426 words, approx 2 mins to read.

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

Iain Ferguson
Environment Manager

Join the conversation! 55 Comments

  1. I fully agree with Clare, Co-op has the power over its own products to facilitate change. I remember when my children were young our local wholefood shop in Wales sold everything by weight and you could take in your own containers, or the products were given to you in paper or cellophane (biodegradable cellulose) bags. Changing to ‘recyclable’ plastic does not solve the problem given that in the news this week, several councils are now saying that they are reducing the number of plastics they can/will recycle – the rest is going to landfill or to be incinerated. Can I also add that the Co-op’s customers are intelligent people and we know much more about recycling, etc than you give us credit for. I for one, am fed up of being fobbed off with feeble excuses, you have the power to change things. I still have not had my questions answered from previous posts on this topic. You state that we have a say in how our Co-op is run, so start demonstrating it by doing as we are all asking.

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  2. Give us a basic plastic free range of regular groceries and watch your customer numbers increase. A few ready meals, plastic free frozen veg/ chips, bread which we can wrap in paper, same for fruit/ veg items, loo paper, teabags, biscuits in foil and card, muesli from a dispenser, rice, pasta in boxes without little “windows”.

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  3. Just to add to the conversation, the co-op Free-From coconut yoghurts(while very tasty) are obscene when it comes to packaging. A heavy non-recyclable plastic pot with separate non-recyclable plastic lid and non-recyclable plastic fork in a cardboard sleeve(I assume this is recyclable). All for a tiny yoghurt.
    Separately plastic-wrapped fruit and veg?
    I am always alarmed by the huge volume of plastic from a Co-op shopping trip compared to anywhere else, it’s truly absurd.
    I appreciate there are contracts with suppliers and work is being done on this but I often read these blog posts that suggest the Co-op is leading the way and then I look at the shelves and realise the reality is quite different in that it is very much lagging behind.

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  4. By volume, plastic materials form the largest proportion of the waste that I dispose of via my local council, Powys CC, either as “so called” recyclable material, or as landfill which is made up of soft plastic wrapping, film covering, netting, etc.
    Paper packaging is composted with vegetable waste.
    Soaking it in tea and coffee dregs helps speed the breakdown.
    There is no alternative other than an outright ban on plastic packaging if we are serious about saving our planet’s environment.
    I understand that the Coop has little control over its branded foods suppliers, but it has absolute control over its own brands and its fruit and veg presentation.
    Please stop tinkering around the edges, and make the bold step of completely removing plastic from food wrappings, coverings, and containers, from your food distribution system.
    Recycling is a stop gap because it uses fossil fuel energy for transport and reprocessing.
    We need to stop burying the problem in landfill and use intelligent solutions that do not require extra energy input to process the waste.

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  5. I think I missed the initial consultation. I understand, from Greenpeace that plastic can only be recycled a finite number of times, so it is better to avoid using it. I am concerned about onions, lemons, garlic etc which come in plastic net bags which looks like an unnecessary wildlife hazard. I’ve always wondered why cucumbers and broccoli have to be wrapped in that annoying plastic and why bananas, potatoes and carrots come in a plastic bag when they could be sold loose as everyone is suggesting. Glad about the plans to recycle drinks bottles, but honestly, do you need to sell bottled water at all (in this country) where our tap water is perfectly safe. Where is the bottled water sourced from. Seemingly ground water from small communities round the world who can barely spare it. Oh and pease could you sell shampoo in soap blocks rather than in plastic bottles. Thank you

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  6. There are some small changes in reducing plastics which I appreciate.
    However if look at how other retailers, like Lidl, operate I see examples that would save a lot of plastic packaging.
    Much of the fruit and vegetables are sold loose, out of the cardboard boxes and trays, that they are supplied in, by the producer.
    They do not provide paper or plastic bags to put them in, and people seem happy with that.
    I certainly am, because there is far less packaging for me to deal with.
    I like your range of misshaped vegetables because it sells perfectly edible, slightly misshaped, vegetables that would previously have been dug back into the ground or disposed of.
    Why can these not be sold loose? Why do these or any vegetables and fruits have to be bagged in plastic?

