As ethical consumer spending reaches record levels and the focus turns to environmentally-friendly shopping, the Co-op today (30 December) announced a new commitment to only using 100% own-brand recyclable packaging which will lead to the largest-ever UK-wide scheme to recycle plastic film.
The Co-op’s unique Ethical Consumerism Report, which has tracked ethical expenditure year by year over the past two decades, reveals the extent to which UK consumers now shop with their hearts on their sleeves.
The report, which focuses on various sectors of the economy, highlights that back in 1999 the total size of the market was just £11.2bn. Today, on a conservative basis, the figure is £41.1bn.
Total ethical spending in the UK has increased almost four fold in the past 20 years and outgrown all UK household expenditure which has grown by just over two per cent.
The average spend on ethical purchases per household has grown from £202 a year in 1999 to £1,278 per annum in 2018.
On the day ethical spending hit record levels, the Co-op has announced that it has banned black plastic packaging from all of its products and by the summer of 2020 it will have phased out all non-recyclable plastics and replaced them with those that can be reused or easily recycled.
Everything from ready meal trays, crisps packets, to sandwich cartons and film, all packaging used will be easy to recycle whether via kerbside collection or a closed loop in house scheme.
The move will be facilitated by the largest ever UK-wide scheme to recycle plastic film, which local councils do not presently collect for recycling. The Co-op makes over 750 million pieces of plastic film each year and will make it easy to recycle by developing its own national collection programme for the material. After a spring store trial, the scheme will be rolled out nationally across the retailer’s store estate by the summer.
Only half a million of the 2.3 million tonnes of plastic placed on the UK market every year is being recycled, resulting in 1.2 million tonnes of plastic packaging used for consumer goods ending up in landfill. One of the main reasons is down to a lack of knowledge about which packaging can be recycled, along with local authorities lacking the facilities to deal with it.
Jo Whitfield, Co-op Food CEO, said: “We should rightly celebrate the growth that we’ve seen in ethical markets in the UK over the last twenty years.
“UK businesses, and NGOs have pioneered many of these developments and today we have multi-billion pound markets that either didn’t exist or if they did, other mainstream businesses were unconvinced of their potential to succeed. It has also taken smart government intervention to get us this far. Going forward, ethical consumerism will continue to play a pivotal role in the pursuit of more sustainable products, businesses and markets. However, now is not the time to rest on our laurels, it’s the time double down on our efforts.
“That’s why we’ve brought forward our commitment on own-brand recyclable plastic by three years, why we’re committed to reducing unnecessary packaging and why our long term vision is to be a carbon neutral business. From today, black plastic is banned and by the summer we’ll have pioneered a UK-wide recycling scheme for hard-to-recycle plastic film.”
The Co-op has always been at the forefront of removing hidden plastic and unnecessary packaging, from removing plastic stems from cotton buds before any other retailer 13 years ago, to banning microbeads and removing plastic straws. Almost three out of four own-brand Co-op products are now widely recyclable and in the last three years alone we have removed almost 950 tonnes of single use plastic. In 2016, we swapped the plastic discs in our pizza boxes to cardboard ones, saving 200 tonnes of polystyrene from going to landfill. And last year we were the first retailer to replace single-use plastic bags with compostable carrier bags, which can be used in kerbside food waste collections in over 1000 stores, potentially removing 60million single use carriers from circulation.