Resource Use

Co-op and Polytag introduce UV codes in own brand plastic bottles to track recycling

Food retail business Co-op has announced the launch of its new recycling initiative, in partnership with technology business Polytag. Together, the pair aim to collect recycling data that will uncover the number of Co-op plastic bottles actually being recycled – a development that could improve the retailers understanding of its own recycling figures and potentially help benchmark future rates for the industry.

Polytag recycling UV codesPolytag’s experience in providing access to information about packaging lifecycles in the circular economy will support Co-op’s addition of a UV invisible code to the label of one of its own-brand spring water lines. Further expansion to this trial will be considered as the it develops, Co-op says.

Polytag told Resource: “The Polytag UV Tag Reader sits alongside the conveyor belt with a hood that blocks out the light, and a UV light and megapixel lenses inside. We work with brands to apply to their packaging through the usual plate printing processes. The camera picks up the UV 2D data matrix ink tags and sends the information to the cloud. The equipment can also be set to pick up 1D barcodes, but this is much less reliable than the UV ink. We worked with the AMRC to conduct a series of tests, optimising the equipment and layout of the 2D data matrixes.”

The company continued to say that the bottle reaches Gofer Bulking Centre – a recycling centre in the Conwy County Borough Council in North Wales – the UV code will be identified by specialist equipment fitted to the sorting machines. Data collected through this process will then be uploaded in ‘real-time’ to a Polytag cloud-based dashboard for brands and local authorities to view.

Currently, Polytag is working in partnership with UK devolved governments and recycling facility operators to extend the roll out and installation of more UV tag readers across the country. This may provide brands, such as Co-op, with ‘richer, more useful data’. Further, it hopes that the success of initiatives designed to improve recycling rates could now be measured.

Last year, Co-op made the move to make all of its own brand food packaging 100 per cent recyclable. It states that this was ‘in part thanks to its in-store recycling scheme for soft plastics’.

Additionally, all of Co-op’s own-brand still, sparkling, flavoured water, carbonated drinks and mixers are made out of 100 per cent recycled material – the business says this makes them both ‘fully recycled and recyclable’.

Matt Hood, Managing Director of Co-op Food, said: “We all have our part to play when it comes to recycling and, as a retailer, we want to gain a greater understanding on a product’s journey in the recycling chain to help paint a clearer picture and support future traceability.

“This new trial will enable Co-op to gather valuable insight to provide guidance and measurement for future initiatives to encourage more people to recycle and it also support the industry with true benchmarks for recycling rates in the UK for the very first time.”

Alice Rackley, CEO at Polytag, added: “We’ve optimised the UV tag reading technology so that brands can apply a simple UV tag layer to their labels and get never-before-seen data about how many of their single-use items of plastic packaging are being handled in a material recovery facility.

“We’re absolutely delighted that Co-op has agreed to work with Polytag to continue to develop and deliver technology that will enable us to all recycle more, together.”