Co-op set to expand flexible plastic recycling scheme to 1,500 stores this month

Image: Co-op

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. After the roll-out in 1,500 stores this month, hundreds more locations will be added by the end of November, bringing the total number of locations to 2,300.

The supermarket said in a statement that it designed the scheme to “help tackle the confusing postcode lottery of kerbside collections”. There is not a unified set of rules on what local authorities should collect from households for recycling in the UK and flexible plastics are often excluded, as their lightweight nature means it often costs more to process them mechanically than recyclers will get from the resulting material. 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.

“There’s no doubt that unnecessary plastic needs to be reduced, including bags and wrapping, which represent one-fifth of all consumer plastic packaging,” WRAP’s strategic technical manager Helen Bird said.

“However, where it is necessary it is urgent to design it for recycling and ensure recycling systems are in place. It’s great to see the rollout of collections across Co-op’s stores significantly contributing to the goal of The UK Plastics Pact for all plastic packaging to be recyclable by 2025. Not only is the Co-op ensuring that the service is widely promoted, but it is also processing the material within the UK, demonstrating how we can build back better for the economy and environment.”

Co-op produces more than 750 million pieces of plastic film annually and the material has been a challenge as the business works towards 100% recyclability for own-brand lines by the end of 2021. Other moves that the retailer has taken to improve recyclability include banning black plastics.

Supermarket sweep

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.

While measures to unify recycling collections across UK local authorities are not likely to be implemented by the UK Government for some time, due to Covid-19-related delays affecting consultations on the Resources and Waste Strategy, several retailers have shown they are keen to bridge the gap.

Sainsbury’s last month announced plans to introduce in-store recycling systems for flexible plastics packaging across all stores nationwide, following successful trials in the North East of England earlier this year. Similarly, Tesco is adding flexible plastic recycling points to 171 large stores across Wales and the South West of England, while Aldi UK is adding them to 20 stores in the first instance.

Easy squeezy

In other plastics recycling news, Heinz has this week introduced its first recyclable squeeze cap for ketchup bottles. The previous caps were not recyclable at kerbside because they contained different materials – one for the rigid exterior and another for the flexible dispenser valve.  

The first products set to benefit from a packaging switch will be Heinz Tomato Ketchup and Heinz BBQ Sauce. The new mono-material caps will then be added to all Heinz squeeze bottles across Europe and, subsequently, the brand’s other global markets. The global rollout is expected to be complete in 2022 and will affect one billion caps every year.

Heinz revealed that the development of the new cap has taken eight years of R&D, in which it made a $1.2m investment. In total, 45 different designs were created before the final one was selected.

Heinz’s overarching plastic commitment is to ensure that all packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable globally by 2025. Earlier this year, the company removed plastic shrinkwrap from canned multipack products in the UK, replacing it with sustainably certified paperboard.

Sarah George

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