By Michael Fletcher, Retail Chief Commercial Officer

I’m extremely pleased to announce that all our own brand packaging on every single Co-op product will be 100% recyclable by this summer. We have already banned black plastic packaging from all of our Co-op own brand products, and by the summer of 2020 we’ll be phasing out all non-recyclable plastics and replacing them with those that can be reused or easily recycled.

This move will be achieved by us delivering the largest ever UK-wide scheme to recycle all plastic film, which local councils don’t presently collect for recycling. After a spring store trial, the scheme will be rolled out nationally across our store estate by the summer.

This means that everything from ready meal trays, crisps packets, sandwich cartons and all film including pasta, rice and bread bags, will be easy to recycle whether via kerbside collection or our closed loop scheme in stores.

This is an industry first for the UK and it’s a key part of our Future of Food ambition – to source and create products with care and respect for the planet.

Doing something like this isn’t easy

We currently produce around 750 million pieces of plastic film ever year. The reason we use this plastic is because it plays a key role in protecting the shelf life and quality of our products in many different ways, and it’s essential to reducing food waste for us and our customers.

However, this film is currently not collected at kerbside, which we know it’s frustrating for our customers.

The UK produces around 2.3 million tonnes of plastic ever year, of which around only half gets recycled. There are many contributing factors to this, including packaging which isn’t designed to be easily recycled, or products containing a mix of recyclable and unrecyclable materials. This makes it difficult for people to know what can and can’t be recycled. Alongside this, not all local authorities and councils have the facilities to sort or manage recycling.

That’s why we’re making every single product simple to recycle.

It’s been a long journey to get here

Currently, almost three out of four of our own-brand Co-op products are now widely recyclable. In the last three years, we’ve removed almost 787 tons of plastic that can’t be recycled.

We’ve made huge leaps in our bid to tackle plastic consumption over the years:

  • 13 years ago, we removed plastic stems from cotton buds before any other retailer
  • We removed all microbeads from our products
  • We no longer sell plastic straws in any of our stores
  • In 2016, we swapped the plastic discs in our pizza boxes to recyclable cardboard ones, saving over 200 tonnes of polystyrene from going to landfill
  • Last year, we were the first retailer to replace single use plastic bags with certified compostable carrier bags, removing 60 million single use carrier bags from circulation

Moving all our Co-op packaging into recyclable material and reducing the amount of plastic we use is a huge piece of work and I want to thank all the colleagues that are playing a part in delivering this for Co-op members and customers. We’ll keep updating you as we progress our plans towards our 2020 goal.

Join the conversation! 19 Comments

  1. Please could you look at the funeral care side of the recycling. We have no facilities for staff to do recycling, only have one bin for general waste – I take all my recycling stuff home and do it there. We have even had to borrow a ‘cage’ from the food store next door for our cardboard. Before this, it had to go out in general waste.

  2. Why are all potatoes and apples wrapped in plastic in my local store?

    • Hi David,
      As part of our Future of Food commitments, we are trying to reduce unnecessary plastic where we can from produce. However, large-scale trials show the benefits of plastic in preventing food waste, which overall would create a greater carbon footprint. Co-op is reducing its use of plastic on its own-brand packaging where possible, and where we do use it, packaging will be possible to recycle from June 2020, at home or through the collection of plastic film in selected Co-op stores.


    Can we challenge the Slush Puppies in stores, currently use plastic straws and cups.

  4. Absolutely great news but I have a question. In Funeralcare all of our waste goes into the same bin and we have no recycling facility. If we are going to such great lengths to recycle in our retail sector should we all be encouraged to do the same

  5. As well as changing some of the packaging you use, you should be trying to reduce packaging. All fruit and veg could be sold loose.

  6. How about the plastic cutlery currently in own brand pasta salads? Also, are the single use plastic forks / spoons provided by your stationary / consumables provider recyclable too? Worth a thought

  7. This is great news. Can we have an update please Co-op on when all your own brand tea bags will be plastic free? I believe it was a stayed target.

    Fully home compostable teabags from a leading supermarket would be awesome.

  8. Fantastic news. Please can we make sure this is spread far and wide through media channels, the news, etc? We’re always so modest about our achievements, but this is a serious game changer that we should be exceptionally proud about, it’s truly our Co-op difference. We should also use this opportunity to put pressure on other retailers and suppliers to make a difference too… proof that it CAN be done! #itswhatwedo

    • You took the words out of my mouth. This is something to be very proud of. Well done ! It should be shouted frim rhe rooftops.

  9. what is the closed loop scheme? are stores going to be collection points for this recyclable film?

  10. Really great to see us doing something drastic in terms of our plastic policy. Environmental impact has been a massive topic over the last year or so and as an ethical retailer it is rightly something for us to have high on our agenda. Well done!

  11. Can we please review the recycling signage above the bins in the kitchens on each of the floors of the Angel Square. No thanks has dirty food packaging but Yes please doesn’t mention food packaging.

  12. Excellent news to see such big progress. The dawn of the New Year and the news of the terrible fires in Australia should be a wake-up call to all of us to change our lifestyles to alleviate climate change, and I am proud that Co-op is taking the lead on this.

    Making things “recyclable” is an important step towards a sustainable future, although it is only one of many steps that we all need to take, which include avoiding waste, reducing meat and dairy consumption, and travelling more efficiently (or not at all).

    In answer to Dave, many plastic, paper and metal products already contain a significant percentage of recycled material. Aluminium in particular can be recycled indefinitely, and the can of Coke on your desk will contain aluminium that has been recovered in earlier recycling operations. Paper and card tends to degrade with each recycling cycle, so is used for products that don’t need high strength or durability – egg boxes and paper hand towels for example are mainly made from recycled paper. The west does however need to scale up its recycling capability.

  13. My local council at home now can’t take many “recyclable” plastics (eg PET) except for bottles; I understand this is because bottles are made from a better grade of PET and are therefore easier to recycle.
    Judging from the new labels on our recycling bins in 1AS, this is the case for Manchester City Council, too.

    Is there a real environmental benefit to us switching trays to “recyclable” plastics when councils are moving away from collecting these, so they won’t actually be recycled?

    • Hi Andy, The number of local councils collecting plastic pots, tubs and trays has increased in recent years. It now stands at 81% (316 out of 389 councils). The progress has been significant since we started monitoring – 2015 – 73%, 2016 – 76%, 2017 – 78%, 2018 – 80%.
      Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) are the largest waste disposal authority in the country, and they don’t take plastic pots, tubs and trays (Wigan do). They have been through a process of change in contracts with waste management providers, moving from Viridor Laing to Suez. We understand that Suez are reviewing what will be collected with GMCA. Suez sit on the same working group for OPRL that we do, and we know that many of the contracts that they service include collection of plastic pots, tubs and trays. Suez have always been on the same page as us on the labelling; indeed, we consulted with Suez when we set our direction of travel several years ago, and they continue to be supportive and instructive.

      The contract for 1AS is completely separate to what GMCA and other councils do.

  14. It’s all very well making things recyclable – but how much packaging etc. out there is RECYCLED?!
    I put lots of things into the recycling box – but never seem to see anything that has been made FROM it.

  15. What a fantastic achievement! I’d like this to be shouted out from the rooftops and in every ad we make. Congrats to your teams and supply chain. #ItsWhatWeDo

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