Reducing Waste

Our commitment to reduce food waste

At Iceland we hate the idea of waste, and while less than 1% of our food is unsold, we are still working hard to reduce this amount.

We are proud to be a signatory of the Courtauld 2025 Commitment. This is a voluntary agreement that brings together organisations across the food industry to reduce the environmental impact of food and drink.  By getting involved we have agreed to play our part in reducing the UK’s food and drink waste by 20% in the next eight years.

We do not send any unsold food to landfill. Instead we put it to good use in the community; convert it to animal feed; or use it to produce electricity and compost through a process called anaerobic digestion.

The Power of Frozen

Frozen food is naturally less wasteful than fresh food because it has a much longer shelf life. This minimises waste in our stores and supply chain, and in our customers’ homes. Consumers also cut waste because they can use just as much as they need for each meal, and put the rest of the pack back in the freezer for another occasion. Because frozen vegetables are usually peeled, chopped or diced ready for use, we are able to use ‘wonky veg’ and avoid much of the waste caused by the quest for perfect-looking vegetables in fresh displays.

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that up to a third of the food bought in the UK ends up being thrown away. Research by Sheffield Hallam University, published in July 2014, confirmed that British families could cut their food waste by almost 50 per cent by including more frozen food in their meal planning, and also achieve savings of around £250 per household per year.

Extending the life of food

Our food waste strategy starts with innovation. We have worked with our suppliers to significantly extend the shelf life of most of our frozen products, and are working across our supply chain to develop new approaches to packaging, transportation and storage that keep products safer and fresher for longer. We are also improving our forecasting and ordering systems to avoid waste.

We are continuously working with our partners to increase the shelf-life of a wide range of chilled and fresh products. As an example we have introduced modified atmosphere and skin packs into chilled meat ranges, which can increase life by up to 50%. As well as introducing new film types that keep products fresher for longer before opening, we have introduced re-sealable packs for some products to give food a longer life once they are opened in the home. We are developing new packaging solutions to extend the life of mushrooms and fresh fruit.

We will shortly be launching more innovation into our packaging that will clarify when products need to be used after defrosting, through the application of intelligent sensors and indicators.

We will increase our efforts to communicate the #PowerofFrozen, extending this to cooking and freezing in the home as well as exploring other innovative devices and solutions that can extend the life of food after opening.

Partnership with Company and Community Shop

 We partner with Company Shop, which is the UK’s largest redistributor of surplus food, to redirect any non-saleable food which comes direct from suppliers or our distribution centres. This applies to a small amount of food which is good to eat but is more than we ordered, or for some other reason not suitable to send to stores.  This is either re-sold at low prices to Company Shop members (who work in the food industry, NHS or emergency services), or donated to Community Shop. This supports people who are receiving income support and living in areas of high deprivation. They get access to wholesome, low cost food along with a range of support services to help them make a positive difference to their lives.

Action in stores and the supply chain

We work very closely with all our suppliers to minimise the amount of waste food Iceland generates by ensuring that we do not carry excess stocks of perishable lines. At store level we strive to improve the way we store, handle and display food to reduce waste. We also reduce the price of food on its ‘use by’ date, while it is still safe to eat and good quality, to benefit customers. All of our unsold bread is returned to depot so we can find other uses for it.

Helping our customers reduce waste

According to the Government’s waste advisory body, WRAP, a typical family wastes £700 of food a year. We are keen to help our customers reduce waste and save money, and we are stepping up the advice we provide on meal planning, portion sizes, storage and recipes to use up leftover food. We help our customers understand how to cook from scratch using frozen food, so they can minimise waste while choosing a healthy diet.

 Packaging: reduce, re-use, recycle, recover

 Packaging plays an essential role in containing, protecting, and delivering our quality products. It also aids communication with our consumers and ensures satisfaction during product use.

We recognise the concerns and regulations associated with the environmental impact of packaging, particularly after the product has been consumed. Recognising the damage that discarded plastic packaging is causing to the marine environment in particular, we announced on 16 January 2018 that we aim to remove plastic packaging from all Iceland own label products by 2023. We are working closely with our trusted and supportive own label suppliers to make this pledge a reality, and will provide regular updates on our progress in the months and years to come.

