been found in the Atlantic Ocean than previously estimated.

Plastic-free produce

In February 2019, we started to trial a plastic-free produce aisle at our Food Warehouse store in North Liverpool. This helped us understand customer views on new, plastic-free packaging and tested how we handle produce in the supply chain and store, as well as monitoring levels of food waste.

During the trial, sales of fresh fruit and veg fell by 30% in the store and this also led to increased food waste. We concluded that offering loose produce did not appeal to our customers and was therefore not a sustainable solution. However, the trial results supported our work to move lines including mushrooms, strawberries and grapes out of plastic punnets into paper and pulp-based moulded trays to help customers further reduce their plastic consumption.

We will continue our produce trials in 2021.

Reverse vending machine trial

In summer 2018, Iceland became the first UK supermarket to install in-store reverse vending machines, in support of the Government’s proposed Deposit Return Scheme in England. The trial saw five machines fitted in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales with stores in Fulham, Wolverhampton, Belfast, Musselburgh and Mold involved, as well as a machine for staff use at Iceland’s head office in Deeside.

The trial, funded by Iceland, gives shoppers a 10p voucher for each plastic bottle they buy in an Iceland store and recycle in a machine. They can also choose to donate the money to charity.

Within the first year, over 1 million bottles were scanned into Iceland’s reverse vending machines across the UK.

The findings from the 12-month trial have been publicised to inform the ongoing consultation on a national scheme.

Next steps...

We already use paper bags for some of our potato range and are testing the feasibility of using these more widely, subject to supplier packing capabilities in the short term, and are exploring non-plastic alternatives for onions and other products, including citrus fruits, typically packed in plastic netting.

Non-plastic flow-wrap has been trialled on a number of products and we are working to overcome the remaining technical challenges to its roll-out.

Fruitful discussions have been held with paper tub manufacturers and we are keeping track of developments and testing alternative surface treatments that have the potential to eliminate the need for plastic lamination.

We are also exploring potential alternatives for milk containers, and are considering a number of different solutions that could significantly reduce their plastic content. This has to be a longer term goal within our five year plastic removal plan, because of the massive amount of investment that the dairy industry has made to integrate plastic into the milk bottling process.

Follow our journey on social media #toocoolforplastic