Sainsbury’s introduces trial of new in-store recycling system for flexible plastics

Today (18 February), Sainsbury’s is announcing the introduction of a recycling system which allows customers to recycle Polypropylene (PP) film found in several household plastic products, in selected Sainsbury’s stores.

The launch of this new recycling system comes as part of Sainsbury’s commitment to increase recycling in its own operations and to make recycling easier for its customers, by offering more facilities do so in its stores. Last year, the retailer also pledged to halve its use of plastic packaging by 2025 and become net zero in its operations by 2040.

Some of the more common items that are packaged with PP film include salad bags and frozen food bags. With 63 of its stores across North East England adopting the trial, this initiative is currently the largest PP film trial in the UK supermarket industry. Sainsbury’s currently provides front of store collection points for Polyethylene (PE) film and carrier bags in over 600 supermarkets across the UK.

A report from last year, published by Valpak and commissioned by WRAP, highlights that:

  • 266,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste in 2019 came from Polypropylene (PP) plastics
  • Of that, 80,000 tonnes came from PP film

Until a sustainable alternative is developed to replace PP film, it continues to be the most appropriate material used to package food, and to keep products fresh.

PP film currently isn’t accepted by most councils in the UK, which means customers are currently unable to recycle it at home. To make it easier to recycle flexible plastic packaging, customers will be able to put their PP plastics into the same recycling bins currently provided in Sainsbury’s stores that collect PE plastics.

PP film collection

Providing the trial is successful, the retailer will roll out the PP film collection system to all its supermarkets by the end of 2021, in alignment with the ambition of the UK Plastics Pact to improve the recycling rates for film.

The trial is the latest in a series of the retailer’s ongoing initiatives to:

  • Offer customers more opportunities to make recycling easier
  • Remove plastic packaging completely where possible
  • Replace plastic with an alternative material for products that still need some form of packaging
  • Give customers options to reuse packaging

In addition to the front of store film collection points, other initiatives the retailer has implemented include:
– In 2012, introducing car park facilities at 249 stores for customers to recycle plastic bottles, pots, tubs and trays.
– In 2019, piloting a Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) at a selected number of stores, offering customers money off their shop when they return recyclable soft drinks packaging

Claire Hughes, Director of Product and Innovation at Sainsbury’s, said: “Sainsbury’s is dedicated to trialling and testing new initiatives as part of our ongoing commitment to make it easier for customers to recycle. We hope that by trialling flexible film recycling points in our stores and accepting more of the packaging that our customers may be unable to recycle at home, we are helping our customers reduce plastic waste. We’ll listen to feedback from our colleagues and customers before we roll out the flexible plastic packaging recycling scheme wider.

As we work to reduce, reuse, replace and recycle plastic packaging, we’ll continue to find collaborations, working with our suppliers, academics and organisations such as WRAP to explore innovative ways to reduce and recycle more of our packaging

“As we work to reduce, reuse, replace and recycle plastic packaging, we’ll continue to find collaborations, working with our suppliers, academics and organisations such as WRAP to explore innovative ways to reduce and recycle more of our packaging.”

Dr David Moon, Head of Business Collaboration at WRAP, said: “We welcome Sainsbury’s trials of polypropylene film recycling in stores across so many locations in the North East. Developing solutions to overcome the challenge of recycling flexible plastic packaging is a priority for The UK Plastics Pact. Collection points for films at these Sainsbury’s stores is an important step in the right direction, building on their trials of polyethylene film collections.

“We need all supermarkets to collect all plastic films, adopt consistent messaging and share their insights to make this work. WRAP urges other retailers to ensure that flexible plastic packaging can be easily collected for recycling throughout the UK.”

*A list of PE, LDPE and PP plastic film accepted in Sainsbury’s supermarkets include:

  • All carrier bags
  • Bread bags
  • Cereal bags
  • Bags and wrappings used for fruits, vegetables, salads and flowers
  • Bottle and can multipack wrapping
  • Biscuit and cake wrappers
  • Toilet roll & kitchen roll wrapping
  • Rice and dry food wrappers
  • Cheese wrappers
  • Frozen food bags
  • Household item wrapping
  • Clothing bags
  • Magazine and newspaper wrappers
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