Co-op to remove coloured milk bottle tops to increase recyclability

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Co-op said it will remove all coloured milk bottle caps from its shelves, delivering ‘clear’ benefits for the recyclability of the lids.

Clear bottle tops reduce colour contamination in the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) stream, allowing materials to be recycled more easily into food-grade packaging.

The move follows successful consumer trials on semi-skimmed milk in more than 400 Co-op stores in August and green caps will be switched to clear in all of its stores by the end of next month.

Co-op will then eradicate red (skimmed milk caps) and blue (whole milk caps) in early 2023.

Switching all green caps first is set to unlock the majority of the recyclability benefits, with semi-skimmed accounting for more than three-fifths of milk sales, the retailer said. Once the switch is complete, it would remove more than 150 tonnes of coloured plastic from HDPE streams per annum.

“There are changes in store for how shoppers see milk bottle tops, with the new caps more easily recycled and retained in the food sector unlike their coloured counterparts. There is limited availability of food grade recycled plastic, and that is a challenge. It is important that packaging is viewed as a valuable resource,” Adam Williams, Co-op’s milk buyer, said.

“We continue to work to explore new ways to make it easier to recycle and re-use these materials, and small changes to everyday issues can collectively add up to make a big difference – this is a ‘clear’ solution that can reduce the dependency on virgin plastic in the supply chain.”

Commenting Adam Herriott, sector specialist – resource management, WRAP, said: “WRAP fully supports the complete removal of pigments from HDPE milk bottle caps by Co-op, a founding member of The UK Plastics Pact.

“This development has helped the HDPE milk bottle increase its reputation as a shining light of the circular economy and will enable the caps to be recycled with the bottle and go back into food grade applications and therefore able to be recycled multiple times into high grade, high value materials and products.”