Almost half of packaging used by UK supermarkets are difficult to recycle, finds Which?

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According to a new investigation by Which? almost half of the packaging used by major UK supermarket chains cannot be easily recycled. 

The firm examined the packaging of a typical household shop of 46 of the most popular items from Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. 

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Researchers broke down each item’s packaging into its component parts and assessed whether each piece could be easily recycled.  

The average percentage of packaging, including carboard, glass and plastics that could be easily put in household recycling bins was just 52%.  

Of the total supermarket packaging, 42% was labelled either incorrectly or not at all, making it difficult for the consumer to dispose of it correctly, and increasing the chances of it ending up in landfill. 

From this, Which? is calling on the Government to make recycling labelling simple, clear and mandatory, and ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place to make it easy for everyone to recycle, regardless of where they live.  

Retailer Morrisons was the worst offender for the quantity of packaging that could not easily be put in household recycling, with many of its items in non-recyclable plastic film, which is usually designed to prevent food from going off and can reduce food waste. 

However, this meant that 61% of the Morrisons packaging was not easily recyclable.  

Other findings include: 

  • 58% of the packaging materials used by Co-op were not widely recyclable 
  • Around 48% on average of the packaging in Asda, Lidl, Ocado, Iceland, Aldi, Sainsbury’s and M&S was not recyclable 
  • The best supermarkets for recyclable packaging were Tesco and Waitrose, with only 40% of their packaging not easily recyclable.  

There were also big variations in the quality of recycling labelling, with the worst offender for bad labelling being Iceland, which only had two of five pieces of packaging correctly labelled. 

Which? found evidence of this with Iceland’s easy peeler oranges, which were not labelled at all, and use a type of plastic netting that cannot be recycled.  

Of the other retailers, M&S (43%), Ocado (44%), Waitrose (47%) all had less than half of their products correctly labelled. 

The supermarkets that performed better when it came to labelling were Tesco (57%), Morrisons (60%), Lidl (64%), Co-op (67%), Aldi (69%), and Sainsbury’s (71%). 

Asda was the best at labelling, with eight in 10 items (78%) of packaging correctly labelled.  

Which? head of home products and services Natalie Hitchins said: “Our research shows there is a lot more supermarkets and manufacturers can do to banish single-use plastics and make sure any packaging they do use is minimal, recyclable and correctly labelled, so that shoppers know exactly how they can recycle it. To reduce the waste that goes to landfill, the government must make labelling mandatory, simple and clear as well as invest in better infrastructure to ensure that recycling is easy for everyone, regardless of where they live.” 

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