Denise Matthewson was speaking at the first session of the conference on Wednesday (6 October), where she also said the availability of recycled plastic has “plummeted” as it’s been snapped up by large fizzy drinks manufacturers committing to 100% recycled content.
During the session, Ms Matthewson outlined a number of “sector first” initiatives the supermarket chain has taken.
This includes a pledge to ensure 100% of Tesco’s own-label packaging is recyclable by the end of 2021, and all packaging by the end of 2023.
Ms Matthewson explained that in order to meet the ambitions the supermarket has set itself, “we’ve had to step and manage a solution for ourselves”.
In August, the retailer rolled out of soft plastic collection points to every large store in the UK after a successful trial (see letsrecycle.com story).
On this, Ms Matthewson said: “We believe there is a true value in this material. If we are to hit the 30% recycled content targets from next year, more of this needs to be collected at the kerbside.
“We’re not a waste management company, we’re a big corner shop and we see this collection as a short-term fix until better collections are available by local authorities for our customers”.
She added that Tesco is “open to dialogue” with local authorities on the issue of film. But at the moment the retailer is “dealing with the material ourselves, finding partners and doing something tangible with it, and we’re sharing the message of what’s achievable”.
Ms Matthewson added that she feels it isn’t Tesco’s responsibility to deal directly with local authorities, “but we’re open to dialogue”.
Ms Matthewson gave an overview of how the bags have been recycled, in a bid to be transparent with the industry.
She explained that the retailer is collecting around 1 tonne a day of soft plastics.
Of this, around 60% is mechanically recycled, 20% is recycled through pyrolysis and 20% is “unfortunately downcycled”.
She said pyrolysis can cost around €1200 a tonne to achieve so is a very expensive option.
Tesco works in partnership with plastic recycler Eurokey to recycle the material, and also ran a successful pilot with the Berry BPI group to turn film into food grade packaging, Ms Matthewson explained.
The availability of flake is through the floor, the cost of it is through the roof –
Denise Matthewson, Tesco
She also explained that Tesco has been keen to “put its money where its mouth is” with regards to packaging pledges, but said much of the recycled plastic available is being snapped up.
On the upcoming plastics packaging tax, which would place a £200 levy on every tonne of packaging below 30% recycled content, she explained that it would be cheaper for the retailer to “just pay the tax than it would to obtain the recycled content”.
“The availability of flake is through the floor, the cost of it is through the roof but we’re still looking to implement it because it’s the right thing to do,” she explained.
The packaging manager added: “There just isn’t enough around. Some of the larger fizzy drink manufacturers that are using their scale to put 100% content. But in real terms that drives availability down and costs up for everyone else”.
Also speaking during the opening session was Chris Preston, the deputy director for resource and waste at Defra.
He said during the question and answer session that the UK’s plastics recycling targets can’t be met without film.
He said: “It’s great retailers are doing takebacks for soft plastics. We’re looking at doing it at the kerbside, we know about 20% of local authorities do at the moment and we want to learn from that. It will also be for the scheme administrator to encourage this. We’ll never hit our recycling rates for plastic unless we can increase the recycling of films”.
This came after the vast majority of the audience expressed doubt in a poll that film will be able to be introduced from 2023, many audience members also raised concern about the infrastructure to deal with film.
However, Mr Preston said that all good policy receives a kickback from stakeholder, and his department is keen to move forward with the plans.
“We’re now analysing responses, so I can’t say too much. I’m of the belief that good policy gets a good kicking from stakeholders. They really test, try and argue. The best policies are made that way. The best policies have been like that”.
When pressed on timetables for the EPR reforms, set for 2023, he said: “I think the timetables are challenging, and that’s one of the things we’ll reflect on [in consultation summary this year/early next”}
“Timetables were always challenging but my team is brilliant and up for the challenge”.