The 5 largest retail shops in the UK in order: Tesco, Sainsburys, Asda, Morrisons and Amazon. Via Unsplash, credit: Saman Tsang

With consumers increasingly focused on sustainability, many of the UK’s leading supermarkets are trying to become more eco-friendly. Dominic Challis investigates their green credentials

Tesco

Tesco is the market leader for groceries in the UK. Founded in 1919, there are currently 4,008 shops in the UK.

  • Tesco is an active member of the Ethical Tea Partnership, a not-for-profit organisation that has been working with tea producers and companies to improve sustainability of the tea industry since 1997.
  • Tesco offers customers a selection of Fairtrade certified products.
  • In 2020/21 Tesco handled 10,554,352 tonnes of food, generating 84,124 tonnes (0.8%) of unsold food-waste.
  • in September 2019, Ethical Consumer gave Tesco a poor rating for its policy on the use of toxic chemicals in its electric products.

Sainsbury’s 

Founded in 1869, Sainsbury’s is the second-largest retailer in the UK. There are 1,415 stores in the UK.

  • Sainsbury’s has a record of providing zero waste to landfills since 2013.
  • Through their colleague behavioural change project 17,992 tonnes of CO2 have been saved.
  • They were the first retailer to offer recyclable alternatives in their own-brand range saving over 1,000 tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic each year.
  • In 2018, Sainsbury’s came last in a survey of supermarket plastic policies conducted by Greenpeace and was found to have made the least progress on plastic reduction since January the year before.
  • In 2019, Sainsbury’s promised to cut just 77 tonnes of plastic packaging, while ASDA achieved 6,500 tonnes of reductions. The average reduction for supermarkets was 2,217 tonnes.

Asda

Asda is the third-largest retailer in the UK, founded in 1949, there are 631 stores in the UK.

  • In 2018, Asda launched ”Plastic Unwrapped”, their first corporate pledge to use less and recycle more plastic.
  • In 2019, Asda processed 21,881 tonnes of food and surplus and food waste from their stores and repots.
  • In October 2020, Asda opened its first sustainability trial store in Leeds. They partnered with brands like PG Tips, Kellogs and Radox to install new equipment at the store so customers can bring their own containers to fill up.
  • In 2019, Asda and its owners, Walmart were found to sell several products associated with animals rights issues.

Morrisons

Founded in 1899, Morrisons is the fourth largest supermarket in the UK and has 497 stores in the UK.

  • In 2020, Morrisons became the first grocery chain in the UK to eliminate plastic bags from its stores, saving 3,200 tonnes of plastic a year.
  • Beating David Attenborough’s Ocean Rescue, Morrisons was voted the most environmentally responsible company in the UK.
  • Morrisons launched a ‘We’ll Weigh What You Need’ service at its fresh food counters to help customers buy exact food amounts to reduce waste. Each household on average wastes £500 worth of food each year.
  • Morrisons became the first supermarket to offer plastic-free fruit and vegetables.
  • During April this year, ‘Animal Equality UK’ launched a Twitter attack on Morrisons for: “ignoring the severe animal suffering in its chicken supply chain.” Multiple Twitter accounts called for Morrisons to explain the truth.
  • Morrisons confirmed that 11,000 tonnes of food went to waste in stores in 2017/18.

Amazon

Amazon is an American multinational technology company, and the fifth biggest retail shop in the UK. It was founded in 1994.

  • Amazon have pledged to be net zero carbon by 2040.
  • Rushed packages are often transported on planes rather than cars and trucks, producing a great amount of CO2.
  • There are over 100 million subscribers who pay for Amazon prime, which offers next day delivery and free returns. This means more trucks, more planes and more cardboard.
  • There has been a 20% increase in cardboard used by Amazon over the last decade.
  • If you need something, rather than walking or driving, you just tap or click. That simplicity makes opting for the slower, greener choice even more difficult.

Although prices may be cheaper at supermarkets there are many more reasons why we should shop local. If you care about food waste, using a vast amount of packaging and burning petrol through deliveries… then walking to the local corner shop and doing your shopping there would be an effective start to living a greener life.