Forgotten ancient woodland is being rediscovered by staff at Waitrose’s Bracknell headquarters thanks to a new walkway made from plastic waste returned to the site in a closed loop recycling scheme.

The 4.5 acre Wild Ridings Copse lay overgrown and neglected in the middle of the 74-acre industrial estate until two years ago. The purchase of a neighbouring building led to the discovery that the copse was a National Heritage Site. Habitat surveys confirmed it was home to various wildlife including bats, badgers and deer.

Staff volunteered to lay the 1,750 plastic planks through the copse to complete the raised boardwalk, which at 268m long will enable the site’s 2,400 office and warehouse workers to enjoy strolls in comfort.

The project was able to be undertaken due to a partnership between Waitrose and plastics recycler Centriforce. Plastics waste, including warehousing film and Waitrose’s own ‘bags for life’, is routinely collected by Centriforce from the retailer’s Bracknell and Aylesford distribution centres.

“Using recycled plastic products is one means by which we can come closer to being a truly sustainable business,” says said Mike Walters, Waitrose’s operations director for waste & recycling.

“We are working closely with Centriforce to retain ownership of our waste by identifying and developing useful recycled products that we can use in our stores and distribution centres. Currently, recycled plastic waste is being used to manufacture Waitrose construction hoardings and for outdoor furniture.”

The Bracknell boardwalk has been manufactured from about 20 tonnes of HDPE post-consumer waste. Consultancy Environments for People installed the recycled plastic posts and bearers, before the plank-like decking was laid to create the boardwalk.

Recycled plastic offers a sustainable and durable solution that will be easier to look after than a wooden alternative, explains Hugh Roberts from Environments for People. “The copse is low-lying and prone to flooding so a wooden structure would have quickly rotted and been susceptible to algae formation, making it slippery underfoot.

“At the edge of the wood, where the ground is hard, we needed a vibrating hammer to drive posts into the ground. Treated wood would have split, leading to rotting and leaching of chemicals into the ground, but the recycled plastic posts remained intact.”

Further work is now planned to clear the woodland and build platform areas with seating for picnics or meetings.

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