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Sainsbury’s Vacuum Pack Beef

Focusing on small interventions to reduce the impact of packaging of high carbon products is a typical greenwash tactic to mislead consumers. Claims about one aspect of the product can be hiding a major issue: not only does the plastic encase a product with high CO2 emissions, but the packaging itself cannot be recycled.

Sainsbury’s assertion that their new beef mince packaging signifies a commitment to “bold changes for [their] customers and the environment” masks a profound issue. Despite acknowledging the importance of reducing plastic, this single-use packaging is non recyclable and will continue to exacerbate plastic pollution crisis. And the product that is inside is one of the most carbon-intensive food products consumers can buy.

This token gesture amounts to greenwashing, because it is focusing on just one aspect: reducing plastic, while it hides  a product known for its remarkably high emissions. This is seemingly aimed at portraying this product as a sustainable choice. Even ignoring the slew of other environmental consequences, the least carbon-intensive beef is still more polluting than any other type of meat. Future Foods’ latest study reports plant-based burgers emit a staggering 98% less greenhouse gases than beef burgers. 



The UK government’s advisors, The Climate Change Committee, recommend a 50% reduction in all meat and dairy by 2050 as a major contribution to meeting our legally binding net zero obligations. As key players in our food supply chains, supermarkets need to take urgent action toward this target.  Sainsbury’s are the UK’s second largest retailer, with 15% of all UK grocery sales going through their checkouts. If they want to make “bold changes”, they need to leverage their market power to help change diets and drive emissions reductions across their supply chains.

Supermarkets are deliberately ignoring the role their messaging plays in shaping consumer choices. Ultimately, it is easier for retailers to help their customers feel ‘green’ with small plastic reductions, than to confront the reality that their sales of meat and dairy are actively driving the climate crisis.

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