DAVID POTTS: Yes, we’re all getting better at recycling – but now it’s time to turn the tide on the SOFT plastics that still end up in the bin, says Morrisons boss

The world has come a long distance in turning the tide against plastic. Businesses, consumers and politicians all have a stake in the battle to reduce plastic. For years, supermarkets have worked tirelessly to eliminate the easy and obvious plastics.

Morrisons switched to paper carrier bags over plastic ones. For loose fruits and vegetables we switched to paper bags and introduced refillable containers.

But it’s not enough. You have already picked the lowest hanging fruits. Next, creativity and innovative thinking are required. Soft plastic is what we need to focus our efforts on. Each year, the UK uses over 150,000,000 tonnes. 

Morrisons will become the first supermarket to own its own recycling operations through the acquisition of a significant stake in a new recycling site in Fife. The site will reprocess 'hard-to-recycle' soft plastics such as crisp packets and food film

Morrisons, the UK’s first supermarket to have its own recycling operation through an acquisition of significant shares in Fife’s new recycling facility. It will be able to reprocess hard-to recycle soft plastics such food film and crisp packets.

And unlike ‘high grade’ hard plastics – which are more valuable and which have been collected and recycled for many years, most soft plastic has not been recycled because the technology has not existed and there’s never been anything it could commercially be used for.

So it’s either incinerated, ends up in landfill, or some have even exported it overseas – often to countries whose infrastructure cannot accommodate it. All of us have seen horrible images of plastic littering beautiful beaches in Indonesia and the Philippines. It’s a problem that I have seen in my own experience, as I was able to see it on British beaches.

It’s unacceptable. It was unacceptable. So, we began looking for an answer. We invested in the construction of a new Fife recycling center, co-owned by Yes Recycling. 

It’s the first of its type anywhere in the world and uses ground-breaking recycling technology, developed over the last seven years. It can handle 15,000 tonnes per year of soft plastic packaging at its full capacity.

The plastic can then be made into pellets that can be used for new products or recycled Ecosheets, which can also be used in construction instead of wood-dependent plywood. We’ll even start to use these Ecosheets as fixtures and fittings in our stores. We literally build shops from the recycled plastic.

We’re collecting all soft plastic at six trial stores in Edinburgh – to create the first supermarket plastic ‘closed recycling loop’. 

They can then rinse their plastics off, place them in bags, take them to our shops, and drop them off at our collection boxes.

Morrisons ditched plastic carrier bags in favour of paper ones (pictured) and switched to traditional paper bags for loose fruit and vegetables

Morrisons switched from plastic to paper carrier bags (pictured), and used traditional paper bags for loose fruits and vegetables.

Within a year, we plan to have it in all our stores. Fife is only one of many planned UK locations.

It’s a new way of thinking and a more circular way of shopping: dropping off your plastic waste at the same time as picking up your groceries. While it might take customers some time to adjust to this new way of shopping, they are eager to do so.

Morrisons will recycle the same amount plastic we use by 2025. We hope that the rest of industry follows our lead. All of us are responsible for solving this problem. All of us have to help find the solution.

Morrisons is a unique company because it’s both a food manufacturer and a retailer. Now we’re a recycler too.