500 words approx. 2.5 minutes to read.

Plastic waste is a huge environmental issue. At Co-op, we’re reducing our use of plastic, and where we do use it, we are making it easy to recycle or reuse by 2023. I’d like to explain here how we’re tackling the issue. I’ll also provide some simple ways in which you can help.

One difficulty is that some plastics can be recycled and some can’t. Black plastic can’t be recycled, for instance, because the machinery at recycling centres doesn’t recognise it as recyclable; this is because the sensors can’t ‘see’ the black, meaning the plastic is rejected and incinerated or sent to landfill, where it can remain for hundreds of years without decomposing. So we’re replacing this kind of plastic with clear, uncoloured, recyclable material. We have made huge progress on this work with some market-leading changes in place.

Also, councils don’t all accept the same types of plastic. This means you need to check the symbols on packaging to see what sort of plastic it is and whether your council will accept it. Ideally, we’d like all products to be labelled in the same, clear way, and for the council advice to be the same in every part of the country.

What we’ve already achieved

  • We’ve prevented 465 tonnes of waste plastic by dropping black trays from our fruit and veg. That’s roughly equivalent in weight to 42 double-decker buses!
  • Our water bottles are made from 50% recycled materials, preventing 349 tonnes of refuse
  • We were the first supermarket to use certified compostable carrier bags – which can be used for food waste collection at home – saving 366 tonnes of plastic waste
  • We’ve saved 200 tonnes of non-recyclable polystyrene by switching it for cardboard in our pizza discs
  • The tray for our minced beef is now made from a single material, so the packaging is much easier to recycle, saving 163 tonnes of plastic from landfill
  • Our healthier-snack packs now come in a recyclable film pouch, replacing 5.2 tonnes of the old packaging
  • We have removed the plastic trays from tenderstem broccoli and asparagus tips, removing 43 tonnes of plastic waste.
  • Replaced plastic packaging on our golden kiwis, ready-to-eat kiwis and pears, apples and organic avocado with pulp packaging, thanks to Co-op Members joining in to tell us their ideas for plastic reduction.

What we’re planning

  • Removing plastic that’s not designed to be reused or recycled by 2023
  • Collaborating with the rest of the food industry and universities to find better ways to reduce plastic waste
  • Making our labelling clearer, so you can tell what’s recyclable
  • Ensuring the packaging we use extends shelf life and helps to reduce food waste

8 ways you can cut down on plastic

  1. Wrap sandwiches in greaseproof paper, not cling film or, better still, use a reusable box
  2. Reuse plastic pots or glass jars for storing food
  3. Use paper straws for your drinks instead of plastic ones
  4. Reuse your green Co-op compostable carrier bag for food waste – make sure your local council will collect it. You can always use it in a your home compost bin if you have one.
  5. Take reusable bags when you go shopping. We have a range for every type of shopping trip – look out for the fold-away bags that slip neatly into a pocket or handbag.
  6. Buy a reusable coffee cup for takeaway drinks
  7. Choose products that come in recyclable containers
  8. Check labels or go to recyclenow.com to see if packaging is recyclable in your area

Find our more on what we’re doing to tackle plastic on our website, or head to recyclenow.com or wrap.org.uk for guidance on how your can help.

Together, let’s help make plastic waste a thing of the past!

Iain Ferguson,
Environment Manager

Read more on how we’re working on sustainability:

Join the conversation! 26 Comments

  1. I was very disappointed to find that some lamb steaks I bought from the Coop in South Woodham Ferrers had a concealed label inside saying that the plastic trays were not recyclable. Until I opened the packet, this was not visible. I expected better from the Coop!
    Having said that, my local Chelmsford Star Coop in Danbury has been very helpful in collecting crisp packaging for me to pass on to a Terracycle collector.
    I would be very interested to know which sites are going to be taking in plastics for recycling.

