Small steps: Bigger picture

Three retailers, Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis, have met commitments to phase-out glitter from Christmas products due to the damage the microplastics can cause to the natural environment. Aldi and Tesco have both committed to removing glitter from products.

Meanwhile, Electrolux has unveiled the first product range as part of a new ‘circular initiative’ with Stena Recycling: A new vacuum cleaner made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastics and reused materials.

Despite its metallic appearance, most glitter is made up of PET plastic bonded to aluminium, making it a source of microplastic pollution.

Given that up to 32,000 tonnes of microplastic pollution enter British waterways each year, many retailers have made the decision to move glitter from their shelves. 

That these two announcements came on the same day this week is co-incidence and there are probably many people who will be happy that they no longer have to vacuum tiny bits of glitter from their carpets (although Christmas tree needles are a harder nut to crack).

Both are relatively small steps: Morrisons has confirmed that glitter has been completely removed from its own-brand ranges of greetings cards, gift wrap, seasonal items and horticulture in stores. Plans are also in place to extend the phase-out to non-seasonal items.

The move will see more than 50 tonnes of plastic removed from shelves during the festive period. Soluble inks, foil and paper will instead be used to decorate the items. Crackers will be made from FSC accredited cardboard so they can be recycled.

Morrisons has also removed all plastic toys from its Christmas crackers, which the retailer claims will be 100% plastic-free. Games and gifts found in crackers will be designed for reuse and made out of paper, metal and wood.

Waitrose and John Lewis have confirmed that glitter has been removed for all their single-use Christmas products, meeting a commitment it made in 2019. 

Now, all own-brand cards, gift backs, wrapping paper and crackers are completely free from glitter. Instead, items have been decorated using embossing or ink. This also applies for flowers and plants at Waitrose. 

It’s part of a bigger picture though. In May, Morrisons increased its target to reduce own-brand plastic packaging from 25% to 50% by 2025.

Building on Waitrose & Partners’ pledge to phase out plastic glitter from its own-label cards, wrap, crackers, tags, flowers and plants by Christmas 2020, John Lewis & Partners also made the same commitment.

“While consumers may not be too bothered about the ‘green’ details, they are prepared to ‘do their bit’ – even if that means giving up glitter at Christmas – as it’s ‘the right thing to do’.”

So if you’ve still got glitter to deal with, you’ll be able to use Electrolux’ new vacuum cleaner, developed in collaboration with Stena Recycling. It uses plastics and components made from post-consumer electronic products including hairdryers, computers and other vacuum cleaners from Nordic households.

By 2030 all Electrolux product ranges will contain at least 50% recycled materials. The vacuum forms part of Electrolux’s Circular Initiative, which aims to boost the market for recycled plastics alongside alternative materials to virgin plastics.

Says CEO Jonas Samuelson: “The partnership with Stena Recycling is one of the important initiatives we engage in to push ourselves and the industry forward through knowledge sharing and innovation.

“We want to support consumers in making sustainable choices, and to succeed we need a solid approach to circularity.”

More than 400 million metric tons of plastic are produced globally every year, but less than 12% of this comes from recycled materials.

Electrolux has been raising awareness of these issues since 2010 through the Vac from the Sea project to get plastic waste out of the world’s oceans and into home appliances made of recycled plastic.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation observes that the transition to a circular economy is vital to putting the world within touching distance of a net-zero carbon economy, because focusing on decarbonising the energy sector alone will not be enough.

And why does this matter to those of us in transport?

It’s a further reminder of the power of consumers. They say that single-use plastics are bad. The problem of micro-plastics in water now has such a high public profile that consumers will base their buying decisions on whether a product is ‘green’.

That impacts on transport in two ways. Firstly, for a zero-carbon or carbon-neutral product to hit the shelves it means that its journey to retailers must be by ‘green transport’, as must the materials and their transport that go into its production.

And, as transport is the biggest ‘carbon baddie’ it’s the one that eyes are on to tackle. Witness how supermarkets are rapidly embracing low-carbon and carbon-neutral transport methods.

Secondly, while consumers may not be too bothered about the ‘green’ details, they are prepared to ‘do their bit’ – even if that means giving up glitter at Christmas – as it’s ‘the right thing to do’.

Bluntly, if a product says it’s ‘green’ and there’s a similar product that isn’t, then it’s the ‘green’ one that they will choose. And transport is inexorably linked with all consumer purchases.

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