The Co-operative Group is rolling out its waste backhaul initiative to more than 2,800 stores.

The recycling scheme will divert all food store waste away from landfill and reduce road miles and operating costs drastically.

The scheme, which maximises recycling and anaerobic digestion processes and minimises the use of incineration, will mean more than 34,000 tonnes of food store waste is moved away from landfill every year to be recycled, reused, turned into energy or sold on.

It has already been introduced at around 1,500 food stores and is now being rolled out at pace to the retailer’s entire food store estate. It is on track to be completed this summer.

The backhaul system involves waste being segregated at store level, before collection and delivery by The Co-operative’s logistics service to its distribution depots.

From there, waste management specialist Biffa sends waste food and flowers to anaerobic digestion to generate biogas energy; customer and general waste go to a refuse-derived fuel facility, which shreds and dehydrates solid waste to produce fuel;dry mixed items, such as empty milk bottles, tins, cans, office paper and till receipts, go to dedicated materials recycling facilities, which sort and separate materials that can be recycled into new goods and products.Cardboard and polythene will continue to be baled and sent for recycling.

The scheme will knock thousands of miles off the distribution network, end more than 225,000 skip collections from food stores every year and halve The Co-operative’s food waste management costs.

David Roberts, director of trading property at the retailer, said: “As a community-based retailer with an ethical approach to business we have a social responsibility to reduce waste that goes to landfill, and we have pledged in our ethical plan to divert all our food store waste from landfill by the end of 2013, which we will achieve by the end of July, five months ahead of schedule.

“The Co-operative has one of the largest and most complex networks of all food retailers in the UK and we therefore needed a robust, but commercially viable, strategy to meet our own tough targets.”

The announcement from The Co-operative comes hot on the heels of the roll out of phase three of the Courtauld Commitment – Courtauld 3 – which all the UK’s major retailers signed up to earlier this month vowing to cut help cut household food waste.