  2. Hi Julio. Thanks for getting in touch about this very important topic. At the Co-op, we are committed to reducing packaging. Please see here for information about what we’re doing.
    Regards. ^Karen

  3. Hello,
    I have been a member of Coop for around 3 years now, to be completely honest i have been procrastinating about sending a letter or doing something about it so i’ve deicided to do it, i have been and i am still very worried about the amount of plastic used in the fruits and vegetables packaging, (and everything else tbh but let’s start one by one…) it is really hard for me and really causes me anxiety to keep buying food from companies like Coop (and all the supermarkets and groceries stores) where i find almost every package is not recyclable or it’s just unnecessary, i understand that in this modern human’s world, companies really don’t care about this as much because “money first” right? it might be more expensive to implement better eco friendly packages, or even just don’t use them at all in the fruits and vegetables areas? it is ridiculous, every item in the store is wrapped in plastic and most of it is single use!
    I think you guys could be selling even more if you reduce plastic use or at least use recyclable plastic in your stores, or installing specific bins outside your stores for the customers to put back the plastic bags or food packaging so you guys take responsibility for the plastic you sell us and recycle it.
    The way we humans are treating the planet is not going to last for much longer and the only ones affected are going to be US, the planet is going to be here with or without us, and as a customer i find it very difficult to make a change if the places i buy my food are not even trying to help, i’m seriously thinking about just stop buying from Coop (and other companies) and encourage more people to do the same.
    Maybe trying to fight loneliness by inviting those lonely people and the rest of us to cleaning/recycling campaigns could be a way to get them to know each other? and help the planet a bit? i don’t know, i’m just trying to think of solutions as i have been and still feeling very bad about the whole situation.
    anyway i hope with this letter i can start a little change as i’m ready to act and to help.

    Please! implement loose fruits and vegs!

    Kind Regards.

    • I agree with you, Julio. The amount of plastic in supermarkets currently is ridiculous; and Co-op is no different, especially with individually wrapped items of fruit and vegetables. I bought a small swede the other day and it was encased in plastic! I was told that it was to protect the fruit and vegetables but swede is tough enough to survive WITHOUT a plastic coat. If it was to protect them, why was a cucumber, which was covered in plastic, bruised and soft? I couldn’t tell because it was covered in plastic. I didn’t want to return it, as when I have had the same problem before they doubted that I had bought it from that particular store – I had already disposed of the wrapper so didn’t have it with me.

  4. I have just bought some fruit and used one of your small plastic veg/fruit bags. Eventhough it has “Love food hate waste “written on it, the recycling details of the bag are tiny@ l asked some of the shop assistants if they could read it and they couldn’t. Is it recyclable, and if not, why not!!

    • Given that the report on what the co op is doing was from September, I see little in the way of reply from the organisation to the many comments saying not enough is being done. I agree with all comments so far. You look along the isles and there is just tons of stuff that is just going to landfill. I am lucky enough to have local grocers who do as much as possible loose and use paper bags. I now only buy fruit and veg from the coop not in plastic bags.

  5. It is great that you are trying to replace plastic but I feel that I am overwhelmed with plastic packaging everytime I go to my local Co-op. Whatever happened to paper bags for mushrooms? If you can sell some loose bananas why not all bananas? I was looking for something sweet biscuit/cake wise and out of about 15 items only one was using sustainable palm oil. Well done Border crafted biscuits unfortunately they had some plastic wrapping but also use paper so they seem to be trying which is more than I can say for the Co-op with regard to using sustainable palm oil.

    • I totally agree Jennifer. Co-op seem to very skilled in platitudes but not action. They keep saying they’re reducing plastic but there seems little evidence where I live. Whenever I use my Co-op I return with so much plastic, much of which cannot be locally recycled. Sainsbury’s have started selling re-usuable mesh bags for fruit and vegetables, why can’t Co-op come up with similar ideas.

  6. Hi, under your heading of how to reduce plastic waste is a picture of three bananas being put in a carrier bag, presumably the bananas were bought from another shop as all yours are wrapped in plastic!
    Practice what you preach.

    • Co-op sells loose bananas too, I’m sure bagged bananas will be phased out soon.
      Change takes time.

  7. Well done for the efforts already made-but still not enough! Why not jump in head first and have a PUBLISHED date by which you will ban ALL unnecessary plastic, non-recyclable and non-compostable packaging? You are the people to do it, and to be an example to all the others. We don’t need/want pre-wrapped apples or carrots. We object to examining the small-print on every container to check if/where it can be disposed of in an acceptable manner, only to discover the dread ‘not currently recycled’ or ‘check local recycling’ message. You CAN do it. It’s not a ‘good’ thing to do-it is essential.

