Should open fridges in supermarkets be banned?

7th August 2019
Posted By : Alex Lynn
Should open fridges in supermarkets be banned?

Open fridges - seen in supermarkets up and down the country - should be banned due to their environmental impact. Thousands of these open fridges are in supermarkets in the UK and millions worldwide. Now environmental experts from BusinessWaste.co.uk are urging for them to be banned.

A common sight for shoppers, these fridges are used to display cold products such as meat, dairy, ready meals and other staples, and can line dozens of aisles in bigger supermarkets. They became popular with retailers as their open fronts allowed shoppers to see what was on offer more easily - leading to more impulse purchases and bigger profits for the businesses.

However, this open-fronted design is precisely what makes them so damaging for the environment. The refrigerant used in many of the leading retailers’ stores consists of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - a group of so-called ‘super greenhouse gases’ which are much more harmful even than carbon dioxide, which means that the over 7,000 supermarket locations in the UK are collectively making a hefty contribution to harmful emission levels.

Supermarket fridge facts:

  • Approximately 1.5 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy are used by supermarkets each year, with 60 to 70% used by fridges – that’s the energy equivalent of boiling the kettle 15 million times. That’s a lot of cups of tea!
  • Sainsbury’s alone uses one percent of the UK’s energy demand
  • Supermarkets’ HFC gas emissions are equivalent to producing 5.6 billion plastic bags
  • New ‘aerofoil’ technology in supermarket fridges could mean energy savings of up to 25% if adopted by retailers

While some retailers have made moves to improve the environmental impact of their refrigeration systems - with some of the household names, such as Aldi and Tesco, committing to reducing their HFC use - this fails to address the energy wastage which is a factor of all open fridge designs, regardless of the coolant used.

Mark Hall, spokesperson for BusinessWaste.co.uk, said: “Committing to reducing harmful emissions is all well and good, but retailers have been slow to do so in practice - and by continuing to use open fridges, they are simply paying lip service to improving their environmental credentials.

“Shoppers adapt quickly to new initiatives; the 5p plastic carrier bag levy is an excellent example of the general public quickly adopting new ways of shopping. And, with environmental concerns higher than ever on the public consciousness, we are finding that consumers are increasingly willing to accept that changes must be made to prevent further damage to our planet.”

If all UK supermarkets put doors on their open fridges, the electricity saved would be approximately double of that generated by Yorkshire’s coal-fired Drax powerstation - Europe’s second largest. It seems obvious, then, that closed fridges could result in cost savings for supermarkets, as well as improving their emissions.

Hall added: “Supermarkets are ultimately concerned about the bottom line, and whether or not their sales would be affected without the pull of products catching shoppers’ eyes. They rely heavily on impulse purchasing - hence more expensive products being stocked at eye level and those tempting treats placed by the tills. But, as with many issues which are huge contributors to environmental damage, it’s now the responsibility of industries to innovate and find new ways to operate in this new, concerning landscape we find ourselves in.

“We urge all retailers to look more closely at how they store and market their cold products, and help dramatically reduce the use of open fridges in the UK. We have the opportunity to make the UK a leader in this space, and while some work has already been done, we have a long way to go.”

Roberta Lindley from Health and Safety software company Protecting.co.uk added “ Its worth noting that there could be certain dangers arising in older fridge with the leaking of toxic Freon gas, which is extremely harmful to the environment. A tell tale sign could be spots on oil dripping onto the floor. If you see that, get out of the shop.”


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