Supermarket chain Waitrose has removed black plastic packaging from its own-brand fresh food range including fresh meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetable packaging.
The reduction amounts to around 1,300 tonnes of black plastic packaging per year, and it comes as the retailer seeks to remove all forms of black plastic from its product range by the end of 2019.
The move is intended to help the retailer move towards its goal of making its packaging ‘more recyclable’ across its product range.
At present black plastic packaging is coloured using carbon black pigments which do not enable the pack to be sorted by the existing optical sorting systems used widely in plastics recycling facilities as the black pigment reflects little or no light.
Despite some developments in the technology used to sort the material, as well as trials to demonstrate the viability of a ‘detectable’ additive in the plastic – guidance from WRAP suggests that local authorities should avoid collecting the material, unless it is requested by their reprocessor.
According to WRAP, around 18,495 tonnes of black plastic was collected through kerbside recycling systems from households in the UK in 2015/16 – around 3.7% of the total plastic packaging collected during that time.
Materials including cardboard and different coloured plastic packaging are being used as alternatives by Waitrose – which has set a target to make 100% of its product packaging from material that is considered ‘widely recyclable’ by 2023.
Tor Harris, head of CSR, health & agriculture for Waitrose & Partners, said: “Eliminating black plastic is a priority for us. While removing it we have also taken the opportunity to reduce the amount of plastic of any colour by removing trays from fruit and veg like apples, broccoli and pak choi.
“We are making progress all the time and are determined to maintain our momentum which is why we’re now looking at ready meals and other products so we can achieve our aim of removing all black plastic from our own-label products by the end of 2019.”
The retailer is also seeking to encourage customers to bring reusable containers to take home products from fresh service counters in a bid to cut the distribution of single-use plastic bags.
Signage has gone up in all of the retailers 349 shops in England, Scotland and Wales to advertise the initiative.
Mr Harris added: “Our long term aim is to remove bags completely from our counters or find a suitable alternative for meat and fish in the same way we have with compostable fruit and veg bags, which will be introduced this year.
“We haven’t as yet found that option and know we can’t remove them overnight as there are food safety considerations when handling raw meat and fish and buying food from the counters has become part of many customers’ regular shop.“