Iceland Foods adds flexible plastic recycling bins to more than 140 UK stores

Image: Iceland/Weber Shandwick

The discount retailer first trialled the bins last year in 13 of its Food Warehouse stores, which differ from its traditional supermarkets in that they are larger and that they also welcome business customers. The trials, Iceland said in a statement, were positive in terms of uptake and customer feedback.

As such, it has this week confirmed that all Food Warehouse stores now have the bins. Customers will be invited to bring back all kinds of flexible, film-based plastic packaging from all brands – so long as they have the right recycling logo on them. Packaging that will be collected includes bread bags; carrier bags; toilet roll and magazine wrappings; frozen food packaging and the plastic often used to house multipacks of fruit and vegetables.

The UK does not yet have a unified recycling collection system and most UK councils currently do not collect flexible plastic packaging for recycling from homes or businesses at kerbside. This is because it has been, historically, difficult to recycle using mechanical technologies. Because of this, only 6% of the flexible plastic packaging sold and distributed in the UK annually is recycled, by WRAP’s calculations.

Iceland is one of several retailers to have taken note of this gap between flexible plastic packaging production and recycling, and sought to address it with an in-store take-back scheme. Other similar schemes are underway at Tesco and Sainsbury’s. Elsewhere in the plastics value chain, FMCG firms Unilever, Nestle, Mars, PepsiCo and Mondelez International recently launched a collaborative initiative to increase investments in flexible plastic packaging and lobby for policies that support the scaling of recycling infrastructure.

“Tackling unnecessary plastic production and plastic waste continues to remain the priority for Iceland and The Food Warehouse, but we are also keen to offer our customers a convenient solution for recycling the flexible plastics they are not able to at home,” said the firm’s managing director Richard Walker.

Removal and recycling

Iceland, under Walker’s leadership, committed in 2018 to remove all consumer-facing plastic packaging from own-brand lines by 2023. The commitment is regarded as one of the most ambitious of its kind in the UK’s supermarket sector.

While Iceland has reduced consumer-facing plastic packaging in own-brand lines by more than two-thirds, Walker recently told the Guardian that the 2023 goal is unlikely to be met. He pointed to the pandemic and to Iceland’s increased online sales as key challenges to meeting the goal.

Sarah George

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