Report highlights challenge Tesco faces in leading soft plastics recycling trail

The challenge of accounting for the recycling of flexible plastics was highlighted in a recent survey.

In an article titled ‘A plastic bag’s 2,000 mile journey shows the messy truth about recycling‘, Bloomberg reported the journey of three digital trackers placed inside plastic items and deposited in Tesco’s recycling collection bins. In particular, according to the investigation, a digital plotter showed up in a Turkish landfill, weeks after being deposited in the store.

The trackers were placed in typical soft plastic items that the Tesco scheme collects – clear vegetable wrap, a lentil puff pouch and a Tesco branded bag. Although the vegetable pack tracer went missing in London, the other two ended up in Poland, 700 miles from the UK and collection bins outside the Tesco store.

The report reveals that the tracker of the bag of lentil puffs continued to a recycling plant in the town of Zielona Góra, Poland, owned by Tesco’s waste management partner Eurokey. According to Bloomberg, Zielona Góra Mayor Janusz Kubicki says his office is in a dispute with Eurokey over the company’s failure to comply with the terms of its waste storage license. The lentil puff bag tracer ended its journey at a factory in eastern Poland, run by Stella Pack SA, which manufactures plastic bags.

The soft plastic is regularly sent to Eurokey’s sorting center in Poland as part of Tesco’s soft plastic recycling scheme, the supermarket told letsrecycle.com, because “sufficient infrastructure” to sort the material does not exist. not yet in the UK.

Two months after the start of the investigation, the tracer of the Tesco-branded bag was in southern Turkey at the facilities of recycling company IMO Plastik. An official there told Bloomberg that they had purchased plastics from Europe, of which they hoped to recover 90%. When the Bloomberg organization later contacted IMO Plastik, they said, “the same official denied accepting exports and said his company only deals with Turkish domestic waste.”

According to Tesco, soft plastic is regularly sent to Eurokey’s sorting center in Poland, as part of Tesco’s soft plastic recycling scheme, as the UK does not have sufficient reprocessing infrastructure.

Commenting on the report, a Tesco spokesperson told Resource: “We believe that no plastic packaging should end up as waste in the natural environment. Flexible plastic packaging plays an important role in extending the shelf life of certain products and preventing food waste, so we cannot get rid of it completely.

“There are many challenges associated with recycling soft plastic materials and it is precisely because soft plastics are difficult to recycle and are not recycled by the vast majority of councils in the UK, that we have introduced our recycling soft plastic in our stores to avoid otherwise going to landfill.We take very seriously any allegation that the waste we send for recycling is going to be landfilled and although we have not received proof of this, we undertake our own supplier audit.

Soft plastic recycling

“Soft” plastics are lightweight plastics that are not typically recycled at home, such as crisp packets, single-use carrier bags and lifetime bags, and cookie wrappers. Tesco first rolled out a network of recycling points for flexible plastics in March 2021. In an announcement, the retailer said: “Recycling points will have the ability to take flexible (or non-rigid) plastic – which is generally non-recyclable – such as cling film, pet food pouches, crisp packets and bread bags, regardless of where they were purchased”.

It was announced in August 2021 that Tesco’s soft plastic collection service would be rolled out nationwide, in response to strong customer support from early recycling points. Tesco said as much material as possible will be recycled into its own products and packaging, with the service expected to see “the collection of over 1,000 tonnes of plastic a year”. In a sample released in August 2021, Tesco said it would be able to recover more than 80% of soft plastic returned by customers.

Tesco is not alone in developing in-store soft plastic recycling schemes. In July 2021, Co-op launched its plastic bag and product packaging recycling programs.


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