M&S rolls out in-store take-back scheme for hard-to-recycle plastics

Retail giant Marks & Spencer (M&S) has pledged to install take-back bins for hard-to-recycle plastics across the UK by the end of the year, after launching a new plastics recycling scheme this week.

M&S rolls out in-store take-back scheme for hard-to-recycle plastics

The first eight bins

The bins, which are being installed as part of a partnership between M&S, Dow Chemical Company and environmental charity Wastebuster, will be used as collection points for plastics which are not commonly accepted for kerbside recycling. These include black plastics, crisp packets, sauce sachets and cosmetics packaging.

Once the bins are full, their contents will be sent to a specialist, UK-based recycling facility where they will be cleaned and shredded. The shredded plastics will then be melted down and recycled into playground equipment, fence posts and outdoor furniture by Dow.

M&S installed the first of its take-back bins in its food and beauty halls in its Tolworth, Cribbs Causeway, Westfield Stratford, Waterside, Loughton, Bluewater, Fosse Park and Peterborough stores this week. Further bins will be made using recycled plastic collected through these locations.

“Customers often don’t know how best to recycle certain types of plastic or where it goes after being collected by local councils,” M&S’s senior packaging technologist Laura Fernandez said.

“We’re on a mission to provide a greater awareness of landfill avoidance and plastic recyclability, while ultimately helping our customers to give plastic a new purpose and support a truly circular economy.”

In addition to installing take-back bins at its own stores, the scheme will also see M&S fund the installation of similar bins at primary schools across the UK. Wastebuster volunteers will teach pupils and teachers how to use them, and why it is important that they do so.

Closing the plastic loop

The announcement from M&S comes shortly after the firm pledged to remove plastic produce bags from all its food stores, replacing them with paper alternatives. 

To kick-start the phase-out and determine how best to reshape its approach to plastic waste, the retailer is undertaking a three-month pilot scheme at its Tolworth store, whereby produce aisles have been made plastic-free and ‘best before’ dates have been removed from dozens of products.

These move form part of M&S’s overarching commitments to become a ‘zero-waste’ business by 2025 and ensure that all plastic packaging that could end up with customers is “widely recycled” by 2022. As part of its aim, the retailer is planning to develop one recyclable plastic polymer for use across all of its plastic packaging and phase-out all “avoidable” single-use items.

Recycling scheme boon

M&S’s take-back scheme is just one in a string of recycling initiatives that have been launched by consumer goods brands and food and drink chains in recent months.

Late last year, Pepsico subsidiary Walkers confirmed that it would team up with recycling firm TerraCycle to run the UK’s first nationwide collection scheme for crisp packets, for example. The move followed months of campaigns targeting crisp packet manufacturers over the recyclability of their products.

Since then, TerraCycle has forged similar take-back schemes with the likes of Mars PetcareColgate Palmolive and Kellogg, launching schemes targeting pet food packaging, oral healthcare products and Pringles cans. 

It has also partnered with consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson and Boots Opticians to launch the UK’s first contact lens collection scheme, after finding that one-fifth of lens wearers regularly flushed their used lenses or packaging down the toilet.

Sarah George

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