Reducing plastic in-store
Published 7 Jul 2017
More planet-friendly packaging, home-sourced containers and biodegradables are all helping Midcounties cut out single-use plastics
When we shop, we buy our drinks in plastic bottles, our deli produce in plastic cartons and our ready meals in plastic trays. Even our fruit and vegetables come wrapped in plastic. And at the checkout, we get plastic carrier bags to carry our shopping home. Plastic is everywhere and, when we use it just once, we’re not only piling pressure on our recycling service, we’re also in danger of polluting our oceans, damaging the fish in the sea and littering the environment. But at Midcounties Co-operative a move is under way to reduce single-use plastics, in stores across our various Trading Groups, and at colleague and member events.
‘It’s important to reduce the use of the things such as knives, forks, drinking bottles and bags that are used just once and then thrown away,’ explains Mike Pickering, Co-operative social responsibility manager. ‘Small changes can make a difference.’
But surely if we recycle our plastics we’re being responsible and doing our bit for the planet, aren’t we? After all, plastics that are taken away by our council refuse collection are sorted, cleaned, shredded, washed and made into pellets that are used to create clothes, toys and so on.
But confusion arises because certain plastics aren’t recyclable, some people don’t put plastics in the recycling bins and some councils don’t accept all plastics.
‘If plastics aren’t recycled properly, they can take many years to decompose,’ says Mike. ‘Scientists say marine life is dying because of the plastic they consume every day, and in time that could also affect our food supply. ‘Many plastics, like black microwaveable trays, are hard to recycle and can end up as landfill.’
That’s why the Society is taking a lead on single-use plastics. Already, across the business 99 per cent of waste is recycled each year, diverting more than 3,000 tonnes away from landfill. At a regional community day in June, members and staff came up with an idea to help the plastics problem. Members visited the Midcounties Co-op store at Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire.
‘We looked round to see just where we could reduce the use of plastic,’ says Adam Quinton, operational support manager for Co-op Premium Supermarkets. ‘That’s how the Bourton store trial began.’
‘We swapped plastic cups, thought to take more than 100 years to decompose, if at all, for Vegware ones – compostable in 12 weeks. And we stopped using disposable plastic gloves at the deli counter. ‘Now the brown paper bags at our deli counter are made from 70 per cent recyclable material and we use recyclable wooden forks at instore cookery demonstrations. ‘The Best of Our Counties range of soft fruits that come from Mudwalls Farm in Warwickshire are supplied in a sugarcane pulp punnet, which is compostable.’ The Bourton store has worked with Cotswold District Council to identify how recyclable various types of packaging are. Shelf labelling will be adopted to show which trays and wrappers are best for the environment.
Mike explains: ‘As part of our Bourton Food Store trials we aim to help members and customers understand which materials are 100 per cent recyclable through their local council collections, and which materials are not.’
Shoppers at Bourton will soon be encouraged to take in their own containers for deli produce and fish. And they might one day be able to swap used plastic bottles for points or tokens.
‘We’re looking at having a reverse vending machine, so customers can bring in plastic bottles for recycling,’ says Mike.
The Bourton trial results won’t be known until the end of the year, but Mike says feedback so far from shoppers is positive.
‘More people want to embrace recycling, but they also want products in a good condition,’ he says, ‘and packaging can be an important part of that.
‘When we get the results of the Bourton store trial, we’ll look at rolling the scheme out to other stores. As a result of our plastic reduction activity across the Society, we are reducing almost a tonne of plastic every year.’