Shocking Volume of Unnecessary Plastic Revealed in the UK’s First Ever Nationwide Mass Unwrap


Mass Unwrap organisers were inundated with unwanted plastic as shoppers left UK supermarket tills, collecting up to nine pieces of avoidable packaging every minute

·         Shoppers handed back up to four shopping trollies worth of packaging an hour, highlighting the scale of avoidable plastic waste
·         In one case at Tesco in Braunton, North Devon 1,660 items were handed back. It was estimated that less than 10% of the plastic packaging could be recycled
·         The majority of customers supported the action, saying they wanted to reduce plastic but were not being given plastic-free options and they were confused over recycling
·         33 supermarkets across the UK took part in the action, supermarkets flood Britain with 59 billion pieces of plastic each year*
·         In the UK the burden of plastic waste is put onto consumers, tax payers, and ultimately the environment as businesses contribute just 10% of the end-of-life disposal costs of their product and packaging


Marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage is calling on supermarkets to urgently and radically reduce and redesign packaging and take full responsibility for its business practices, after a series of Mass Unwraps across the UK revealed the true extent of plastic waste being sold.

Mass Unwrap is a fun, high-impact action that highlights how much plastic waste is produced in UK supermarkets after every shop. It is a non-confrontational opportunity for customers to leave excess plastic at the till, instead of taking it home.

33 Mass Unwrap events were co-ordinated across the UK by volunteers taking part in the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Communities campaign. These community leaders gathered teams to help customers hand back unnecessary plastic wrap as they left the store, raising awareness while causing minimum disruption to checkout staff. All had the support of their local store managers, some of whom provided paper bag alternatives and recycling to help deal with the waste created.

Rachel Yates, Plastic Free Communities Project Officer at SAS, said “So many customers want to reduce plastic but are given no options. Others didn’t realise that a lot of the plastic packaging in their trolley couldn’t be recycled. We now need to send a strong message back; the way we use packaging needs to change, and fast. Supermarkets must radically reduce waste, redesign packaging and take more responsibility”

Big brands are accountable for a disproportionately large amount of plastic pollution, placing vast quantities of avoidable and pointless single-use plastic on the market without a system in place to capture and reuse material.

Under current systems the vast burden of all this plastic is put onto consumers, tax payers and ultimately the environment, while businesses contribute just 10% of the end-of-life disposal costs of their product and packaging.

Surfers Against Sewage is calling for supermarkets to be part of the solution and calls for them to:

  1. Cut out avoidable single-use plastic and redesign packaging
  2. Use recycled content & stop using virgin plastic
  3. Take responsibility and invest in proven systems technology such as an ‘all in’ deposit return schemes for drinks containers.

Mass Unwrap is part of Surfers Against Sewage’s award winning Plastic Free Communities campaign to free where we live from avoidable single-use plastic, which is now active in more than 450 communities across the UK.

Rachel Yates continued: “These communities are leading the way, as they start the journey to tackle single-use plastic where they live. We have a huge thank you to say to all of the volunteers and shoppers who took part in our first national Mass Unwrap. The voice of our network of Plastic Free Communities is growing and together we can kick our addiction to throwaway plastic and change the system that produces it.”

For more information on Plastic Free Communities click here:

Credit: Matt Alexander/AP