Sainsbury’s expands controversial plastics recycling scheme

Sainsbury’s has insisted it is a “responsible retailer” after expanding a controversial recycling initiative, which has been criticised for a lack of transparency about how the collected material is being exported and processed in Poland.

Sainsbury’s announced last week that following a trial in the north east of England, it was rolling out its flexible packaging trial to a total of 520 supermarkets across the UK. 

The supermarket said the front of store recycling points will make it easier than ever for customers to make more sustainable choices by offering a “trustworthy recycling system” where they can correctly dispose of flexible plastic packaging.

Hard-to-recycle flexible plastic packaging such as film is not currently collected by most councils in the UK, with just 6% of it recycled, despite it comprising a fifth of all plastic packaging put on the market. 

The initiative is being championed by resources charity WRAP. Other supermarkets, including Tesco, Aldi and Coop, are trialing similar schemes.

However, an investigation by ENDS earlier this month revealed that the company contracted by to recycle the material for both Sainsbury’s and Tesco is locked in a legal dispute with authorities in Poland, and is unwilling to provide details about the ultimate fate of the material.

Greenpeace said the investigation threw up “serious questions about what happens to plastic waste shipped off to Poland by major supermarkets” and that “both retailers and government agencies should seek answers”. 

When approached by ENDS, Sainsbury’s declined to provide details of the tonneages involved and where the material - which is often highly contaminated - was likely to end up.

READ MORE: Does a major recycling drive by big retailers stand up to scrutiny?

Instead, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We are a responsible retailer and have robust compliance processes in place and work closely with our suppliers on due diligence.”

The firm Sainsbury’s has contracted to recycle the material, Eurokey Recycling, opened a facility in Zielona Góra in 2016, where according to press reports, residents have complained about “insects, rats, mess and stench”.

Eurokey is in the process of appealing an administrative proceeding from the local Environmental Protection Agency “regarding the order to remove waste from sites not intended for their storage”.

Eurokey says it aims to enable closed looped systems where waste produce can be recycled and placed back in the market where it originated. 

After sorting the material, Eurokey says it either sells the graded material directly to processors for use in recycled products or it works with partners across Europe for further processing into plastic pellets which can be sold for use in a range of products.

However, Eurokey has refused to provide ENDS with any detail on where the material goes, or the tonneages involved, prompting the Environment Agency (EA) to urge businesses to ensure they carry out sufficient duty of care checks.

Compliance Search

Discover all ENDS content in one place, including legislation summaries to keep up to date with compliance deadlines

Compliance Deadlines

Plan ahead with our Calendar feature highlighting upcoming compliance deadlines

News from ENDS Europe

News from ENDS Waste & Bioenergy