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  7. It’s pathetic. Sorry, we need to be able to bring our own containers to your stores and buy flour, pulses, cheese, and meat from bulk so that we use no extra packaging at all, and we need bread in paper bags which you could do tomorrow, and fewer things pre-packaged for microwaves, less choice, and fruit and vegetables without any wrapping at all, that we can put in our own bags and take home with no waste packaging whatsoever. If you get ready like this, you might just prompt and be ready for something really good that someone needs to lead, not just dance around the edges of; like 50% recycled water bottles, that is 100% pathetic. Sorry, glad you’re engaging, as others aren’t, but my council recycles ALMOST NOTHING and I only know because I asked them. Thank you on the teabags which gives me something I currently can’t drink without plastic. PLEASE don’t wrap them in plastic. Please make it MUCH EASIER to tell if “plastic” is plant based like cellophane used to be, I understand. I can buy this but won’t buy other plastic because unlike you, I do not actually want to be destroying our countryside and wildlife whether its here in the UK or “just” in some other poorer country that we make into waste dumps because you and others make us so disgusting

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  8. Talking to customers in my coop, they would prefer paper bags, fruit and veg sold sold loose and see high lighted products such as straws and tooth brushes replaced by bamboo as another option. I realise that smaller convience stores are lower on your list, but things need to change. I’ve worked for the coop for 12 years and in store it’s a daily topic with customers.

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    • We’re working hard on it, Donna. If you have a look at our latest blog post, you can see that members are helping to shape our plastic packaging reduction efforts. ^Siobhan

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  9. While I like the sentiment, some of your local practice doesn’t follow suit which makes me think this is just you jumping on the bandwagon. While shopping in your West Wittering branch, the cost of a lose apple is 50p while 6 plastic wrapped at £1.89 (so 31p an apple). So buying lose has a 60% markup. When I sent your social team this msg they responded with

    “Purchasing things in bulk, generally cost less overall. With loose produce, customers tend to purchase them in smaller quantities, so ultimately, they pay less during the actual transaction.”

    Totally missing the point; If you were serious about this but wanted to promote bulk buying then you have a unit price and a “buy 6 at £1.89” for lose, this way as consumers if we want to buy 6 apples we are not locked into buying plastic because of your pricing strategy.

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  10. Thank you for the feedback, Francesca, we’re always looking at our packaging and working on ways with our suppliers on many 100% of our Co-op branded packaing easy to recycline by 2020 ^Jordan

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    • Make it easier by getting rid of the packaging altogether. Most of the plastic collected for ‘recycling’ was sent abroad – first to China (who have refused to have any more) and now somewhere in Eastern Europe (not sure where, maybe Poland.) We are not recycling it if we sending our problem to another country!
      Remove the plastic altogether, Co-op. No plastic for fruit and vegetables; paper bags for those products that need packaging/covering. I remember when toilet rolls were sold wrapped in paper.
      NO MORE EXCUSES!
      Lead the way and others will follow!

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  11. I wonder why cucumbers and aubergines (sold individually) are in plastic wrappings/bags – particularly for aubergines there is not even the argument of health & safety as nobody (or nearly) would eat the raw skin of an aubergine. And why most packaging, including the posh “paper looking” pasta, is not recyclable?

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  12. Thanks for the feedback, Jane. ^Scott

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  13. Plastic, whether bags or packaging has driven me mad for over 20 years, long before the Blue Planet II and plastic outcry stuff. Tubs – have often thought use papier mache tubs instead like I can get in my greengrocer (yes, they still exist!) and often at pick-your-own places. Also, I hope Co-op will rid their products of the peel-off plastic on the top of tubs which always reads (from any manufacturer) ‘Not yet recylceable – and UGGH, that ruddy plastic on cucumbers – there must billions of them in landfill and floating around in the oceans – and they’re not needed as cucumber skin is its own protection. I know some consumers might whinge for some paranoid reason of dents in them, whatever but they need to get over themselves. If plastic hadn’t been put on them in the first place, people just wouldn’t be so paranoid of them without.

