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Iceland boss says devastating littering has left Britain in ‘depressing’ state

The boss of Iceland has slammed litter bugs who are leaving parts of ­Britain under growing piles of filth.

Richard Walker said people “lobbing rubbish out of car windows”, fly tipping and the amount of plastics drowning beaches and rivers is creating a “depressing state of affairs”.

The frozen food chain managing director told how seeing the impact of pollution while surfing and on beach clean-ups led to his decision to ditch plastic from Iceland’s own-label goods by 2023.

Speaking of the mounds of litter he has noticed while driving near the firm’s HQ in North Wales, Richard said: “It is embarrassing. What does it say about our respect for our open, green spaces?

“I drive on the A55 to our office and the verges are completely covered in litter. It is very sad to see and many roads are the same.

Richard Walker, Iceland boss
Richard Walker said a trip to the beach prompted his decision to axe plastic

“It is getting worse and I am seeing the impact on beaches around the UK, ­particularly in Cornwall where I surf.”

It was on another surfing holiday to Taghazout, Morocco, in 2006 that Richard first witnessed the devastating effects plastic pollution was having on oceans.

He said: “I cut short the trip because it wasn’t just the waves that greeted me. I looked in horror at the amount of plastic detritus. It was ­overwhelming. Nauseating.

“That was more than 10 years ago. Since then there has been more new plastic produced than there was over the entire previous century.”

And during a beach clean-up at New Brighton on The Wirral in 2017, Richard realised not all plastic pollution is easily visible at first sight, especially the tiny beads, or nurdles, that make up most goods. He said: “I’d never heard of a plastic nurdle then. Who had?

“I mentioned that it looked remarkably clean. ‘You really think so?’ said Chris Cureton, from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue charity, as he crouched to pick up a handful of tiny plastic spheres.

Surfer rides a wave
The plight of rubbish became apparent to Richard Walker on a surfing trip

“‘They are the raw material for everything made from plastic,’ he explained. ‘And as they look exactly like fish eggs, the birds eat them.’”

Richard is now chairman of marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage.

He joined family firm Iceland in 2012 and admitted “it dawned on me we were a significant contributor to and are part of the problem as pretty much every product we sold was packaged in plastic”.

Plastic waste on beaches in Scotland
Plastic waste on beaches in Scotland

Plastic found on a beach on the Firth of Clyde in Irvine
Plastic found on a beach on the Firth of Clyde in Irvine

The UK supermarket sector alone accounts for one million tons of plastic a year.

But while Richard, who has written a book on ­his green quests, vowed to axe plastic from Iceland products, he said getting rid of it altogether is not easy. One of the challenges is to ensure the alternative does not lead to more food waste.

Iceland cut plastic packaging by nearly a third between 2018 and 2020. It is planning to trial a carrier bag rental scheme this year. Richard also backs a bottle-return scheme, in which customers receive cash for bringing back empty vessels.

Iceland staff
Iceland have vowed to axe plastic from its own label goods by 2023

Richard Walker of Iceland at the beach
Richard Walker was disgusted by the rubbish he found on surfing trips

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And he is looking at ­dropping ­Brazilian soy, which is used in feed for the chicken and pork Iceland sells. The product is causing devastation as forests are cleared to grow it.

  • The Green Grocer: One man’s manifesto for corporate activism, by Richard Walker (£12.99) published by DK.



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