Waitrose rolls out soft plastic recycling

Exclusive: Waitrose launches soft plastic recycling in 295 stores

Upmarket UK grocer Waitrose is introducing soft plastic recycling to 295 of its stores, Green Retail World can exclusively reveal.

Following a trial which began in 2021 and after an extended due diligence process, Waitrose chose Newcastle-based Impact Recycling as its waste management partner. Impact will process the collected plastic – including items such as salad bags, confectionary wrappers, and crisp packets – in the UK, breaking it into pellets and then using it to create new products such as refuse sacks, guttering, and plastic furniture.

In an interview with Green Retail World, Marija Rompani, director of ethics & sustainability at Waitrose parent group the John Lewis Partnership, said the retailer delayed rolling out soft plastic recycling due to concerns about waste management infrastructure in the UK.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, and Marks & Spencer are among the supermarket chains that have launched soft plastic recycling in recent years. But concerns about how plastic waste is managed have been raised, in particular by a Bloomberg documentary which tracked waste collected by Tesco and found it ultimately exported abroad to Poland and Turkey.

Rompani does not criticise Waitrose’s competitors, but explains that after initial research into soft plastic recycling she was unconvinced about certain aspects of the waste management stream – enough to delay the launch of Waitrose’s scheme.

“You do your due diligence and then things can go wrong,” she explained.

“We didn’t do it before because when we did our due diligence and looked at legislation around the route of disposal of waste we were not convinced it was credible.”

She added: “It is a travesty that this country dumps its waste to other nations that don’t have the infrastructure and where legislation is not enforced. Therefore it infiltrates into countries who can’t deal with it, and it’s just dumped somewhere.”

Rompani said she does not want any of Waitrose’s waste collected through the soft plastic recycling initiative exported, and she is confident it won’t happen working with Impact, which is in the process of building a new state-of-the-art recycling site in Bellshill near Glasgow.

“We are really thoughtful and methodical in how we make our decisions,” she commented. “That’s not to say we’re not prepared to take any risks. Some risks are worth taking, but not all.”

So, what can be recycled at Waitrose, via the new collection points?

  • Carrier bags
  • Bread bags
  • Frozen food bags
  • Delivery bags
  • Cereal liners
  • Toilet roll wrapping
  • Salad, pasta and rice bags
  • Cheese, fish and meat wrapping
  • Crisps, biscuit and chocolate wrapping
  • Baby & pet food pouches
  • Bubble wrap and cling film.

Impact reprocesses the material by washing and separating it before it is then flaked or pelletised so it can be made into items such as toilet paper packaging, shrink wrap for transportation of goods, delivery and carrier bags, refuse sacks, bags for DIY, industrial and horticultural products, guttering, buckets or plastic furniture.

Caroline Pinnell, sustainability & ethics specialist at Waitrose, remarked. “Across both Waitrose and John Lewis, we are continuing to strip away single-use packaging and provide our customers with convenient reuse, refill and recycling solutions.”

Read the full ‘Seeds of Change’ interview with Rompani in Green Retail World, next week, where she talks to us about how the John Lewis Partnership is bringing its recently announced Plan for Nature to life across the organisation.

[Image credit: Green Retail World]

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