426 words, approx 2 mins to read.

UPDATED: 8 November 2018

Only half a million of the 1.5 million tonnes of recyclable plastic waste created every year in the UK is being reused. It’s shocking that such a small percentage of plastic packaging is being recycled, especially materials that are already easy to recycle like plastic bottles.

We believe part of the problem lies with a lack of knowledge about which packaging can be recycled along with local authorities lacking the facilities to deal with it. We’re working hard to engage local authorities and waste management companies to make recycling easier for you.

Co-op Members join in to help reduce plastic waste #TheCoopWay

In 2018 we asked Co-op Members to join in #TheCoopWay by suggesting practical things we can try to reduce waste and improve recycling. We’ve had over 800 ideas directly from our members and our next task is to choose a number of those to pilot. We plan to work with the members who came up with the ideas to help us develop and deliver them.


Our Co-op Members overwhelmingly voted at our AGM in 2017 to commit our Co-op to increasing the percentage of all our Co-op food products with ‘easy to recycle’ packaging from 45% to 80%, by 2020, we’re on track to hit this target. More recently at our AGM in 2018 members supported our commitment that:

We aim to make 100% of our packaging ‘easy to recycle’ by 2023

Easier recycling is part of a coordinated response to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic and other packaging too. Of course, a large part of our response involves the first ‘R’, reduce.

Changing our food packaging

At the prestigious Grocer Gold Awards Grocer Gold we were awarded ‘Green Initiative of the Year’ for the steps we’ve taken to replace unrecyclable packaging with sustainable alternatives.

You might have spotted some of our new packaging innovations in store already. But if not, here are just some of the changes we’ve made in our food stores to reduce the amount of plastic packaging:

  • our Co-op Fairtrade 99 Blend Tea will be developed without polypropylene to save 9 tonnes of plastic every year from landfill or being spread on land
  • replaced polystyrene with corrugated cardboard pizza discs, preventing 200 tonnes of plastic waste
  • switching all Co-op branded water bottles to 50% recycled plastic
  • we’re trialling a plastic bottle deposit & return scheme at festivals
  • switching our black sushi boxes to clear plastic and black card – all easy to recycle
  • changing from black to widely recycled blue plastic for mushroom packaging, and a single plastic material for cooked meat trays
  • moved from black plastic to card packaging for tomatoes
  • all our Pan Asian range is in paperboard
  • 60% of our ready meal packs are ‘easy to recycle’, previously 20%
  • all our Irresistible ready meals are now in easy to recycle packaging

  • all our Chinese range and most Indian is in clear PP plastic or paperboard

Iain Ferguson
Environment Manager

Join the conversation! 92 Comments

  1. Hi I think the progress you have made re decreasing plastic is great, but I bought some ‘co-op honest value ready salted potato crisps’ today and was surprised to find on the back of the packets it said ‘don’t recycle.

  2. I agree with Fiona above, it isn’t just about being able to recycle easily; it should be about reducing the amount of packaging at source. The Co-op should lead the way here. How about re-using plastic trays from fruit and vegetables?

  3. Co-op brand Fair Trade chocolate 150g size used to be packed in paper / metal foil. It’s now packaged in plastic and the packets bear the “Don’t Recycle symbol. This seems like a backward step. Is there any way these plastic wrappers can actually be recycled? Or would you go back to paper/metal foil packaging?

  4. Hi Joy, I’m really sorry about this, we will raise this with our supplier. Please can you attach a photo of the product, packaging (w/barcode, expiry date, supplier codes visible) and we can lokk into this for you. Thanks ^Martin

    • It’s a Co-op brand. My local store seems to only stock the plastic bottles now, rather than glass jars. I had to buy a well-known brand instead when I much prefer the taste of the Co-op mayonnaise. Why sell it in plastic bottles at all?

  5. If you are committed to reducing plastic, can you please tell me why I can no longer buy reduced calorie mayonnaise in glass jars, only plastic bottles. Why not get rid of the plastic bottles altogether?

  6. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen plastic use increase. We are committed to only using 100% recyclable plastic packaging where it helps reduce food waste, extends longevity and for consumer safety – particularly relevant given the Coronavirus crisis. Reducing the environmental impact of our products is, and always has been, at the very core of the our efforts. ^Mel

    • I understand the point the CO-OP is making here about the increasing use of plastic packaging since the start of the pandemic. Sometimes though, common sense doesn’t seem to prevail.
      Our local store started pre-packing individual croissants in long, thin, windowed paper bags (the sort you might use for a baton loaf) folded and sealed with the pricing label when, due to the pandemic, it was no longer acceptable to allow customers to pack their own. This seemed very sensible and the packaging seemed effective and reasonable. Now the store is packing individual croissants in large plastic boxes 180x150x60mm (Dragon Packaging DP01875G). When challenged, a staff member assured me it was fine as the plastic boxes were 100% compostable, but a bit or research reveals Dragon Packaging only claims these boxes are recyclable. Come on CO-OP team, you can do better than that! Please bring back the paper bags.

  7. I recently started to shop at the Co-op during lockdown as the ‘ethical’ supermarket to try and support local suppliers. However, I was disgusted to see the amount of plastic packaging used across all of their fresh food produce. My observation would suggest there was more plastic packaging used in the Co-op compared to the big supermarkets – with the exception of the satsumas of course! Reading this blog suggest there was going to be a solution by 2020, but what changes have really been made? It is the big corporates responsibility to lead the way and help shape a sustainable future.


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