Wednesday, 11. December 2019

Tesco, ALDI & Co. want to save tons of packaging waste – an overview of the CSR strategies of large retail groups

Whether plastic, cardboard or glass: they are packed to protect food and other goods. In 2017, Germans consumed an average of 226 kg of packaging – and the trend is rising. It is no secret that the production and disposal of packaging costs energy and thus pollutes the environment. While so-called “unpackaged shops” are springing up like mushrooms, especially in large cities, large retail groups such as Rewe, Tesco & Co. reflect on how to handle packaging. Reduction, abandonment and recycling are just a few of the key words. In this article I would like to present the strategies of four major players.

1. Tescos 4R-strategy: Remove, reduce, re-use, recycle

The British retail chain, which operates more than 6,800 stores worldwide, has a four-step strategy.

  1. The removal of all non-recyclable and difficult to recycle materials.
  2. Anything that cannot be removed should be reduced to an absolute minimum.
  3. The discovery of new possibilities for reuse.
  4. Ensure that packaging is recycled as part of a closed loop.

Tesco has already been working on implementing these ambitious goals and now is making its suppliers aware of their responsibilities : By the end of 2019, the Group wants to have eliminated materials from its own-brand products that are difficult to recycle. Over 4,000 tonnes of packaging material are to be removed in 800 product lines. At meetings with over 1,500 suppliers, Tesco presented its vision for the next stage of its packaging agenda. The British company has also informed suppliers that from next year the size and suitability of the packaging will be assessed through category reviews and assortment decisions.

Tesco CEO Damien Lewis also calls on politicans to act: “Without a national infrastructure, industry’s efforts to improve the recyclability of materials used in packaging will be a drop in the ocean”. In January 2018, Tesco called on the government to introduce this infrastructure and even offered assistance. This invitation has been extended and the need for action has never been more urgent,” says Lewis.

2. Carrefours CSR mission: 10,000 tons less packaging by 2025

Carrefour also devotes its Environmental Management Policy to the subject of packaging. Compared with the base year 2016, the Group intends to use 10,000 tons less packaging within 9 years. Carrefour has defined concrete measures to achieve these goals:

  • Optimization of packaging by adjusting shapes, reducing size, weight and colors
  • The use of vegetable-based printing inks
  • The renunciation of secondary packaging
  • The use of renewable and recycled materials
  • Offer packaging solutions to own customers in cooperation with local authorities and suppliers

Each Carrefour country team has the task of carrying out five projects per year in this area. All new developments must meet criteria such as material reduction, optimised filling rates and environmentally friendly printing. For example, reusable plastic trays are to be used for transporting fruit and vegetables.

3. REWE Group: Less packaging waste with strategy

Avoid, Reduce, Improve: These are the catchwords of REWE Group. By the end of 2030, the Group intends to make all its own-brand packaging more environmentally friendly. The group has already initiated 1,200 changes in its REWE and Penny stores, which will save around 7,600 tonnes of plastic per year. 

Wherever possible, REWE Group tries to avoid packaging and plastic. The discontinuation of plastic bags, the abolition of plastic foils for cucumbers, the introduction of reusable nets in the fruit and vegetable department or laser logos for organic fruit and vegetables such as sweet potatoes. What sounds like small steps makes an immense difference. In 2019 alone, the company saved around 80,000 kilograms of plastic by converting its cucumbers.

Where savings cannot be made without substitution, the Group focuses on innovation. In the future, for example, fruit will be packed in grass paper. The recyclable material has a good eco-balance because hardly any chemicals are needed for production and it produces fewer greenhouse gases.

4. ALDI Süd: The #Aldiverpackungsmission – Clever separation and promotion of start-ups

“The most sustainable packaging is packaging that doesn’t exist,” says the ALDI Süd website. In its sustainability strategy, ALDI also relies on the usual three building blocks of avoidance, reuse and recycling. Above all, proper waste separation is an important factor. And ALDI Süd does not just take care of this in its internal waste disposal logistics. Separation instructions on the packaging of private labels, so-called “tips for the bin”, are also intended to help consumers with the correct disposal of packaging material.

The group is calling on everyone to become part of the #Aldiverpackungsmission. Concrete actions and goals of the mission are as follows:

  • 30 percent less use of materials for private label packaging by 2025 (compared to 2015)
  • Recyclable packaging for private labels until 2022
  • More unpacked fruit and vegetables
  • Correct waste separation: “Tips for the bin” on private labels
  • Sustainable paper stock instead of plastic stock for cotton swabs

In relation to innovation, ALDI Süd does not wait, but simply gets it rolling itself. With a start-up support programme, the Group supports tech founders and helps them to develop business models that reduce packaging waste. A shopping backpack, a capless shampoo bottle and edible straws are the products that have made it into the promotional program. And all three products will be available at ALDI Süd branches in the future. “For us, the cooperation with the start-ups is so successful that we will soon be entering the second round and supporting new start-ups with their innovations,” says the discounter’s homepage.

Strautmann Umwelttechnik GmbH