By Natasha Dalton,  Built Environment Manager  

Recycling is really important to us here at Co-op. Knowing how much plastic ends up in our oceans or in landfill, we’re always challenging ourselves and thinking of new ways to reduce the amount of plastic we use and make sure we recycle.  

The damaging effect of plastic was put in the spotlight by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet programme. But at Co-op we’ve been pioneering work in reducing plastic and other waste for years. In 2017 our members voted for a motion in our AGM– to make 80% of our packaging ‘easy to recycle’ by 2020, and 100% in the future.  

We’ve supported National Recycle Week for a number of years. Organised by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), it’s all about encouraging the public to recycle more.   

Part of my role is to manage the waste streams at some of our office sites. Before I started the role I had no idea how complicated recycling can be. Councils and companies have different rules and many items of packaging are made of mixed materials meaning they may seem recyclable when they’re not. Over this week and beyond we’ll be sharing top tips and myth busting some common misconceptions to help everyone recycle at home and in work.  

Did you know?  

  • Packaging must be clean to be recycled – make sure you rinse food packaging thoroughly to remove any residue before recycling it  
  • Not all packaging and recycling schemes are the same – check labels to see if packaging is recyclable and accepted in your area; if you’re not sure, go to  
  • Lots of packaging can be avoided all together if you plan ahead! Items like reusable coffee cups and bags can help reduce what you use.

What we’ve done this year  

I’ve been chatting to colleagues across the business to find and share more about recycling across the Co-op sites, processes and product lines and what we’re doing to reduce waste.  

Although coronavirus has delayed our commitment to make all our packaging recyclable by summer 2020, we’ve continued our plan to make every single Co-op product easy to recycle either via kerbside collection or an in-house closed loop system by the end of 2021. 1,300 tonnes of plastic have been removed from Co-op branded products since we set our 6% plastic reduction target in 2018. That’s 220 million pieces of plastic that have either been lightweighted, removed, or replaced.  

In April this year we moved all Co-op branded water, soft drinks and mixer bottles into 100% recycled plastic, which brings the average recycled content across all our own brand plastic packaging to 37% (the UK Plastics Pact target is 30% by 2025).  

Last Christmas we removed nearly 250,000 pieces of plastic ‘tat’ from our Christmas crackers and this year they’ll be completely plastic free.  We also  kicked off a recycling trial of plastic film, which is currently not easily recycled in the UK, and not taken in kerbside collections  

On our Co-op podcast, In It Together,  discussed plastic  and gave listeners some great ideas on how to cut back on plastic.  Putting it into action, we’ve removed plastic cutlery, wooden stirrers as well as sugar packets and sauce sachets from 1AS, which has saved over 822,400  non-recyclable items from ending up in the bin.

Spray bottles have been removed and  compostable gloves introduced to our cleaning processes in certain locations . There’s more activity coming up, so if you’re based in 1AS (even if you’re working at home) join our Yammer group  to keep up to date and get hints and tips to help you recycle in the office. If you’re based in one of our other offices, we’ll be turning our attention to these locations soon.

In Funeralcare we’ve also been finding ways to remove plastic from our processes. In July  we made a change to our grave markers which reduced emissions during production and allowed us to remove the single use plastic bags and reduce the amount of bubble wrap they were packed in. We anticipate this will remove 4,500 plastic bags from circulation in 2021.   

We’re always looking for ways to reduce our waste and increase our recycling. Share any ideas you have or top tips you already use in the comments or on Yammer.

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. Great on the recycling plastic but there is still a quantity of food wasted from the staff shop in AS. Despite prices reduced to bargain levels some items are still thrown out at the end of the day.
    Perhaps these can be placed on a table near the exit with a sign saying “help yourself”. At least they won’t be in the bin and wasted.

    • hello binman
      I agree with this statement but we cannot do this as I can imagine there is a legal side to not just giving food away.
      although this would be great to do sadly we cant 🙁
      yours sincerely
      bin woman

  2. Hi. All the above comments on recycling are wonderful however I would love to know why ISB goods are now being sold in individual plastic containers as opposed to paper bags. I think the plastic used to make these is largely recycled and that they themselves are recyclable but I’m very concerned about the amount of extra plastic waste this is creating, knowing that many people just don’t bother and end up binning their waste. If also love to hear your opinions on banning plastic bags in store. When I was on holiday in France (10 years ago) the supermarkets had stopped selling bags of any sort and therefore everyone brought their own. So many customers comment that they’ve forgotten our left them in the car but they make good bin bags so it’ll be ok! If shops stopped providing bags customers would bring their own.

    • Hi Lesley,

      I spoke to the team who deal with our packaging and they provided this answer.

      The in store bakery items were moved into PET clamshells temporarily during the COVID-19 lockdown to reduce the contamination risk compared to the loose products that customers bag up with tongs. This is temporary, however you are right that the PET is widely recycled and has 80% recycled content.

      We continue to sell single use carrier bags for those customers that have forgotten their reusable bags however our long term goal is to replace these with the compostable bags that we sell in the areas where the council collect food waste currently. The idea is that if a customer forgets their reusable bag they can buy a compostable carrier bag and use it as a food waste caddy liner when they get home. However we can only do that in the areas where the councils collect food waste for composting and where they agree to allow them in their food waste collections, so only about half of our stores have them at the moment. We would love to get them in 100% of stores but need to work with the councils to find the best solution for everyone.

      We also have a trial of film recycling ongoing in 50 stores across the south of England which will accept single use carrier bags. If that is successful we want to roll out to over 1500 stores next year.

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