  8. I think I’d prefer to put paper bags in our compost bin – paper absorbs water and when scrunched up provides air pockets that aids aerobic decomposition. I expect the compostable carrier bags take a lot longer to break down too.

    Good progress is being made by supermarkets but it all feels like a PR exercise to me.

  9. I really hope that plastic free fruit and veg comes soon to your local shops where it can be avoided. Not only would that help the environment it would also help all those people living in their own, which I imagine are a significant proportion of your local store shoppers. For example I don’t want to buy four baking potatoes when I only want one. I’m now trying to avoid the convenience of buying veg from you and travelling further to a greengrocer (I’m lucky to be in a position to do this) Making this change to your local stores would be a great way of gaining customers and prevent those living alone having to eat the same veg 4 nights running!

  10. It’s shocking how much plastic is used for fruit and veg. I wanted to buy one parsnip and ended up having to buy four because they were wrapped together in plastic. The oranges are strung together in a plastic string bag. The mushrooms are packaged in plastic etc etc. I leave all my wrappings at the till. If everyone did that, maybe co op, and the other supermarkets would get the message! Come on co op, you can do better. Be a front runner. I find it insulting being told all the ways we can cut down on plastic when most of your fruit and veg is wrapped in plastic

    • I still don’t understand why fruit and vegetables are still packed in plastic. I have been mostly plastic-free for years and have been doing all your suggestions for quite a long tme. I buy quite a lot of my food from a plastic free shop but I still have to buy my fruit and vegetables from Co-op in plastic. Why?

  11. I’d like to see Co-op make it easier to refuse receipts and coupons at the self-service tills. Possibly that would include providing alternative way of viewing these on the membership site.

    The receipts in use are plastic-coated and heat-printed – I don’t know whether they also have BPA in them. But they are certainly unrecyclable. So they contaminate the recycling stream when people don’t realise they’re not normal paper; they may also be putting staff at risk. It’s time to move away from them, as other stores are doing.

  12. You need to go much further, still far to much packaging both plastic and cardboard. You have made some progress but no where near enough. I would also like to see better labelling on items that have enviromentaly destructive ingredients and the co-op replace palm oil in all its own products.

    Keep up the good work so far but do more, much more and I will continue to shop with you.

  13. Please supply more choices of non plastic wrapped vegetables. In my local Co-op nearly all veg are in plastic bags .
    Thanks for all the steps you take already, though ! Keep it up !

  14. Brilliant news from the co-operative society! – it’s great to see that there is at least one supermarket that is paying some attention to the effects of climate change and global warming and the contributory effects of household waste to damaging the environment.
    This restores my hope in the future of our beautiful planet and the difference we can all make to the quality of life for our children and grandchildren.
    Well done, co-op! Keep up the good work!

  15. Please look at your policy for coop forecourt garage shops, you need to put a simple water tap outside to fill up water bottles or to wash windscreens on the car.
    You sell us screen wash instead in plastic bottles . All the excess to be recycled or disposed of. Just think how much less plastic waste there will be if you change to having a water tap on the forecourt and it’s free! People do not want to use chemicals (screen-wash) in plastic containers. Whose idea was it?

  16. Well Done CO-OP Food once again first to lead on this, I hope all the others will catch up soon.
    Loose veg is the way to go.

  17. Most of your suggestions to reduce plastic waste are already in use in quite a lot of households. I look to Co-op for far more than that but but you are sadly lacking in reducing your own plastic use: plastic wrapped cucumbers; loose produce more expensive than that wrapped or packaged in plastic. Come on Co-op, start practising what you’re preaching. How can we reduce our plastic if everything we buy from you is covered in the stuff!

  18. I take exception from being told how to recycle! I won’t even have plastic windows in my home. Any plastics come from my purchases. Sort your own house out, I will see to mine I’m now unsubscribing


  20. I can only congratulate the Co-op on really trying to reduce its plastic use, which also reduces ours!
    As you’re trying so hard to be environmentally friendly can I ask why you have so little organic,or at least,free range poultryand meat. I use a store in St Marychurch, Torquay, fairly regularly and every time I search in vain for free range chicken and pork.Outdoor bred is NOT the same as free range!


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