On February 24, 2020, the UK branch of the supermarket chain Lidl announced that starting in March 2020 it will begin using food packaging made from ocean-bound plastic collected from Southeast Asia. Ocean-bound plastics are plastic waste that exist as pollution in the environment and are bound to eventually end up in oceans. They are most often existing in and collected from rivers and other waterways. The packaging is set to be used for 13 fresh fish products, and the change is part of Lidl’s effort to achieve the goal of having 50% of its packaging made from recycled materials by 2025. The packaging is reported to be made from 80% recycled materials with a minimum of 30% of the weight coming from ocean-bound plastic. Georgina Hall from Lidl’s office of corporate social responsibility commented: “We are proud to be the first UK supermarket introducing packaging incorporating plastic that would have otherwise ended up in the ocean, helping to tackle the problem directly as part of our commitment to prevent plastics ending up as waste. We are actively looking to extend this innovative solution to other product lines to help reduce the amount of plastic ending up in our oceans and keep our environments healthy.”

However, there are concerns being raised about the safety of recycling ocean-bound plastic for use in food contact materials. An article published on February 26, 2020 in Environmental Health News wrote about Lidl’s effort saying “unfortunately they, like many, are ignoring the toxic dimension of plastic recycling.” Author Pete Myers writes “Sorry. It may be well-intentioned, but for someone who understands plastic toxicity, it’s a horrifying idea.” The article goes on to explain that many potentially hazardous substances could be present among the thousands of additives and non-intentionally added substances that could exist in the ocean-bound plastics. Recycling of plastics for use in food contact materials in the EU requires the bulk of the source plastics (typically >95%) to have been strictly used previously as food contact materials (and therefore be compliant with food contact plastic regulations). This is difficult to ensure when plastics to be recycled are collected from the environment. “Some of those beach plastics in Lidl’s recycled packaging may be safe, although literally none (really, none) have been fully tested for safety,” Myers says. “That means programs like Lidl’s bring you food packaging that is unavoidably toxic. Unless they have tested each batch. In which case, Lidl, show us the data.”

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Lidl (February 24, 2020). “Lidl launches supermarket-first packaging using ocean bound plastic.”

Ryan Morrison (February 24, 2020). “Lidl becomes the first UK supermarket to launch recycled packaging made from ‘ocean bound plastic’ collected from beaches in South East Asia.” Mail Online

Pete Myers (February 26, 2020). “Ocean plastic: How recycling creates tomorrow’s problems.” Environmental Health News

Packaging Europe (February 24, 2020). “Lidl reveals food packaging made from 30% ocean-bound plastic.”