Our new soft plastics recycling scheme has proved a huge hit since it launched in July with thousands of customers getting involved to learn, champion, and use the recycling bins in their local Co-op store, and it’s all thanks to Co-op Members.

From supporting AGM motions around climate change and sustainability, getting involved in discussions at last year’s online Join In Live sessions and joining in with workshops to explore where we position bins in stores, members have played an invaluable role in working together with us to help shape and roll out the largest soft plastic film recycling project of its kind in the UK. Our Member Pioneers have also hosted Join In Local events on sustainability bringing the sustainability and recycling message to communities across the country too.

Members told us they wanted to know more about our new recycling initiative, so we created a dedicated Clean It Scrunch It Co-op It webpage to help them spread the word. More than 14,000 Co-op Members visited the site spending time learning all about the scheme, reading the blog posts and finding out what they can do to encourage others to get involved.

More than 12,000 members joined in to learn more about the types of soft plastics that can now be recycled at Co-op by watching a short video created by members of our Co-op Young Members Group and take part in a few quiz questions. The video enabled members to learn about the Clean It Scrunch It Co-op It scheme in a fun and engaging way.

Many members also got creative by joining in with our recycling challenges – like coming up with poems, jingles, song lyrics, pictures and mnemonics to help people remember the top 5 soft plastics – bread bags, crisp packets, fruit and veg bags, pasta bags and pizza film – now recyclable at Co-op. Others have been amazing family and friends with some incredible recycling facts and downloading resources that they can share with their neighbours to help make a difference in their local communities.

In fact, members have been using and supporting the recycling scheme so much this summer that around 88% of Co-op stores are having to empty their recycling unit at least once a week, while a third are needing to empty them more frequently – even daily – to keep up with demand.

Our members have been the driving force behind our recycling commitments over the years, so we asked Co-op Member and mum of 3, Gemma Robinson, what she thought of our new soft plastics recycling scheme.

 “The Clean It Scrunch It Co-op It initiative has become a gamechanger in my house; I love it,” she says.

“I’ll put anything from plastic film off the mincemeat, vegetable wrapping, biscuit packets, cereal plastic bags, and lollipop wrappers into my soft plastic recycling.

 “I’ve always recycled as much plastic as I can, but with nowhere to recycle soft plastic, I didn’t realise just how much film I was throwing into the normal waste until I started collecting it for Co-op.”

Now, with the recycling bin easily accessible in her local Easington Colliery’s Co-op store, Gemma uses it regularly.

“I usually recycle 3 bags of soft plastic per week. You don’t even need to do any shopping in the store as the recycling bin is just inside the front door.”

Like many of our members, reducing plastic waste and recycling is a key priority for Gemma. She first heard about the scheme when she joined in with a soft plastics conversation at one of our online Join In Live sessions last year, and she’s been championing the initiative ever since.

“I’ve bought myself a special carrier bag hanger for my kitchen cupboard door so that I can easily collect up all my soft plastic and I’ve been sharing details about the scheme on social media and telling all my friends about it,” she says.

“I’ve even been asked why I’m taking a bag of plastic rubbish into Co-op, so it’s created a lot of conversation on the street too.”

To know that Co-op Members have had a say in the rollout of this scheme “makes it even more valuable and meaningful in my local community,” says Gemma.

“I’m teaching my children about recycling and the importance of putting waste items in the correct bins, so the dedicated soft plastic webpage has been a brilliant resource. Taking part in the quizzes is a great way of learning, and the downloadable kids pack has definitely given me some creative inspiration for the things to do on those rainy days.”

We are continuing our sustainability conversation with Co-op Members this month as our focus turns to climate change and the COP26 summit, which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

In January, more than 14,000 members shared their thoughts and concerns as we started a series of conversations on climate change, and more than 2,600 members also joined in to share their feedback on our 10-point climate plan which details our commitments to tackling the climate crisis.

In the run up to COP26, we’re asking members to join us in making small changes to help climate change as well as raise their voice to world leaders. If you’d like to get involved in this conversation or help to develop some of our other Co-op products and services, head to your online membership account to see what you can join in with now.

Mark Robinson-Field

Member Participation Manager

Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. We were delighted in our household when this scheme was announced. We’d been carrying our soft plastics to Sainsbury’s, who have a similar scheme, but our local Co-op is even closer. Like others, this reduced our landfill rubbish to almost zero. And we didn’t mind the faff of cleaning and drying all our soft plastics if it was going to help the environment.

    I agree with what others have said about the bins being far too small, and a poor design. The flaps at the top make it difficult to put more than a couple of small things in at a time. If you try, you end up hurting your hand.

    I have a much more serious worry, though. Back in the summer I asked Sainsburys what actually happened to the plastics people put in their bins. I was fobbed off with a link to an article that didn’t address my question. I then emailed Sainsburys’ CEO twice, asking the same thing, but didn’t even receive an acknowledgement.

    Then I found a couple of articles written in the spring this year that said that the soft plastics from Sainsbury’s were being shipped to Poland, where they were overwhelming the recycling facilities and causing pollution and environmental nuisance. So the Sainsbury’s scheme seems to be greenwash.

    We’re desperate to do what we can to reduce our environmental impact. But we will only continue to use Co-op’s scheme if we can be sure that the material isn’t being exported to become someone else’s problem. The lack of response to comments above doesn’t fill me with hope that anyone from Co-op will comment here, but I live in hope.

  2. Can you recycle carrier bags in the same bin.

  3. Great to see more being done to tackle plastic pollution. But given that Co-op is claiming that all its own-brand food packaging is recyclable, why does the pack of 99 Blend Loose Leaf Fairtrade Tea that I bought last week say “not yet recycled” on the back? This is mixed messaging to say the least. We must do better – it should be clear on the packaging that this can be recycled, otherwise it’s going to end up in the general waste.

  4. Excellent idea, but if you use a different store to your usual it can be hard to find as the bins are small and are normally tucked in a spare corner. The Co-op need to shout about this more and make it part of the normal routine of going shopping, probably make a video to show what happens to plastic that is recycled.

  5. I agree that the bins are far too small, and it means the top loading flaps are awkward to use. I usually find I can give the contents a good shove down to make more room, but surely something bigger could be provided. However, this is a great scheme. My local council stopped taking soft plastics a couple of years ago and I’ve hated having to put it in the general waste.

  6. Excellent initiative but bins too small as most people including me bring a bag of plastic so it fills up super quickly. I barely have any rubbish for the weekly refuse collection now!

  7. Yes, we need all stores to have this facility along with larger bins. My nearest Co-op does not have a recycling bin, so I have to travel 9 miles to Carnforth. I save all my plastic until I’m going that way & then struggle to squash it all in the bin.

    • I agree with you the bins are to small & hidden away in corner out if the way. I take the top off. I want last weekend and found bin nearly full just managed to get my stuff in.
      Question are the local staff / management keeping an eye on the scheme.


  8. Excellent move. Let’s extend this as fast as possible.

  9. I would love it if the scheme could be extended to all Co-op stores. My local is ‘too small’ so I have to drive to North Baddesley (about 5 miles). And their bin is far too small!


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