Waitrose has announced plans to roll out a new trial that will allow its customers to return hard to recycle flexible plastics at their local store.
The scheme, which goes live this week at 37 branches serviced by Waitrose’s Leyland Distribution Centre in the North of England, will permit all clean flexible plastics that can be crunched up, stretched, squashed or unfurled to be deposited in-store for an initial period of 12 weeks.
Drop off points that have historically been used to recycle plastic bags will be retrofitted to allow an expanded range of flexible plastics, including crisp packets, sweet wrappers, bubble wrap, cling film and many more.
Flexible plastic packaging is a highly efficient material that is used ubiquitously across the industry for its lightweight and malleable composition, which helps preserve food quality and prevent food waste. It’s projected that flexible plastics accounts for a quarter of all consumer packaging on the market, amounting to 215 billion items per year, but much of it is currently not recycled due to industry challenges.
The trial will look to address this challenge and be used to provide critical insight on the volumes, type and level of contamination of the plastic packaging collected, with potential plans to roll out to all stores in the near future if successful.
Marija Rompani, Partner & Director of Ethics & Sustainability at the John Lewis Partnership, comments: “The UK’s infrastructure is currently not fit for purpose to deal with the recycling of all flexible plastics, with significant volumes currently going to landfill or being incinerated in the UK each year.
“If the UK is to become more efficient in its handling of difficult to recycle flexible plastics, we not only need to invest in more capable machinery, we need to come together as an industry and make recycling flexible plastics easier for the public. This is the emphasis of our trial and our new drop off points in store and we hope it will provide us with the intelligence needed to roll out more widely in the future.”
The project aligns with the ambitions of the Flexible Plastics Fund, a one million pound pot established by a consortium of major brands across the retail sector. The fund will act as a springboard into a new era, creating the infrastructure and mechanisms required to drive the collection and recycling of flexible plastics across the UK. It will also close the loop and create circularity so that flexible plastics can be repurposed and used again in an environmentally friendly way, and on home soil rather than shipped abroad.
The consortium also aspires to change legislation and set a fixed minimum price per tonne for recycled flexible plastic, which will incentivise manufacturers to invest in machinery that helps turn flexible plastic packaging that has been recycled at home or in-store into something new.