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Supermarkets lead the way with shop-and-drop recycling points

Supermarkets are leading the way by providing customers with shop-and-drop facilities to recycle their flexible packaging.

In our regular knowledge articles and industry Wrap-ups this year, we have reported how the major supermarkets have installed points in their stores to collect the hard-to-cycle material. 

Flexible – or soft – packaging includes crisp packets, food pouches, film lids, salad bags, and biscuit and cake wrappers, all of which are currently only accepted for kerbside collection by a small number of local authorities.

Earlier this year, WRAP released a guide to help retailers simplify recycling for their customers. The key takeaways for retailers were:

  1. Collect "all flexible plastic packaging" at front-of-store locations.
  2. Always refer to the material as "plastic bags and wrapping".
  3. Recycling containers should be easy to find and access.

The guide supported the ambition of The UK Plastics Pact for supermarkets to provide widespread collection points for plastic bags and collect 10% of material placed onto the market by the end of 2022.

The Co-op followed suit by providing their customers with this three-point guidance:

  1. Clean it – First, rinse your packaging out.
  2. Scrunch it – Now, scrunch it up tight - if it pings back, it's a useful indicator it's soft plastic.
  3. Co-op it – Pop it into our soft plastics recycling bin at a Co-op near you.

Similar activity has been conducted in other countries. In Australia, REDcycle (of which we are a partner) is a recovery initiative for post-consumer soft plastic with collection points in Coles and Woolworths supermarket stores. 

Here's a summary of the major UK supermarkets' activity regarding the collection of flexible packaging:

  • Aldi

In May, Aldi added collection points to 20 stores with a view to developing a broader roll-out.

  • Asda

Food packaging and plastic bags can be recycled at some Asda stores by using specified bins.

  • Co-op

In July, recycling units for soft plastics were launched in 1500 Co-op stores, with the aim to offer the service at another 800 stores by the end of this year. Thin plastic lids of all types are included in the list of what you can recycle in-store.

  • Iceland

In July, Iceland launched recycling points for soft plastics in 13 branches of The Food Warehouse. It planned to roll them out across about 140 stores in the year ahead.

  • Lidl

In September, Lidl launched a trial plastics bag and wrapping recycling scheme across stores in the West Midlands with a plan to expand the project nationwide.

  • Tesco

In August, Tesco completed installing collection facilities for flexible packaging recycling in all of its major stores. Shoppers can bring back any soft plastic packaging for recycling and Tesco will recycle as much of this material as possible back into products and packaging sold in Tesco stores. 

  • Morrisons

In September, Morrisons announced plans to launch six "zero waste" stores, including collecting "hard-to-recycle" soft plastics. Morrisons has recently bought a significant stake in a new recycling facility in Scotland to process hard-to-recycle soft plastics. As a result, it has become the first UK supermarket to own its own recycling operations.

  • Sainsbury's

In June, 520 Sainsbury's stores offered front-of-store recycling points for all flexible plastics, including peelable film lids.

  • Waitrose

A flexible plastics recycling trial began in 37 Waitrose stores in May.

Also, not to be outdone, dedicated recycling points for flexible pet food packaging were introduced by Pets at Home in August, which was claimed to be an industry first.

The Flexible Plastic Fund

Five manufacturing giants have united to form a £1 million fund to help make flexible plastic recycling economically viable for recyclers and easier for consumers. Mars UK, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever are supporting the Flexible Plastic Fund, which is a UK industry first and is being led by producer compliance scheme Ecosurety with support from environmental charity Hubbub.

Under the mantra “We’re bringing flexi back”, the new collaborative fund is intended to give value to flexible plastics – including plastic film lids – so they are properly recycled. You can find a collection point using the Flexible Plastic Fund's search facility.

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