Co-op targets 100% recyclable packaging by summer 2020

Image: The Co-op 

The retail chain initially voted to target 100% recyclability for packaging across all own-brand products in 2017, setting a deadline of 2023.

But, after removing all black plastics from own-brand lines and rolling out compostable carrier bags last year, the Co-op has now said it is on track to achieve the ambition this summer.

In a blog post this week, the company’s chief commercial officer for retail, Michael Fletcher, said the last big challenge in achieving the aim is tackling plastic film, which most UK councils will not collect at kerbside.

To overcome this obstacle, the Co-op will trial in-store collection points for all kinds of flexible plastics during spring, and install such points across its national retail estate by the end of the summer. Customers will be encouraged to deposit items such as crisp packets and bread, pasta and rice bags in the boxes, which will be collected for specialist recycling.

Fletcher’s blog reveals that the Co-op currently uses around 750 million pieces of plastic film every year, and that the retailer does not want to eliminate the material entirely because “it plays a key role in protecting the shelf life and quality of our products in many different ways” and is “essential to reducing food waste” at a store and consumer level.

The blog also acknowledges the fact that the Co-op is in a position to deliver rapid progress on plastics given its long history of work in this area. The retailer removed plastic-stemmed cotton buds, plastic straws and microbeads from its offering ahead of Government bans and, more recently, has worked to phase out black plastics and expanded pizza discs.

Take-back surge

Given that the Co-op has more than 1,000 UK stores, the retailer believes its take-back scheme for flexible plastics will be the largest in the nation to date.

Other retailers offering take-back schemes for plastic packaging that is currently not accepted by most councils include The Body Shop and Marks and Spencer (M&S).

Companies with brands in the food and drink, health and beauty and cleaning sectors have also been quick to get involved, as public awareness of plastic pollution continues to grow more rapidly than infrastructure is improved.

The most popular option for such brands in 2019 seems to have been partnering with recycling firm Terracycle to launch take-back schemes, either through a postal channel or by installing boxes in popular community locations. Terracycle’s brand partners in the UK include the likes of Walkers, Hovis, Ella’s Kitchen and Gillette.  

Since it was founded in 2001 by entrepreneur Tom Szaky, has diverted more than 7.7 billion pieces of waste, contributed by more than 202 million consumers, from landfill. But, compounded by ongoing challenges regarding infrastructure, policy support and social sustainability in the plastics recycling industry, the company recently launched ‘Loop’ – a platform which prioritises refill over recycling.

Sarah George

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