Tesco adds flexible plastic recycling points to all large UK stores

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The supermarket first trialled in-store collections for soft and flexible plastics at ten stores in 2020, during which customers returned more than ten times the expected amount of plastic.

Then, this March, Tesco began adding the recycling points to 171 stores across Wales and the South West of England.

Tesco has now announced that it has added the facility to every large UK store, following further positive feedback from customers. When those using the 171 stores in Wales and the South-West were polled, 85% said the facility helped them to recycle more than they would have done otherwise, with the majority finding it convenient to use.

Plastics collected by Tesco are washed and sorted before being directed to a recycler. Most of the collected material is made into new products and packaging and Tesco has vowed that material that cannot be reprocessed in this way will be kept out of landfill, primarily through energy-from-waste systems.

During the initial trials in 2020, collected plastics were used to make food-grade packaging for Tesco own-brand cheeses. In a recent sample, 80% of the plastic collected was recycled and 20% was sent to energy-from-waste generation facilities.

Packaging formats that will be recycled under the scheme include bread bags, crisp packets, salad bags and sweet wrappers. Tesco is anticipating that it will collect and recycle around 1,000 tonnes of plastics annually under the scheme.

“We’re tackling the impact of plastics by removing and reducing it as much as possible, helping customers move to reusable alternatives, and ensuring they can recycle everything that’s left,” Tesco’s director of quality Sarah Bradbury said, alluding to the company’s overarching ‘4 Rs’ plastics strategy.

“I’m delighted that we’re rolling out collection points to the whole of the country so even more customers can help us stop plastic from going to waste.” 

Almost all flexible plastic packaging sold in the UK is sent to landfill or incineration because fewer than one-fifth of local authorities have the capacity to collect from homes and businesses at kerbside, according to the Flexible Packaging Consortium. WRAP estimates that recycling rates for flexible plastics in the UK stand at around 6%

Tesco is one of several UK retailers offering an in-store take-back offering for flexible plastics. July saw Co-op rolling out its offering to 1,500 stores, following successful trials in 2020. Before that, Sainsbury’s had published 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, Aldi UK is adding them to 20 stores in the first instance.

Recyclable baby food pouches

In related news, Heinz for Baby has unveiled new baby food pouch designs, claiming that they are the first home-recyclable baby food pouches to be sold in the UK.

The company worked with Tesco’s technical packaging team and recycling charity RECOUP to design and launch the pouches, which are made from polypropylene and are mono-material. Pouches are typically hard to recycle because they contain multiple materials in layers and because the rigid cap material often differs from the flexible pouch walls.

The new packaging format will be used to house six of Heinz for Baby’s most popular fruit-flavoured baby food lines from 2022. Heinz anticipates that the switch will affect 2.8 million pouches, or 20 tonnes of plastic, which would otherwise have almost certainly gone to landfill.

Heinz for Baby is notably aiming to ensure that all packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. It has also stated that it will “remove plastic where possible” but is yet to set a time-bound, numerical commitment.

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Sarah George

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