Independents have been urged to capitalise on the government’s plastic reduction agenda, amid signs of growing consumer demand for plastic-free products and packaging.

This month prime minister Theresa May announced a target to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years. Under plans announced to date, the 5p plastic bag levy will be extended to small stores in England and retailers will be encouraged to introduce ‘plastic-free’ aisles. MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee have also called for a 25p levy on disposable coffee cups.

Amy Anslow, co-founder of ethical supermarket Hisbe in Brighton, said: “Sales and footfall have grown in the past few weeks, which is definitely connected to the government’s focus on plastics.

“Lots more people are interested in the laundry and washing-up liquid refills in particular, as well as our bamboo toothbrushes and products from our dry food dispensers.” 

Sales of Hisbe’s non-packaged range - including food and non-food - are up 53% year on year, while ‘eco-conscious’ toothbrush sales are up by over “600% in recent weeks”, driven by bamboo lines. 

She said independents were “ideally positioned” to take advantage of people’s interest, and urged them to work with their suppliers to improve packaging.

Jay Patel, manager of Ancoats General Store (Simply Fresh) in Manchester, is about to introduce Ecover refill dispensers and is looking into the option of dry food dispensers. “We give away free recyclable own-branded Tote bags which our customers love – and it’s free advertising for us - and all our coffee cups and lids are made of recyclable Vegware.

“I’d advise retailers to see what’s available on the market and see how you can adapt it to their stores,” he said.

Chris Pollard, owner of Barlby Village Stores in North Yorkshire, wishes he could do more to reduce plastic waste. “Plastic is obviously going to be a big factor in future, and everyone is talking about it, but there is not a lot I can do as a retailer to change things.

“I sell my Indian meals in plastic trays and cellophane tops, but the supplier says the non-plastic products won’t be ready for a few years. I’m going to try and get cardboard straws instead of plastic ones and look into other options.”

Dean Holborn, owner of two Holborn’s stores in Surrey said he might look to introduce reusable cups: “I think as time goes on people are becoming more conscious about what happens in the future. We might introduce reusable cups, where people can come in and fill up at any time, if the right supplier comes along.”

Multiples target plastic-free future

The Co-operative Group, which will be supplying independents from this year, has set a long-term target for 100% of its product packaging to be recyclable, with an interim target of 80% by 2020. Iceland has set its sights on eliminating plastic packaging used in all its own label products, where possible. By the end of 2023 the frozen food retailer is looking to use paper-based trays to store products rather than using plastic. Waitrose has pledged to not sell any own label food in black plastic beyond 2019. Most black plastic used by supermarkets for food such as ready meals and desserts cannot be recycled.