Co-op votes to make 100% of own-brand packaging recyclable

Co-op has pledged to make all of its own-brand packaging recyclable, in the same week as the head of food policy told edie the retailer is exploring the option to publicly release all of its food waste data.

Co-op members voted overwhelmingly in support of the packaging motion at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Saturday (20 May), with an interim goal of 80% recyclability set for 2020.

The motion was passed alongside bills to tackle modern slavery and source £2.5bn worth of UK farm products over the next three years. The retailer has also re-committed to Fairtrade values, extending a policy to source 100% Fairtrade cocoa to products such as bananas, tea and coffee.

“The commitments we’ve made today to help fight modern slavery, cut packaging waste and back British suppliers are what the Co-op is all about,” Co-op chair Allan Leighton said. “Working closely with our members, colleagues and communities I am confident that we can continue to champion a better way of doing business.”

Food waste data

The motion arrives in the same month that a food waste report from a group of MPs called on supermarkets to make packaging improvements, such as an increased use of split and re-sealable packets.

Co-op has long been a leader in this area, working with scientific advisors to produce special packaging and vacuum packs that increase product shelf life. In November, Co-op research found that two-thirds of all recyclable consumer packaging in the UK ends up in landfill or being sent to incineration.

MPs have also urged retailers to publicly report data on food waste to create transparency. Sainsbury’s recently became the second retailer in the UK to publicly release its food waste data, three years after Britain’s biggest supermarket, Tesco. Other supermarket chains have fed their figures into broader industry reports, but the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has described these approaches as “inadequate”. 

Speaking exclusively to edie last week, Co-op’s head of food policy Sarah Wakefield said that the retailer was weighing up a decision to make its food waste data publicly available. 

“We’re definitely looking at it,” Wakefield said. “We’re looking at the best way to do it because there is not consistency on the way you do it. Different companies report it in different ways so we want to make sure the industry is benchmarked early on it. IPD and WRAP have both got a working group on it so it is definitely something we are part of, in a wider piece of work.”

Wonky veg

The EAC report also said retailers should start selling wonky vegetables as part of their main fruit and vegetables lines. The wonky veg issue was brought to the nation’s attention back in November 2015 when Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste series revealed that as much as 40% of farmers’ crops are being rejected by supermarkets because they are not the right shape or colour.

Wakefield told edie that Co-op was looking to work with suppliers to reduce unnecessary food waste, but insisted that exacting cosmetic standards in the supply chain was not an issue for Co-op.

“Wonky veg is not being wasted in the supply chain,” Wakefield said. “It’s something that is nice and easy to latch on to but actually our suppliers are not throwing away that veg. They are putting it into ready meals and prep veg. We are not putting perfect carrots into shepherd’s pies or perfect potatoes into sausage and mash.

“That’s where all the stage two vegetables go. It is something, again, that we are looking at. But at the Co-op, we have a much smaller selling space. We’re a convenience retailer with smaller stores so the space is limited. It’s definitely about working with suppliers to find different routes for that veg.”

George Ogleby

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