The big four supermarkets, the Co-operative Group and Waitrose will start taking back the plastic used around multipacks of cans, household goods, fresh produce and kitchen rolls in the same bins used to recycle plastic carrier bags from this week.
The move forms part of a new agreement under the BRC and Wrap's On Pack Recyling Label (OPRL) initiative which helps shoppers identify which items can be recycled and how.
A new version of the on-pack label will appear on PE film packaging to indicate which thin plastics can be taken back to stores. Plastics containing metal, oily food residue or ink that adds up to more than 5% of the overall packaging weight will not be suitable for recycling.
Supermarkets will be able to use the recycled plastic in construction work and in the production of items such as drainpipes.
According to Wrap, thin plastic accounts for 43% of all plastic household packaging and weighs in at 645,000 tonnes every year, compared with plastic bottles, which make up 32% or 480,000 tonnes.
This recycling opportunity was an "exciting, genuine recycling breakthrough", said Bob Gordon, head of environment at the BRC, and OPRL director. "There is value in this material," he said. "If you can offer a service to customers to help them recycle and get value out of the material you collect, then it's a win-win."
Sainsbury's has offered customers the chance to recycle plastic polyethylene films for a number of years. "As a key member of the OPRL, we are delighted that through our pioneering work and leadership in this field, this has now become a service that others will offer," said print and packaging manager Stuart Lendrum.
Defra minister Lord Henley added: "This is a great move by retailers and exactly the type of initiative that is needed to help people recycle more."