New plastic pledge by Co-op Group on its own-brand packaging

Measures include the rollout of a scheme to collect film from food packaging

The Co-op Group has announced a switch to 100% own-brand recyclable packaging, alongside the largest-ever UK-wide scheme to recycle plastic film.

The retailer has banned black plastic packaging – which cannot be recycled, because it doesn’t reflect light and can’t be sorted by optical scanners – from all of its products. By this summer, it says it will phase out all non-recyclable plastics and replace them with those that can be reused or easily recycled.

This will include ready meal trays, crisp packets, sandwich cartons and film, it adds. The recycling will be done by kerbside collection or a closed-loop in-house scheme.

Every year, the Group makes more than 750 million pieces of plastic, which local councils do not collect for recycling. To get around this problem, the retailer is developing its own national collection programme – the largest of its kind in the country – for the material. After a spring store trial, the scheme will roll out nationally across the retailer’s store estate by the summer.

Less than a quarter of the 2.3 million tonnes of plastic placed on the UK market every year is recycled, resulting in 1.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging from consumer goods ending up in landfill. A key problem is the lack of knowledge about which packaging can be recycled, along with local authorities lacking the facilities to deal with it.

Jo Whitfield, Co-op Food CEO, said the move would help satisfy the growing ethical demands of UK consumers. According to the Group’s Ethical Consumerism Report, total ethical spending in the UK has increased almost four fold in the past 20 years, to more than £41.1bn.

“We should rightly celebrate the growth that we’ve seen in ethical markets in the UK over the last 20 years,” said Ms Whitfield.

“UK businesses and NGOs have pioneered many of these developments and today we have multi-billion pound markets that either didn’t exist or if they did, other mainstream businesses were unconvinced of their potential to succeed.

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“It has also taken smart government intervention to get us this far. Going forward, ethical consumerism will continue to play a pivotal role in the pursuit of more sustainable products, businesses and markets. However, now is not the time to rest on our laurels, it’s the time double down on our efforts.

“That’s why we’ve brought forward our commitment on own-brand recyclable plastic by three years, why we’re committed to reducing unnecessary packaging and why our long term vision is to be a carbon neutral business. From today, black plastic is banned and by the summer we’ll have pioneered a UK-wide recycling scheme for hard-to-recycle plastic film.”

Previous leading initiatives at plastic reduction by the Group include the removal of plastic stems from cotton buds, a ban on microbeads and and end to plastic straws.

It says three quarters of its own-brand products are now widely recyclable and in the last three years it has removed almost 950 tonnes of single use plastic. In 2016, it swapped the plastic discs in its pizza boxes to cardboard ones, saving 200 tonnes of polystyrene from landfill.

Last year it was the first retailer to replace single-use plastic bags with compostable carriers, which can be used in kerbside food waste collections in over 1,000 stores, potentially removing 60 million single use carriers from circulation.