Ben HaywardFebruary 6th

In a move that will hopefully pave the way for supermarkets across the UK, the Co-op has announced it will have phased out all non-recyclable plastic packaging from its stores by summer this year.

Yep, that’s right, whether it’s ready meal trays, crisps packets sandwich cartons or film wrap, all own-brand packaging used will be easy to recycle either through kerbside collection or a 'closed loop in house scheme’.

The move will be backed up by the largest ever UK-wide scheme to recycle plastic film - which the vast majority of councils currently don’t collect - as the Co-op moves to recycle the over 750 million pieces of plastic film it uses each year.

As a result, the Co-op is developing its very own national collection programme for the material, which it’s hoped will be rolled out nationwide across the retailer’s store’s by this summer.

Currently, only half a million out of the 2.3 million tonnes of plastic placed on the UK market every year is being recycled - 1.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging used for consumer goods ending up in landfill - with the main reasons being a lack of knowledge about which packaging can be recycled and local authorities lacking the facilities to deal with it.

The Co-op’s unique Ethical Consumerism Report, which has tracked ‘ethical expenditure’ by shoppers over two decades, has revealed that the UK market for responsible products has grown by an astonishing £30 billion, with the average spend per household per year increasing from £202 in 1999 to £1,278 in 2018.

Jo Whitfield, Co-op Food CEO, said: “We should rightly celebrate the growth that we’ve seen in ethical markets in the UK over the last twenty years.

“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. 

“Black plastic is [now] banned and by the summer we’ll have pioneered a UK-wide recycling scheme for hard-to-recycle plastic film.”

The Co-op has consistently been at the forefront of removing plastics and unnecessary packaging from its products. 13 years ago it was the first retailer to remove plastic stems from its cotton buds and has since  banned microbeads and plastic straws. 

Nearly three quarters of Co-op own-brand products are now widely recyclable with notable developments including switching plastic discs in pizza boxes to cardboard ones, and last year becoming the first retailer to replace single-use plastic bags with compostable carrier bags.

Let’s hope it’s not long before other retailers begin to follow suit.

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