Pollution occurs at every step along the retail supply value chain, posing a threat to biodiversity.
What’s going on?
Pollution occurs throughout the food retail supply chain – from inputs such as fertilisers to the extraction of materials such as through farming and fishing, processing and packaging, distribution and retailing, consumption and disposal.
As a result, pollution occurs in a variety of forms. Plastic pollution is, perhaps, the most visible retail pollution issue.
Plastic bags are another major cause for concern. UK grocery businesses are highly dependent on plastic packaging designed to be used once then discarded. Plastic waste leaches hazardous chemicals into the soil or is blown into rivers and oceans. Plastic, which makes up 80% of all marine debris, is lethal to marine life.[i]
Retail estates and facilities also contribute to pollution. Supermarket car parks, for example, exacerbate the accumulation of nitrogen, heavy metals and sediment in urban streams by increasing storm water run-off. Impervious concreted areas also create local heat islands which impact on local biodiversity.
Agriculture is another source of pollution. Pollution in form of synthetic fertilisers, chemical pesticides, livestock water, and nutrient runoff are all by-products of industrial agriculture which have significant impacts on biodiversity, human health, and nature.
Further, the decline of mixed farming resulting from the rise of specialised farms is another contributor to the decline of biodiversity.[ii]
Yet some farmers are actively supporting biodiversity: organic agriculture supports a much higher level of biodiversity than conventional farming systems, including species that have significantly declined, a growing body of evidence suggests.[iii]
The UK generates more plastic waste per person than almost any other country in the world – only the US is worse.[iv]
The UK generated 5.2 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2018 – enough to fill Wembley Stadium six times over.[v]
While 46% of the UK’s plastic waste is incinerated each year, 17% goes to landfill, and 19% is exported, less than 10% is currently recycled.[vi]
UK supermarkets generate 900,000 tonnes of plastic packaging every year.[vii]
Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans each year.[viii]
Plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris.[ix]
Up to 66% of marine mammal and 50% of seabird species are affected by the rising tide of ocean plastic.[x]
Get nature positive
Remove unnecessary plastic packaging. Explore ways to remove harmful chemicals within the packaging that leach into the environment. And switch to sustainably sourced, reusable, or recyclable packaging.
Take positive steps to make your estates and facilities more ecologically friendly.
Leverage supply chain relationships – in agriculture, especially, where efforts are growing to support farmers to engage in sustainable and regenerative agriculture which enhances the yield and resilience of production.
By driving up demand for sustainable alternatives, suppliers and retailers can make positive changes to the way food is grown and harvested. By incentivising farmers to adopt more biodiversity-positive practices – integrated pest management, for example – retailers can work to help reduce and optimise the use of environmentally-damaging pesticides and fertilisers.
Inspired by steps that food retail businesses are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive.