Co-op launches village-wide behaviour change study for recycling soft plastics

The learnings from the Pilton Village store (pictured) will be used to inform further waste reduction initiatives

Co-op’s new behaviour change experiment in Pilton Village will seek to educate residents on how soft or flexible plastics can be collected.

Almost all flexible plastic packaging sold in the UK is sent to landfill or incineration because fewer than one-fifth of local authorities have the capacity to collect from homes and businesses at kerbside, according to the Flexible Packaging Consortium.

Challenges include a lack of appropriate infrastructure to process the plastic, because soft plastic is notoriously challenging to process mechanically, and poor financial models. As flexible plastic is so light, it is often more costly to recycle than to incinerate or send to landfill.

Research from WRAP suggests that flexible film accounted for 290,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste in 2019. Separate research from the Flexible Packaging Consortium revealed that some 215 billion pieces of flexible plastic packaging are placed on the UK market every year and that almost all of this material is sent to landfill or incineration.

As such, Co-op is hoping to educate 1,000 residents in the village following research from the retailer that found that 49% of Brits put items into recycling even when they’re unsure of if they are recyclable. Additionally, almost a third believed that soft plastics could be recycled at home.

Co-op’s environment manager Iain Ferguson said: “As a business, we are committed to supporting simple solutions to everyday environmental issues. The launch of our in-store soft-plastic recycling scheme is designed to simplify recycling for consumers, but we know that as a business there is more we can do to make long-term positive changes to the consumer behaviours in the communities we serve.

“We are excited to find out what we can learn from the experiment, and how we can put those learnings into action nationally.”

Co-op has also introduced a “Recycling Behaviour Change Board” that consists of celebrities and behaviour scientists to drive awareness of the initiative. The likes of presenters Sara Cox and Yasmin Evans have signed on to be part of Co-op’s Behaviour Change Board

In-store expansion

Last month, Co-op expanded an in-store collection system for plastic bags and flexible packaging to 1,500 stores. During the initial trials of the scheme last year, Co-op found that 86% of shoppers would be keen to bring packaging back to the store while this issue remains.

Under the scheme, customers will be encouraged to bring back bags and food packaging – whether from Co-op or from another retailer or brand – to their local store. Materials covered by the scheme include crisp packets, bread bags, single-use carrier bags and bags for life, lids from ready meals and yogurt pots, biscuit wrappers and pet food pouches.

Collected materials will then be processed by plastic recycling firm Jayplas. Pellets produced from the collected materials can be used to produce bin liners, construction materials and rigid plastic products such as buckets.

Co-op claims that it will host Europe’s most extensive in-store network of take-back bins for problem plastics once the full roll-out of the scheme is complete. Hundreds more locations will be added by the end of November, bringing the total number of locations to 2,300.

Matt Mace

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