Making Waste Less Wasteful

May 30, 2013 by The Co-op Observer waste disposal

I usually write about the wonderful foods at The Co-operative and the meals we can all cook with them, but I was intrigued to learn about how the business deals with its waste disposal and its drive to eliminate any materials from going to landfill from its 2,800 stores.

Having food stores on our doorstep is amazingly convenient, especially if you live in an urban area, and it’s something most of us now take for granted. However an unfortunate consequence of having a great range available across the country is that a degree of waste is inevitable.

The Co-operative has long been conscious of it’s environmental impact and has often led the way in introducing innovative ways of reducing or reusing waste where possible -

• Packaging has been reduced by 20% over the last three years helping waste reduction at home.

• Lightweight glass is being introduced in own branded bottles making them easier for us to handle, cost less to transport, and it means less glass is used in the first place.

• The Co-operative is the first retailer to introduce compostable carrier bags


The latest waste focused initiative is one of the most significant so far.

Referred to as waste haul-back, it commits the business to divert all waste disposal from the 2,800 food stores away from landfill.

• Waste will be sorted at store level and then handled in three key ways: Materials such as empty milk bottles, tins, cans, office paper and till receipts will be recycled into new goods and products.
• Waste that can’t easily be recycled will be handled at a facility that sheds and dries solid materials to produce fuel
• Unusable food and flowers will go for anaerobic digestion, which will produce energy from food waste.

Wow! Anaerobic Digestion. What’s that?

I’d heard the term a few times recently and I was keen to understand more. It basically means breaking materials down using micro organisms without oxygen. It’s a process that has been known about for centuries, and used for well over 150 years, but it’s only just becoming practical for mainstream usage. It breaks down organic materials, whether waste, or purpose grown, into methane based fuel, and a nutrient rich by product that is a great fertilizer.

How brilliant is that? We all know throwing waste into landfill sites is fast becoming a problem in its own right. So to take that problem and actually produce a positive outcome seems like a clever leap to me.

Even the amount of waste going to anaerobic digestion is minimised as The Co-operative works with FareShare to distribute surplus food from distribution depots to people in need.

The convenience of having a Co-operative in every postal code in the country comes at the cost of having a complicated distribution network. However the business is committed to delivering an exciting way of handling its waste that reduces road miles, eliminates landfill, and even produces fuel from the waste.

Now that’s a community retailer! It’s one that is active in its communities in obvious ways, but also behind the scenes taking an active role in protecting our future.

We can all learn more information about recycling from WRAP, the organisation set up to help people recycle more while wasting less.

If you want more information on our landfill policy, why note take a look at our press release>

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