Our policy is to build sustainability into our products through a professional approach to total holistic design.

We select packaging that is fit for purpose to ensure that our products meet these three key requirements:

  1. delivering to the needs of our consumers and customers, ensuring appropriate protection of the products and the people associated with them throughout the process of production, delivery and sale;
  2. respecting our need to have a sustainable business; and
  3. protecting the essential resources of the planet.

Our packaging development team works with our partner suppliers to ensure the design and selection of materials that will maximise the possibility of packaging being recycled at the end of its life. We also ensure that we optimise the amount of material used, so as to eliminate as much unnecessary packaging as possible.

Our packaging has to ensure product integrity throughout the journey from supply, through manufacture, then into store and finally in the home. A large proportion of our products need to withstand frozen conditions: preserving food for as long as possible and contributing significantly to reduced food waste throughout the supply chain. The complete packaging system has to be fit for purpose to withstand these conditions. Primary packaging for products such as prepared meals also has to be capable of withstanding the temperatures involved in microwave or conventional oven cooking.

Rigid plastics. We currently use a variety of rigid plastic materials throughout our supply chain – frequently deploying recycled PET (RPET) for on-shelf display. Crystalline PET (CPET) trays are frequently utilised for our ready meal products. CPET is selected for its excellent properties and fitness for purpose, designed to withstand the most challenging conditions of freezing and oven cooking. This supports the convenience needs of our customers and helps reduce the significant food waste that can potentially take place in the home.

We recognise that the majority of the current versions of black and coloured CPET trays used in the supply chain contain Carbon Black as an additive, and are thus not possible to detect with the Near Infra-Red (NIR) detection methods used by recyclers. Iceland is part of the RECOUP initiative that is developing action plans to promote the recycling of current CPET trays, in parallel with testing detectable CPET. The creation of end markets for these raw materials will ensure the best possibility of recycling as much of them as possible. The majority of our clear rigid plastics are readily recyclable and recycled commonly across the market.

We will be monitoring closely the development of bio-based and CO2 derived polymer sources, focusing on testing those that can be considered truly sustainable.

We are also developing new material solutions for ready meal trays that have a lower overall environmental impact. Two new meal ranges to be launched into stores in February 2018 will be in board rather than plastic trays.

 Paper and board. We utilise paper and board products predominantly for distribution and retail packaging. They typically contain a high percentage of post-consumer recycled material.

We support the use of virgin paper from sustainably managed forests, recognising the contribution they make to reducing CO2 by promoting the growth of new trees. Where we utilise virgin paper, our goal is to source from fully certified sustainable sources, such as those with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) endorsement by 2022.

 Paper properties deteriorate as the number of recycle loops increases, making it essential to keep using a proportion of virgin materials at the start of the process. As recycle incorporation increases the overall performance reduces – resulting potentially in more material being required to achieve the functionality we require.

 It should be noted that where paper primary packaging is in direct contact with food, it must be certified as fit for purpose, and this typically requires the use of virgin paper. Recycled paper may contain contaminants, and a sufficient barrier must be in place to protect against their migration into food products.

Our retail operations recycle all of the secondary packing that remains in store.

Flexible films and laminates. A number of our products are delivered to customers in bags and pouches. Films are also used as a controlled barrier to help extend the shelf-life of fresh and chilled produce, and for sealing prepared meal trays.

 Where we use films for wrapping purposes (e.g. around pallets for delivery) this, along with all additional trays, cardboard etc, is removed in store and recycled through our collection and recovery systems.

Where our products result in flexible packaging remaining at the end of their life, we encourage our consumers to recycle this wherever systems exist. We believe that all packaging can be recycled, even if it cannot be re-used economically for the same purpose. Secondary markets are available to utilise even multi-layer flexible packaging, with uses ranging from garden furniture and children’s playgrounds to building materials. We are exploring possible ways to encourage the kerbside collection of such materials, and the end markets that can be created. Ultimately, incineration for energy recovery can be considered as an option to derive further benefits from a fossil fuel-derived product that has been used more than once.