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  14. It would be great if Co-op would stop putting plastic spoons and forks inside takeaway salads etc. (even in pots of pineapple!) I know they’ve recently changed from black plastic, but no plastic would be better still.

    I realise that you may not want people going and helping themselves to handfuls of plastic cutlery, but couldn’t you keep a supply behind the counter and only give customers a plastic fork (or, better still, a wooden one) if they actually ask for one? I often buy lunch from the Co-op and the little plastic forks and spoons go straight in the bin.

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  15. Do you have any plans to remove plastic straws from your shelves?

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    • Our own brand seasonal straws are already paper and have been for a couple of years. We stock a branded plastic straw that will be replaced with a paper version by the end of the year. ^Ian

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  16. Hi Judith, thanks for contacting us. Please could you use the link below to tell us which store didn’t have loose veg in stock? Thanks ^Alice

    https://coop.uk/2uGNTgJ

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  17. I don’t see any mention of changing the black plastic trays that uncooked fish comes in at the Coop. I buy a lot of uncooked fish such as salmon, sea bass, cod loins, etc. from the Coop, all of which come sealed in clear plastic on black plastic trays. I recycle the clear plastic but my local authority (Cambridge) can’t recycle black plastic. Are there plans to change these trays for a recyclable plastic as well?

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  18. I would like to choose the loose products to reduce plastic packaging eg vegetables, fruit, breads. Please would you consider providing paper (preferably recycled) bags as an option to hold them in rather than yet more plastic bags?

    Thank you.

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  19. If Co-op are dedicated to reducing plastic, why is their dried milk now in plastic foil containers, when it was in cardboard, with metal base, foil seal (all recyclable) with only the plastic lid not recyclable?
    Can’t Co-op change to string rather than plastic nets on nectarines etc, which could be recycled with textiles. As a single person, I buy very little veg from Co-op as the pack sizes are too big. I can buy 1 tomato, banana, courgette etc. from local veg shop.

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  20. Why not sell more fruit and veg loose so we can buy the exact amount we need and no more?

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  21. Why are you changing to Blue Tray Packaging? Why not Clear/Opaque? All Local Authorities recycle these!

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  22. Hi Michael, which jars? ^Jordan

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  23. Why plastic lids to jars. They cannot be recycled . Are you able to replace with screw cap metal lids?

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  24. Our newly refurbished co-op in hatherleigh devon has a great new range of products but quite literally EVERYTHING is covered in plastic, i just bought asparagus that was tied top and bottom with elastic bands AND in a plastic bag?? Totally unneccesary 😦 i would love to leave all the packaging there but there is no room or any bins to do so? Please can we set up an area?? Its the groceries section which is the biggest problem !

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    • Thanks for your feedback. Eliminating the use of single use plastics is part of our overall plan to make 100% of our own-brand packaging easy to recycle. We are currently working with our suppliers to find alternative solutions for these products ^Siobhan

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      • Our local co-op here in Pembroke has even got plastic nets around onions when they were sold loose just a while ago. One of the staff told me she feels ashamed about the amount of plastic covering. I want to buy loose vegetables in our shops especially as I thought Pembrokeshire was going plastic free !

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  25. Hi co op please stop selling 10p and 5p bags . I find both in the country side and by the river where I live ! It’s very upsetting if customers won’t be responsible then surely it’s down to your company to change consumers habits as you started the problem in the first place !

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  26. Plastic waste is a tough idea. There’s talk of shops going back to selling everything loose. That’s be great but for two problems. 1. There’s so much variety of everything now – back in 1950 you’d buy “porridge”. Now even my small convenience store sells about 5 different varieties of porridge! 2. It’d be a nightmare to restock, count, weigh, etc everything.

