- Worst examples of over-packaging are meats and seafood in plastic containers
- Sainsbury's sushi has large label across middle giving impression more is inside
- Consumers feel short-changed, the excess packaging threat to the environment
- A report found the UK produces more than 170million tonnes of waste annually
Published: 17:45 EST, 3 January 2018 | Updated: 17:45 EST, 3 January 2018
Fewer things are more irritating that discovering items have been packaged by supermarkets to conceal vast amounts of air.
But four of Britain’s major supermarkets are doing just that, misleading customers and contributing to the country’s growing plastic waste problem.
Stores are strategically placing labels and cardboard cases on items, leading shoppers to believe they are getting more food than they really are.
Tesco placed a large label on a pack of boneless filet of salmon. The effect was to conceal the fact to unwary shoppers that the tray was barely half full
An investigation by the Daily Mail discovered that Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose are all deploying the tactics. Many of the most egregious examples of over-packaging found were meats and seafood sealed into plastic containers.
One small tray of sushi sold by Sainsbury’s was found to have a large label across the middle, concealing an unnecessary plastic ledge inside the container and making the shopper believe there are more pieces of sushi than there are.
Meanwhile, a Tesco customer posted a photo of a piece of cod sold by the store on Twitter, revealing that the label was used to conceal the fact that half of the packet was empty.
At Marks and Spencer, a British beef filet costing £8.20 is sealed into a tray nearly four times the meat itself. The product label conceals the fact that the black plastic container is largely empty
At Marks and Spencer, an £8.20 Britsh Beef Fillet is sealed into a tray nearly four times the size of the meat itself. Similarly, the store sells calf liver with butter packaged in twice as much plastic than necessary.
A vacuum-sealed pack of smoked salmon from M&S comes in a cardboard container nearly 50 per cent larger than the fish itself.
And a bag of chicken breasts at Waitrose is seemingly equal parts meat and plastic because each of the small fillets is individually wrapped.
As well as leaving some consumers feeling short-changed, the excess packaging is a clear threat to the environment.
A bag of chicken breasts at Waitrose might seem to be a bargain. But, on closer inspection, the contents seem to be equal parts meat and plastic because each of the fillets is individually, and elaborately, wrapped.
A report earlier this year found the UK produces more than 170million tonnes of waste annually.
The Daily Mail has lead the way in the campaign against the rising tide of plastic.
Sainsbury’s has a programme entitled ‘Waste less, Save more’, which it describes as a ‘mission to change the way we think about the food we buy, cook, eat – and throw away’.
The project aims to provide ‘practical hints and tips on how to save money on your food bills’ along with ‘recipes, videos and articles on the world of waste’.
A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, which represents major stores, said: ‘We have long said that appropriate use of packaging preserves food and reduces waste.
A small eight-piece tray of sushi sold by Sainsbury’s was found to have a large label across the middle, which conceals an unnecessary gap or trough inside the container which holds a tiny bottle of sauce. An unsuspecting shopper might believe there are two or three extra pieces of sushi behind the label.
‘Grocery retailers have already achieved notable reductions in food and packaging waste through working with WRAP on the Courtauld Commitment targets and the Love Food Hate Waste campaign. ‘An understanding of the role that packaging plays in keeping food fresher for longer in the home can stimulate further reductions in food waste.’
Consumers also have a role to play in reducing supermarket packaging waste, according to think-tank Food Tank, which aims to reduce waste and alleviate hunger around the world by providing a network between producers, consumers and governments.
Speybay oak-smoked salmon at Marks & Spencer fills the window of the smart black packaging. But, once opened, it is obvious that the salmon in no way covers the vacuum-sealed silver card that it lies on
President Danielle Nierenberg emphasised the importance of a continued effort by shoppers, adding: ‘I think many grocery stores are using the increasing consumer interest in preventing waste or concerns about food safety as an excuse to justify excessive packaging, including wrapping bulk vegetables.
‘Consumers, unfortunately, have to be continually vigilant with their purchasing decisions and make their concerns about packaging known to producers and retailers.’
The Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned the British Market Research Bureau to collect and analyse packaging for 29 common food items from eight UK supermarket companies in 2009.
Waitrose was found to have the most packaging, followed by Lidl and Co-Op. Tesco and Marks and Spencer had the least packaging.
After releasing the results, the LGA said: ‘If we had less unnecessary packaging, it would cut costs and lead to lower prices at the tills. When packaging is sent to landfill it is expensive for taxpayers and damaging for the environment.’
In 2009 the landfill tax was £32 per tonne of rubbish. It has now more than doubled to £82 per tonne.