PVC. Due to the negative perceptions of PVC as a packaging material we already seek to avoid its use wherever possible. We have identified a priority list of items where we need to substitute other materials, and plan to eliminate PVC usage by the end of 2020.

Pack marking. We ensure that as many of our packaging items as possible can be readily identified using the standard material identification codes as recommended by the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) guidelines. We also provide guidance on recycling through our consumer helplines.

Recycling. Each of our five distribution depots is set up to maximise the opportunities for recycling, and each has a recycle centre specifically set up for this purpose. There is also a back haul system in operation to ensure that all outer cardboard cases and plastic shrink-wrap are returned from our stores to be collated with card and plastic from the distribution centres for recycling.

At our head office we collect and recycle paper, cardboard and printer toner cartridges; shrinkwrap and cardboard from the Iceland Kitchen; and cans and polybottles from our staff restaurant. 

Reducing carrier bag waste and supporting good causes

Re-usable carrier bags have long been available and heavily promoted in all our stores. While we strongly support efforts to reduce the use of single-use carrier bags on environmental grounds, we have also sought to ensure that revenues from those that continue to be sold are applied to great causes where they can make a real difference to humanity.

The progressive introduction of carrier bag charges in the constituent nations of the UK has reduced demand for bags by around 80 per cent in each case, while continuing bag sales have created a huge windfall for deserving charities. When the charge was extended to England in October 2015 we decided to focus on fundraising for UCL (University College London) Dementia Research to help construct the London hub of the new, world class UK Dementia Research Institute. Our aim is to bring closer the discovery of a cure or effective treatment for this devastating condition, which is now the UK’s biggest killer and the greatest public health challenge facing the world today. We have pledged a total of £10 million to the project, from carrier bag sales and our own fundraising events, and an initial donation of £3 million was made in January 2017.

Iceland also played a central role in bringing together nine competing retailers in the unique UCL Retail Partnership of companies pledging all or some of their single-use carrier bag revenues to UCL Dementia Research. With the initial support of Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose, later joined by HSS Hire, Booths, Farmfoods, Poundland, and WHSmith, this coalition raised a total of £10 million in its first full year of operation to October 2016:

Iceland donates all the proceeds from the sale of 5p single-use carrier bags, apart from VAT paid to the Treasury: it makes no deduction for any costs. The following table shows the total of bags sold, proceeds and donations for each of the four constituent nations of the UK.

following table shows the total of bags sold, proceeds and donations for each of the four constituent nations of the UK.

  Bags sold Proceeds Donated to
England (charge introduced 5 October 2015)
FY2016 49,980,959 £2,084,206 )

) UCL Dementia Research

FY2017 100,466,643 £4,189,459
Total 150,447,602 £6,273,665
Scotland (charge introduced 20 October 2014)
FY2015 4,587,554 £191,301 Children’s charities* and UCL Dementia Research
FY2016 8,716,618 £363,483 )UCL Dementia Research


FY2017 8,565,012 £357,161
Total 21,869,184 £911,945
Northern Ireland (charge introduced 8 April 2013) – no VAT deduction
FY2014 4,063,422 £203,171 Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland to support local environmental projects
FY2015 3,826,012 £191,301
FY2016 3,457,120 £172,856
FY2017 3,661,162 £183,057
Total 15,007,716 £750,385
Wales (charge introduced 1 October 2011)
FY2012 3,341,103 £139,277 Alzheimer’s Research UK to support world-class dementia research in Wales
FY2013 6,771,775 £282,383
FY2014 6,403,932 £267,044
FY2015 6,348,825 £264,743 The Royal British Legion in Wales
FY2016 6,715,299 £280,028 Children’s charities* and UCL Dementia Research
FY2017 6,863,045 £286,189 UCL Dementia Research
Total 36,443,979 £1,519,664
UK total 223,768,481 £9,455,659

* The children’s charities with which Iceland partnered in its FY2016 were NYAS, The Children’s Food Trust and When You Wish Upon A Star.