A new report has found a considerable gap between British consumers’ perceptions of how much they recycle at home and the reality. Around 79% of the public claim to recycle at least 75% of the plastic waste they generate at home – but DEFRA research puts this figure much closer to 50%, with relatively slow improvement year-on-year.

For the public, a key concern is local infrastructure’s ability to adequately recycle their waste, with issues around collection frequency or insufficient bins cited. There was also considerable support for recycle on the go schemes, with 62% of those surveyed advocating for better recycling facilities in public places.

Critically, there is a significant portion of space occupied by the public which is, nevertheless, private – and that’s retail space. So how can brands close the recycling loop in-store?

The ‘Big Four’ grocers are already making adjustments to do just that. Most recently, Tesco announced that it would introduce permanent in-store recycling points for soft and flexible plastic packaging across 171 stores nationwide. Items such as crisp packets, salad bags, cling film and baby and pet food pouches - all of which are not currently collected by all local councils – can be recycled in-store, before being treated with a combination of mechanical and chemical methods and turned into new packaging.

Such a move will not only have an impact on Tesco’s own sustainability credentials – the plastic recycled through the scheme will be used on own brand products – but also solves a fundamental recycling supply chain gap which is not currently being served by local infrastructure.

Currently, almost all flexible plastic packaging sold in the UK is sent to landfill with only one-fifth of councils offering collection. However, many consumers don’t have the option to not interact with flexible plastics. By making it easier to recycle flexible plastics - whilst simultaneously working to reduce the production of it in the back end - grocery brands like Tesco avoid impacting the convenience of products consumers know and love, whilst providing a seamless and immediate in-store solution to recycling concerns.

Whilst plastic occupies a lion’s share of climate concern headlines, other retailers are adapting to new recycling concerns – namely, masks. Home and garden retailer Wilko has announced a face mask recycling scheme in 150 stores nationwide in a British high street first. Shoppers are encouraged to drop of their single-use masks – currently mandatory in stores – as they exit the retailer, in what could become an ingrained consumer behaviour in the future and significantly reduce the growing problem of mask littering in public spaces.

Both initiatives are examples of the importance to offer consumers the opportunity to make positive and tangible environmental choices at the point of interaction with a physical store. Crucially, both Wilko and Tesco have created a solution which understands and positions them within a wider ecosystem, whereby local government cannot currently fulfil all consumer needs. And in each scenario, brand is being used as the facilitator for change on a macro level, not the focal point.

Adopting such a stance and creating new expectations for how a retail space can function will stand them in good stead for future survival against a backdrop of increasingly complex consumer needs.

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