Co-op’s smallest store with big ambition to partner with entire village and change UK’s plastic recycling habits

Co-op’s smallest store has the biggest ambition to win the fight against plastic pollution and the confusing post-code lottery of kerbside collections by launching a scientific study in partnership with all 1,000 residents of Pilton Village in Somerset.

In a UK first, the experiment in Pilton will set out to create the ultimate environment for optimum soft-plastic recycling, engaging and educating the population of one village on what, how and why to collect all their soft plastic, showing over time how easy it can be to recycle all of their food packaging.

Supporting the move is a unique “Recycling Behaviour Change Board” including famous faces, scientists, behaviour specialists and consumers designed to bring together a collective understanding on how to support positive behaviour change with a mission to understand how it can help to establish long-term plastic recycling habits in the heart of every community.

New research by the convenience retailer shows that while 92% of Brits are committed to recycling, millions of us admit to playing fast and loose with the rules with nearly half of UK adults (49 percent) admitting to putting items in their home recycling bins, that they are unsure can even be recycled. Co-op’s study highlighted that nearly 70% of adults know they could and indeed they want to, have a better attitude to recycling, so the desire amongst UK consumers is there. It reveals that 49% of Brits put items into their recycling, when they don’t know if they are recyclable and nearly a third believe they can recycle ‘soft-plastics’ at home, and with nearly 45% of UK adults wrongly believing or just not even knowing if soft plastics can be recycled at home, the experiment will aim to increase understanding.

Earlier this month Co-op rolled-out Europe’s most extensive in-store recycling scheme for soft-plastics, ensuring that all of its food packing is now recyclable, either in-store, or through kerbside collections – it will even accept soft plastic wrapping purchased at other retailers. The initiative established an accessible disposal route for materials which are unlikely to be collected by UK councils, including: crisp packets, bread bags, single-use carrier bags and bags-for-life, lids from ready meals and yogurt pots, biscuit wrappers and pet-food pouches. It will be available in 2,300 Co-op stores by November.

The scheme is also designed to reassure concerned communities that the plastics collected will be recycled in the UK, and turned into post-consumer plastic granules which are then made into useful secondary products – including: bin liners; rigid products such as buckets, and material for the construction industry – rather than flooding land-fill sites, going to incineration or, being shipped overseas.

Co-op will also be testing the impact of various tactics, starting with the launch of a national branded TikTok Challenge. The TikTok community has embraced the challenge already, with influential creators including @tommalone_jr, @matthewandryanuk and @itslilyrose demonstrating how they Clean it, Scrunch it, Co-op it at home. There will also be a targeted OOH advertising campaign.

Sara Cox, Presenter, DJ and Recycling Behaviour Change Board Member said: “We all know that it is important to do our bit when it comes to recycling. However, even when we do set out with all the best intentions, it’s difficult to know what can and can’t be collected, and the truth is that many of us are getting it wrong or feel that recycling is a futile task. I’m taking on the role as a Recycling Behaviour Change Board member because I want to help everyone to learn how simple it can be to collect soft plastics at home and return them to their local Co-op store.”

Yasmin Evans, TV and Radio Personality and Co-op Behaviour Change Board Member said: “I know from personal experience, the impact that social media can have on inspiring change. I recently had the opportunity to speak to my audience about Co-op’s sustainability commitment and the positive response I experienced was huge, that’s why I’m so excited to continue working with Co-op, particularly as part of such an important campaign. I’m looking forward to seeing how the environmentally-conscious generation of social-media users get behind the TikTok challenge, as well as learning more about how we can all create good recycling habits, and all do our bit!”

Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager, Co-op, said: “As a business we are committed to supporting simple solutions to everyday environmental issues. The launch of our in store soft-plastic recycling scheme is designed to simplify recycling for consumers, but we know that as a business there is more we can do to make long-term positive changes to the consumer behaviours in the communities we serve. We are excited to find out what we can learn from the experiment, and how we can put those learnings into action nationally.”

Rob Moore, Director at Behaviour Change, said: “The importance of recycling in the home has never been more apparent, with both businesses and local governments working on new ways to encourage people to recycle more. However, as a recent study revealed that over half of UK adults do not know what the term ‘soft plastic’ means, almost the same amount admit that they risk putting wrong items into their recycling, and nearly a quarter want to be better at getting it right. To do this, there needs to be a fundamental shift in how people behave in their homes. As a nation, we need to understand that recycling starts from the moment we purchase and that your decision to recycle often starts in your kitchen. With this insight, we want to discover how we can change people’s behaviours and throughout the village experiment we are excited to study the ways in which we can implement effective tactics to create positive habits both at home and in Co-op stores.”

Mathew Tavener, Manager of Co-op’s Pilton store, said: “The initiative has really opened my eyes, and we have had such a great response from the community already. Personally I didn’t realise how much soft-plastic I used and that I wasn’t recycling myself. It isn’t much extra effort to recycle it – it does take a change in behaviour and then it just becomes a habit, one that we can all do, simply. As a father of a three year-old son myself, it really does make you realise that we can all make small changes, that together, add up to making a big difference, especially if we are to have an environment that we are proud to pass on to the next generation.”

Results and learnings will be released and shared later in the year in a bid to create long-lasting behaviour change to help consumers navigate the plastic kerb-side collection lottery across the UK.

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