Plastics and packaging


Eliminating unnecessary plastics is our ultimate goal – and our progress towards it was recognised in 2021 when Waitrose topped the Greenpeace plastic footprint league of UK supermarkets for the second time in a row.

We know there’s more to do. We continue to remove unnecessary packaging in our supply chain where we can, and introduce alternative materials to make recycling easier. Our pledge that all own-brand packaging will be reusable or made from widely recyclable or home-compostable material, has been brought forward by two years to 2023. So far, 86% of our own-brand packaging meets that goal.

"Making sure our packaging works and is fit for purpose is just part of my job," says Karen Graley, Waitrose's packaging manager. "The other part is ensuring we meet our targets for making it as environmentally friendly as we can. We’ve pledged that by 2023, all own-label packaging will be widely recycled, reusable or home compostable, so we’re working with our suppliers and manufacturers to look at packaging alternatives."

Flexible plastics recycling trial

We're trialling a service in 37 Waitrose stores offering customers a way to recycle 'flexible' plastics such as crisp packets, sweet wrappers, plastic film and food pouches. The existing carrier bag recycling bins have been repurposed for the trial, which began on 23 May 2021. The plastic must be clean and dry in order for it to be recycled. We have introduced the scheme because only 6% of film and flexible packaging is recycled, even though it amounts to a quarter of the material used for consumer packaging.

Plan Plastic: £1 million to tackle plastic pollution

Projects funded by Waitrose have made a positive difference to the environment, according to a report. Plan Plastic – The Million Pound Challenge was announced in 2019 to support innovative solutions to tackling plastic pollution.

The £1 million fund, from the sale of 5p carrier bags, was used to provide grants of £150,000 to £300,000. The projects were selected with support from environmental charity Hubbub.

Almost two years later, the five projects chosen for funding have made a real difference.

  • Mussel Power, from Plymouth Marine Laboratory, demonstrated the potential of mussels to help stem the flow of microplastics from polluted estuaries and coastal water. It paves the way for this nature-based solution to be put into practice and further research into nature-based solutions to the problem of microplastics.
  • Community Bio-Recycling, from Onion Collection and Biohm, explored the effectiveness of mycelium, the root-structure of mushrooms, in breaking down and digesting plastic. A new bio-recycling facility created jobs and helped to regenerate an old paper mill in Watchet, Somerset
  • Environmenstrual, from Wen (Women's Environmental Network) and City to Sea, delivered taboo-busting education to students, including training 724 teachers and nurses to deliver workshops exploring the social and environmental issues of menstruation, while raising awareness about sustainable period products.
  • Safegear, from Blue Marine Foundation, developed a cost-effective beacon for fishermen to prevent lost fishing equipment becoming marine plastic pollution. The Blue Marine Foundation trialled more than 100 beacons with fishermen in the South West to find a simple-to-use solution. 
  • Message in a Bottle, from the Youth Hostels Association, eliminated the need for half a million single-use plastic bottles per year by providing water fountains for anyone enjoying the outdoors.

What we're doing about plastic in own-brand packaging

We no longer provide disposable coffee cups in our shops. We've stopped selling packs of disposable plastic drinking straws and have switched our plastic stem cotton buds to paper. We were the first supermarket to ban the sale of products containing microbeads, in September 2016.

Here’s what else we are doing:


Compost-friendly trays

We introduced the world's first home-compostable ready-meal tray for our Italian ready meals. It's fibre-based and made of tree pulp with a bio-laminate texture similar to cardboard, so if it cannot be composted, it can be recycled alongside paper. The supplier of the tray won the Waitrose 2019 sustainability award for its innovative design. It's 10% lighter, has a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions, saves 56 tonnes of black plastic annually and materials are sourced from Forest Stewardship Council-certified areas.

Shop Italian ready meals >


More plastic canned 

We've removed the plastic wrapping from multi-packs of Essential baked beans, tinned tomatoes and sweetcorn to save 18 tonnes of plastic a year.

This is part of our plan to reduce single-use plastics across products that can't be recycled, which will cut down waste in our supply chain. Customers can still enjoy our multi-buy offer on Essential beans and sweetcorn by adding four cans to their trolley, with discount applied at checkout.

Shop multi-pack tomatoes >



Recycle the rainbow 

We have replaced hard-to-recycle black plastic ready meal trays to coloured ones made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate bottles. The colour varies between pink, red, green and blue, depending on the materials used. The trays are made by a packaging solutions company called Faerch UK, and introducing them saves 500 tonnes of plastic going to landfill.

Find out more >


Carrier bags removed 

In 2019, we removed 5p single-use plastic carrier bags from all our stores. We've also replaced loose fruit and vegetable plastic bags with an alternative made from corn starch that can be home composted or used as a food waste caddy liner. In September 2021, we're phasing out our 10p plastic bags in store, and removing the bags option from online grocery deliveries and collections.

Find out more >


Unpacking the way we shop

Unpacked started as a trial in June 2019 in our Botley Road store in Oxford, to test how customers might be prepared to shop differently, with the aim of saving thousands of tonnes of plastic. The store has a dedicated refillable zone, including dispensers for dry goods, coffee, beer and wine refills, and a frozen ‘pick and mix’, as well as Ecover detergent and washing-up liquid.

The positive response from customers means we extended it to our shops in Cheltenham, and Abingdon and Wallingford, both in Oxfordshire.

Find out more >


Fine to flush 

We were the first UK supermarket to achieve Fine to Flush certification for our own-label Moist Toilet Tissue Wipes. The plastic-free wipes were approved by WRc, the independent technical experts who developed the 'flushability' standards with Water UK to make sure certified wipes break down quickly and easily in the sewer system.

Shop flushable wipes >


Reusable containers

We encourage customers to bring their own clean, lidded reusable containers to our meat and fish counters to save plastic bags. Since 2017, we’ve reduced these bags by five million. 

Plastics in our supply chain

In 2008, we signed up to the Global Ghost Gear initiative, which aims to protect marine life and minimise plastic pollution from abandoned fishing equipment. We’re also working with the fishing industry to find a use for lost and discarded fishing equipment. We regularly share our plans at supplier and farming conferences to encourage others to do the same.