The Co-op has unveiled plans to switch all of its bottled water to 50% recycled plastic (rPET) in a move which is set to test whether today’s environmentally-conscious consumer is ready to ditch more aesthetically pleasing packaging.
The bottles – themselves 100% recyclable and sourced in the UK – do appear darker, greyer and cloudier than those using less or no recycled plastic, and so the community retailer will “test the water”, throwing down the gauntlet to gauge whether ethical consumers will turn the traditional psychology of shopping on its head when it comes to making their buying choices.
The first retailer to make such a move, the Co-op estimates that it can save almost 350 tonnes of plastic annually when it makes the change on all of its own brand still, sparkling and flavoured water later this year.
Earlier this year the Co-op confirmed it was in favour of the creation of a deposit return scheme (DRS) to increase the overall recycling of packaging.
Reducing the environmental impact of products is at the core of the Co-op’s efforts. It has around 4.6M active Members, and last year, they overwhelmingly backed its ambition for 100% of its product packaging to be easily recyclable.
The retailer has also waged war on the “grey area” of black and, hidden, plastic. It plans to rid its aisles of so-called “vanity” black – and dark coloured – plastic by 2020. This plastic is harder to detect by sorting machines due to its pigment and also contaminates the recycling stream, reducing the usefulness and value of the recovered material. It is estimated to add at least 30,000 tonnes of plastic each year to waste.
The Co-op also revealed that it is brewing up a fully biodegradable paper tea bag for its iconic 99 tea brand, making it the first retailer to find a solution to the problem of plastic waste caused by the nation’s favourite beverage and saving nine tonnes of plastic every year from being dumped into household rubbish and compost collections.
Jo Whitfield, Chief Executive, Co-op Food, said:
“We know that by working closely with our supply and waste-value chains we can find new ways of sourcing sustainable alternatives. Our customers expect us to respond to this challenge and help them make more ethical choices, and we’re dedicated to doing just that. Making these changes will also create new uses for recycled materials which in turn gives our customers greater confidence in recycling. We’re constantly listening to our members and customers, understanding what they need, where and when they need it, and we’re committed to continuing to explore the opportunities.”
Iain Ferguson, Co-op Environment Manager, added:
“Suppliers are working hard to make the bottle clearer – and they already have – in the meantime, our bottles will wear this greyish colour which I see as a ‘badge of honour’ – we are part of the market for recycled products, and we are proud of that. We’re also very pleased that plans for the proposed deposit return scheme have been formally unveiled. It’s a vitally important move in encouraging greater rates of recycling across the country and we welcome any measure which is designed to make recycling simpler and more accessible for consumers. We would like to see the same system applied across the whole of the UK to keep it simple for customers and business – the Co-op is aiming to make 100% of its own-brand packaging recyclable and set against this move, we can look forward to an increase in packaging sustainability and a reduction in plastic waste across the UK.”
Co-op water also makes a difference in communities at home and abroad. The community retailer donates 3p for every litre sold of Co-op branded water to The One Foundation and, 1p for every litre sold of branded water to Water Unite. Last year alone this amounted to over £1.7 million to fund clean, safe, water projects. Further, the Co-op’s Membership scheme gives Members a 5% reward when they buy own brand products and services, with the Co-op donating a further 1% to local good causes – last year, the Co-op shared £20M with around 8,000 community groups across the UK.