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Developing new UK recycling solutions for soft plastics

James Bull
Head of Packaging

We prioritise measures to remove, reduce and reuse over recycling in our 4Rs packaging strategy. This means we use as little material as possible and make sure everything that’s left is easily recyclable.

Soft plastics are important part of our packaging portfolio – they play a significant role protecting and preserving the food we sell. They provide a lightweight, food-grade solution which can help prevent food waste. For example, a cucumber wrapped in soft plastic lasts three times longer than one left unwrapped.

From salad bags to crisp packets, soft plastics serve an important purpose but they are not commonly collected for recycling from households in the UK. The gap in local authority recycling infrastructure means that currently soft plastics often end up going to waste in landfill, and the impact can be even worse if the packaging ends up in the environment.

We welcome recent legislative measures to increase the consistency of kerbside collections, and we’d like to see the inclusion of soft plastics to help increase recycling rates – but recycling soft plastics from home is not an option for most of our customers today.

That’s why we decided to step in to help. In 2021, we started offering our customers the opportunity to recycle their soft plastics in our stores. We now collect soft plastic packaging in 885 stores across the UK and find a new use for the material we collect – keeping it out of landfill at all costs. Our customers have really embraced it with more than 1000 tonnes of soft plastic collected through our recycling points so far.

Whilst the industry continues to work on recycling solutions, we are supporting initiatives that mean even more of the plastic we collect is recycled as a part of a closed loop. As a part of our efforts, we have already trialled recycling soft plastic into cheese packaging, and continue to recycle materials into our Bags for Life and in Ireland, we have even repurposed them into plant pots.

As we continue to test, learn and find the best possible use for the material we collect, we are proud to announce a number of developments in our efforts today. We will now use some of the soft plastic collected in making the reusable green produce trays that hold our fruit and veg in our stores. This is a great solution as the trays are reused up to 30 times a year for seven years, and they can then be repaired to prolong their life further. Eventually they will be recycled again.

In addition, from next month, as a part of an innovative collaboration with five different companies, some of these materials will be recycled into Heinz Snap Pots – which are in turn, recyclable.

We’re also taking steps to carry out more of the recycling process in the UK. Soft plastics collected in Ireland are already recycled in Ireland and from later this year, all the soft plastic we collect in the UK will be sorted in the UK. The collected material will continue to be directed to agreed projects and recyclers and nothing will be sent to landfill.

It is clear that further innovations and solutions are needed to improve circularity, as the UK does not currently have capacity to recycle all the soft plastics that are used today. While these soft plastic recycling processes are in their infancy, we remain steadfast that where these materials are necessary and cannot be removed, they should not go to waste.

That’s why we are committed to playing our part to solve these challenges, working with industry, suppliers, customers and government to maximise the amount of packaging material that is recycled.

We will continue to share our progress.

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