Co-op urges waste sector to put pressure on retail recycling laggards

Date Published: Thursday 29th June 2017

At the Resourcing the Future conference in London recently, Co-op environment manager Iain Ferguson, bemoaned the lack of market drivers to reduce consumer waste levels of packaging. He said that policymakers and waste management firms must work in closer proximity with the retail industry to bridge the gap between distribution and recovery of products.

Ferguson, who chairs an industry group formed to tackle key issues on the recyclability of packaging, said that industry laggards were able to stall circular economy progress in the retail sector because no fiscal incentives exist to reward labelling, best practice or to penalise bad design.

In regards to labelling, some brands and retailers have shunned the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme developed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) in partnership with WRAP which seeks to make it easier for consumers to know what packaging is recyclable. Ferguson noted that change is unlikely to come from within, because “it costs us money to make packaging easy to recycle”.

The UK's lacklustre approach to transitioning to a circular economy was emphasised by recent Co-op research which found that two-thirds of all recyclable consumer packaging in the UK ends up in landfill or being sent to incineration. The Co-op has led efforts within the retail industry to improve package recycling. Co-op members last month voted in favour of a long-term ambition for 100% of its product packaging to be recyclable, with an immediate target of 80% by 2020 already in place.

The environment manager said that the waste management sector must leverage its own influence to improve recycling through better communication with householders. He noted the confusion caused by a lack of clear messaging, highlighting, for example, the 14 different messages that exist for packaging on pots, tubs and trays.

“It doesn’t have to be like that,” he said. “Now that we’ve got widely recyclable pots and trays, it would be very simple to align our messages to go out to residents about recycling. So, I think we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve still got work to do on material selection and combinations, but we’ve got to work together to get the messaging right for customers and residents. Communication and discussion along the waste value chain is essential.”

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