Plastic Waste – and how the Co-op are tackling it

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.

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 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 or for guidance on how your can help.

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

Iain Ferguson,
Environment Manager


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