    Glass and cardboard is out of the question because they weigh too much (doing more harm to the environment in transporting them!). I have been toying with the idea of government issue standard stackable plastic pots of various sizes which could be returned to manufacturers, relabelled and refilled. Same with pop bottles. Use hard plastic jars which can be stacked and returned. There’d be a deposit system in use to encourage returns. The major issue with this is labour involved in processing returns in store, depot and factory. And how to clean them to an acceptable standard.

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    • I personally am not a fan of products such as flour, cereals etc, sold loosely from large tubs/containers, as I have seen people sneeze over them, children dip their dirty hands into them, and I am never sure how fresh the products are. For hygiene reasons I prefer pre-packed goods. I wonder why they cannot be packed in biodegradable plastic.

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      • bio degradable plastic isn’t good enough yet and is still plastic that fills up out oceans by floating around !

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        • Most of the plastic that is found on my local beaches is washed in from boats, over which we have no control anyway, very little of it is left on the beaches by local people or tourists.

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  27. Please can the Coop provide plastic bag (including bread bags) recycling bins outside their stores. Thank you.

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    • Hi Madela. As much as that is a good idea I’m afraid there’s so many things that restrict us from doing something like that, not least local councils and the locations and format of the stores. ^Ian

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      • I’m a bit disappointed with this reply (from Co-op, June 10 1t 11:05). Surely this would be something that Co-op members in each locality could help with, some of them might even be local councillors, or council officials (hint, hint).

        In Orkney, we have a 3-way choice of supermarket between Tesco, Co-op (4 stores, Pickaquoy, Albert St, Stromness and Dounby), and Lidl. Tesco has a plastic bag recycling bin, as (I believe) does Lidl. If the Co-op were to develop a standard approach for the store-level processes for introducing this, and seek help from members in getting the necessary permissions, or support, from local authorities, I feel sure some progress could be made.

        If you are looking for assistance in the KW15-KW17 postcode range, please get in touch!

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    • Our branch in Corsham has plastic bag recycling inside the shop. I wonder how many people look at the back of the plastic bags some vegetables are sold in (e.g. potatoes) as some of these are recyclable with the carrier bags. As are Quorn packets.

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    • I’d like this too – the only place by me who does it is Morrisons and I don’t really shop there so I have to make a special journey in to recycle old / torn plastic bags and bread bags etc.

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  28. Hi Joy, do you have the barcode for the product? We’ll feed this back. ^Scott

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    • The Pure Bath soap is now sold as a pack of two bars (it was one bar pack previously) and the full barcode is: 5000128678148.
      I just want to add that the bar was also a different shape – curved palm shape rather than the angular bar that is sold now. Not that important but made it easier to handle and use against the skin.

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  29. As well as the vinegar in plastic bottles, Co-op now sell their own scent-free pure soap in plastic wrapping instead of the previous paper wrapping. Why?

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    • Hi Joy, We use the the PET bottle for vinegar. The PET bottle is widely recycled by the majority of local authorities and has a much lower carbon footprint than glass. ^Siobhan

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  30. Hi there, which store did you visit? Thanks, ^Scott

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  31. I was disappointed to see that co-op bakery bags that were paper had now been replaced by a plastic alternative.

    What is the reason for this?
    Surely this is a backwards step. I would be keen to hear your thoughts.

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  32. its good that your helping the environment I think shops need to lead the way

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  33. Please have loose veg and fruit not pre packed. I remove all packaging in store and put in mesh bags. The packaging is totally unnecessary

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    • In my experience the reason why fruit and vegetables are in packages, ( of say 4, 6,8 etc ) is that it’s a way of selling substandard items (usually one per package) which the store would not be able to sell loose. I think it’s a bit sneaky.

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  34. I notice Co-op Vinegar is now in plastic bottles rather than easily recycled glass. Why is that?

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  35. Can the Co-op not provide paper bags as opposed to plastic, for which to put loose fresh veg in? I am not sure whether this is already in practice in any Co-op stores, as the new Co-op local to me does not open until this summer.

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