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The Co-op’s own report into packaging says it is a lack of knowledge from retailers in general that is part of the problem

The Co-op has pledged to make 80% of its own brand packaging easily recyclable by 2020 on the back of new research that found two-thirds of all plastic packaging used for consumer products in the UK is being sent to landfill or incineration.

A new report compiled by the retailer found only half a million of the 1.5 million tonnes of recyclable plastic waste created every year is being reused as intended. It said the problems lie with a lack of knowledge about which packaging can be recycled along with local authorities lacking the facilities to deal with it.

Less than half (45%) of Co-op own-brand packaging fell into the easily recyclable category, it admitted, but is calling on other retailers to follow its lead on developing new packaging and working with local authorities to improve recycling levels.

“It is shocking that such a small percentage of plastic packaging is being recycled, especially materials that are already easy to recycle like plastic bottles. We are concerned that so much still goes to landfill every year,” said Co-op environment manager Iain Ferguson.

“We need to stop thinking about this plastic as a waste and start to use it as a resource. What is needed is a co-ordinated response to the problem. This should start with retailers and major brands listening to recyclers and developing packaging that is better for recycling.”

He added that the retailer’s long-term ambition was for all packaging to be recycled where it can be.

The Co-op cited the development of new plastic trays for its fresh meat products as an example of the work it is doing to meet its target. It said one of the most common hard plastics that is safe to use with foodstuffs is amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (aPET). However this often has a layer of polythene on it to allow the film lid to be securely heat-sealed in place. This is important for safety of the product but makes the packaging harder to recycle.

The Co-op said it had worked extensively with its packaging and protein suppliers to pioneer the removal of the heat-seal layer from aPET trays so that the film lid attaches securely to the tray without the need for a heat-seal layer.

It said it was now calling on other retailers to follow suit by developing new packaging to improve recyclability, and urged them to join the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan (PIRAP), which it signed up to earlier this year.

Finally the Co-op has also called for the introduction of clear labelling to differentiate items that recyclers can’t use to make it easier for consumers and recyclers.

Lee Marshall, CEO at the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC), said: “Packaging plays an important part in protecting products and preventing waste but when it has served its purpose we need to be able to recycle as much as possible. Having more consistent packaging makes it easier for local authorities to put in place the systems to collect it and to communicate with their residents. The sort of ambition being shown by the Co-op is great to see and we hope it acts as catalyst for the whole industry.”