Two-thirds of Britain’s recyclable plastic packaging is not being recycled, finds Co-op

The majority of all recyclable consumer packaging in the UK ends up in landfill or being sent to incineration, with only a third being recycled or re-used as intended, according to new research from food retailer The Co-operative Group (Co-op).

Co-op’s Tipping Point report, released today (22 November), reveals that only half a million of the 1.5 million tonnes of recyclable plastic waste created every year is being recycled and re-used. The supermarket claims that this is due to lack of consumer knowledge and local authority facilities that can process standard recycleable plastics.

The Co-op is in the process of developing new packaging solutions that are more easily recycled and is aiming to have 80% of all its packaging recyclable by 2020. And it is now calling on other retailers to follow its lead on developing new packaging solutions and working with local authorities.

Co-op environment manager Iain Ferguson said: “It is shocking that such a small percentage of plastic packaging is being recycled, especially materials that are already easy to recycle like plastic bottles. We are concerned that so much still goes to landfill every year. 

“We need to stop thinking about this plastic as a waste and start to use it as a resource. What is needed is a co-ordinated response to the problem. This should start with retailers and major brands listening to recyclers and developing packaging that is better for recycling.”

Potential solutions

The Co-op has already taken steps towards ensuring its packaging is easier to recycle. For example, it is now making its plastic trays for meat, poultry and fish products from just one plastic and changing the colour of its milk bottle tops to improve recyclability. Additionally, the Co-op has called for a clear labelling solution to better inform consumers on what items can and cannot be recycled.

Commenting on the new report, Lee Marshall, chief executive of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), said: “Packaging plays an important part in protecting products and preventing waste but when it has served its purpose we need to be able to recycle as much as possible.

“Having more consistent packaging makes it easier for local authorities to put in place the systems to collect it and to communicate with their residents. The sort of ambition being shown by the Co-op is great to see and we hope it acts as catalyst for the whole industry.”

Low recycling levels in households is an issue that many groups in both the public and private sector are now aiming to tackle. In September, Co-op made a public call for other food retailers to follow in its footsteps and sign up the ‘Plastic Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP) – a scheme which aims to promote plastic packaging recycling initiatives across every link in the supply chain.

Meanwhile, WRAP recently developed the ‘first ever’ National Recycling Guidelines to help clarify the “what, why and how” of the recyclability of items such as paper, card, cartons, metal, plastic and glass packaging.

Alex Baldwin

Comments (1)

  1. Janet Schreyer says:

    Recycling is crucial, more consumers need to be encouraged to participate. I have taken it seriously for years, I did live in Germany for a while where they do take it seriously, still room for improvement of course but leaps and bounds ahead of the UK. I have always washed my recycling with the washing up since the introduction of recycling bins but living in a block of flats I often see contaminated waste in the recycling bins. The health risks to our environment and all the life it supports should be reason enough to improve our habits regarding plastics and our use and disposal of them. When the plastics industry itself is alarmed enough to explore and invest in improving recycling rates we should take notice and do whatever we can to contribute.

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