Tesco supermarket has launched a trial for an innovative recycling scheme specifically focusing on plastics that can’t be recycled on the kerb.
Soft plastics like crisp packets, plastic bags, and pet food pouches generally can’t be recycled by local authorities — blocking efforts to hit 100% recycling rates.
But the supermarket has now partnered with Swindon-based recycling specialist Recycling Technologies to help tackle the problem.
From this week, according to Tuesday's announcement, Tesco is actively encouraging shoppers to bring their non-recyclable plastics to collection points at 10 stores across Swindon and Bristol.
And if the trial goes well, the initiative could be rolled out across the whole of the UK.
The plan is basically to create a closed loop for plastic production. The soft plastics returned to the store will be converted back into oil by Recycling Technologies, and then that oil can be used in the production of new plastics.
According to Sarah Bradbury, Tesco’s director of quality, the technology “could be the final piece of the jigsaw for the UK plastic recycling industry.”
Bradbury added that the initiative will help the store reach its target to have all of its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025.
And environmental campaigners are on board with the initiative too.
Paula Chin, WWF UK’s sustainable materials specialist, said: “It’s great to see Tesco running this innovative trial, looking for new ways to make it easier for customers to recycle plastic materials which would usually go in their waste bins.”
She added: “While we can all do our bit by reducing the plastic we buy and embracing reusable items, we need producers, businesses, and governments to face their responsibilities too.”
The stores involved in the trial are: Bristol Lime Trees Road Superstore, Yate Extra, Bristol Brislington Extra, Bristol Staple Hill Metro, Keynsham Superstore, Bristol East Extra, Cirencester Metro — Farrell Close, Cirencester Extra, Swindon Extra, and Tetbury Superstore.
The announcement is a step in the right direction for achieving the goals set out in the UK Plastics Pact — signed by dozens of companies in the UK in April 2018 to help crack down on plastic pollution.
Tesco was one of the supermarkets that signed, along with Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and Waitrose. In fact, combined, those that signed the pact are responsible for some 80% of the plastic packing on products sold in UK supermarkets.
And one of the four targets outlined in the pact is to make 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
According to the most recent government data, from 2017, the UK recycling rate for waste from households is about 46% — still short of the EU target to recycle at least 50% of household waste by 2020.
For packaging waste specifically, plastic falls far short of most other recyclable materials. In 2017, according to the data, about 46% of plastic packaging was recycled; compared to 71% of metal, 79% of paper, and 67% of glass.
But while individuals and local authorities can also play their part in making sure we dispose of our waste sustainably, there is also an ongoing call from campaigners for supermarkets and other businesses to take greater responsibility for disposing of the plastic waste they’re putting into the market.
Supermarkets in the UK currently pay less towards the proper collection and disposal of plastic waste that in any other country in the EU, according to a 2018 Guardian report. Instead, taxpayers pay 90% of the total cost.
The plastic pact, and the actions that are coming as a result, is great — but campaigners have also consistently said that voluntary action isn’t enough, and that we need legal enforcements in place to hold businesses accountable to their pledges.
Julian Kirby, from Friends of the Earth, said of the pact that it must be “accompanied by government measures to ensure that everyone plays their part and these targets are actually met.