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Marks and Spencer introduces fiber-based tomato packs for UK recyclability boost

UK retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) is unveiling recyclable packaging for its British collection of vine tomatoes. The packaging replaces a hard-to-recycle plastic sleeve with recyclable cardboard and a small amount of plastic film as part of the company’s target to make 100% of its food packaging “widely recyclable” by 2025. 

The design, created in collaboration with The Reflex Packaging Group, features “just enough film” to preserve the freshness of the tomatoes – three on-the-vine tomato varieties, Piccolo, Pomodolci and Capella – and still enable the pack to be recycled as cardboard at home.

In addition, M&S has installed recycling take-back stations in over 500 of its UK stores to make it easier for customers to discard soft plastics. Customers can use this service to drop-off products that are not generally collected by local authorities, including those purchased from stores other than M&S.

Consumer demands
Innova Market Insights found that 23% of UK consumers believe that food retail companies carry responsibility for the plastic crisis, and 13% would like to believe these companies can be instrumental toward solving it.

In line with this, Andrew Clappen, technical director at M&S Food, says that the company’s customers are “deeply concerned” about the environment and expect M&S to make its products more environmentally sustainable.

The new pack features just enough film to preserve the freshness of the tomatoes.He adds: “That’s why we’re exploring recyclable packaging alternatives for our products, which also help us to meet our plastic reduction targets.” 

According to M&S’s 2017 Family Matters Index, 64% of UK families are worried about the environment, and 56% are making an effort to educate themselves about their own environmental effects. 

Furthermore, 88% believe supermarkets should use recyclable packaging wherever feasible, and 37% have already changed the food they buy as a result of climate change.

Packaging reduction targets
The new design was inspired by traditional sandwich packaging and comes as part of M&S’ aim to make all its food packaging broadly recyclable by 2025.

The store also aims to eliminate one billion plastic food packaging units by 2027. The new tomato packing design uses 95% less plastic and is expected to save 8 million units by the end of the year.

The company recently relaunched Plan A, its environmental sustainability policy, with the goal of being a net zero Scope 3 business throughout its supply chain and goods by 2040.Consumers expect M&S to make its products as environmentally sustainable as possible.

Introducing alternatives
Last year, M&S adopted widely recyclable packaging for its Mandagold tangerines line, reducing around 748,000 pieces of plastic. It expects to introduce the same packaging alternative to other citrus lines later this year.

The company also removed best-before dates from over 300 fruit and vegetable products, representing 85% of its product offering. Estelle Herszenhorn explained to PackagingInsights that food with a best-before date can still be good to eat for days, weeks or months after the printed date.

This change was designed to encourage customers to throw away less edible food at home by using their judgment.

M&S’s “Fill Your Own” refilling trial was also expanded as British consumers’ demand for refilling containers in-store continued to grow. The scheme offers over 44 lines of packaging-free cupboard essentials including popular cereals, pasta, rice, lentils, confectionery, coffee, dried fruits and nuts.

The retailer said that with this scheme, all products offer better value per gram than the packaged alternatives and helped customers adapt to the new shopping concept by providing free recyclable paper bags to shoppers without containers.