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Trend setting? Tesco cuts multipack plastic for drinks

With most consumers now horrified by excess plastic packaging, UK supermarket giant Tesco has scrapped multipacks completely for its own label drinks.

Tesco states that, initially, 12 million pieces of plastic a year will be saved from use on all own-brand canned fizzy drinks.  An additional 33 million pieces of plastic will also be removed in UK autumn, as plastic multipacks will be removed from kids’ lunchbox drinks, energy drinks, water and fruit juices. 

In another win, the move will enable shoppers to gain more freedom of choice with their purchases. Individual cans will be sold at the same price per unit as a part of a multi-buy promotion, but instead of having to buy multiples of the same product, the ability to mix and match will be offered.

The multipacks of 4s were previously priced at £1, now the price is 50p a can or four for £1.  

“Customers are focused on getting great value right now, but they still want to use less plastic,” Johnny Neville, Tesco Head of Packaging Development, said.

“Not only is this move great news for the environment but it will also offer customers more choice and flexibility when it comes to fizzy drinks – at no extra cost. It could even work out much cheaper for customers who want a variety of drinks.”    

This is the latest in a series of actions against multipack plastic from Tesco; in January 2020, the supermarket saved 67 million pieces of plastic a year by removing multipack wraps from all of its cans.

Moreover, in May 2021, it stopped selling beers and ciders in soft plastic multipack wraps, as part of a move which saved 50 million pieces of plastic a year. 

Tesco’s 4Rs packaging strategy aims to remove plastic where it can, reduce where it can’t, reuse more, and recycle what’s left. 

Since the launch of this strategy in August 2019, the UK supermarket has removed 1.7 billon pieces and further reduced packaging by more than 3,000 tonnes from its annual footprint.

Multi-packs don’t have to use plastic

Over the last few years, innovation has been building in finding alternatives to plastic shrink wrap and plastic rings: keeping the convenience of multi-packs but without the plastic waste.

In 2019, Atlanta-headquartered Graphic Packaging International launched its KeelClip secondary packaging: a fibre-based paperboard multi-pack solution for cans.

Since then, the technology has been picked up by AB InBev in the UK, Canada, and Brazil; Spendrups in Sweden; Coca-Cola HBC and Coca-Cola CCEP in Europe and beyond; and most recently by Liberty Coca-Cola in the US.

It estimates that the recyclable, paper-based clip made from renewable plant-based fibre from sustainable sources has saved 1,500 tons of plastic in the last year alone.

An integrated machinery solution, the KeelClip 1600, can apply packs at high speeds; and cans can be precisely orientated for optimal shelf appeal (a centre keel in the packaging secures them in place to ensure they do not rotate during delivery).

It believes that convenience still is important to consumers; but furthermore champions an added benefit of its format that become evident during the pandemic – the paperboard covers can tops and thus delivers enhanced hygiene.

“Paper-based multipack packaging enables shrink wrap and plastic rings to be eliminated, while still protecting the product through the supply chain, reducing the potential for damage and waste. It also provides a convenient solution for consumers, making multiple purchases easier and safer to handle,” ​explains Steve Gould, Global New Business Development Director – Beverage and Multipack Systems at Graphic Packaging International.

With both industry and consumer trends pointing in the same direction, he believes the days of the plastic shrink wrap multi-pack are coming to an end – but is ready to offer an alternative.

“With increasing legislation and taxes around single use plastic, consumer rejection of brands that still use unnecessary plastic in their packaging, together with brands’ own sustainability commitments to remove plastic from their packaging, the question for many producers is when, not if, they will make the switch.”

Graphic Packaging is not alone in seeing a market for paperboard to replace plastic.

Packaging and paper company Mondi launched Hug&Hold at drinktec this month, another paperboard innovation to provide secure and safe transportation as well as stacking for bottled drinks.

Furthermore, it has worked with Krones to ensure that the bottles can be used in a fully automated process with the latest Krones machines.

Hug&Hold comprises two elements: The first is a patent-pending sleeve made of 100% kraft paper that wraps around the bottles to hold them securely.

Made from Advantage SpringPack Plus, it offers high tensile strength and can withstand enough weight to strap and stabilise the bottles during transportation.

The second element is a corrugated clip which holds the bottles around the neck. An optional integrated handle means a bundle of bottles can be carried and transported easily.

Simple separation of single bottles from the pack by the consumer or retail staff adds to the convenience of the design.

Hug&Hold is made from renewable and fully recyclable materials, suitable for existing paper waste streams throughout Europe.

Source: Tesco, Mondi,