Retailers have significant leverage as prescribers of packaging specifications with brand owners. But where they have the most leverage and can pilot more freely and quickly eco-design is of course with their own retailer brands.
I will share here some learnings of the recent transition towards circular packaging and towards reducing plastic use from food retailer Iceland.
It took Iceland two years to reduce the use of plastic in its own branded products by a third for more than 70 different product lines. Great milestone but not the end as they stated.
They focused on a few packaging challenges:
- Replacing non-recyclable black plastic trays by paperboard trays
- Reducing the use of difficult to recycle plastics (PVC, Polystyrene)
- Organising a collection system for plastics, starting with plastic bottles
- Offering alternatives to plastic shopping bags
The key for success was engaging their suppliers and customers in the definition of new policy frameworks and roll out plans.
We must recognise that such circular initiatives take time because every stakeholder needs to find a win-win situation.
Besides, replacing plastic packaging is not as straight forward as one might think. Careful evaluation of solutions needs to be done with different tools such as LCA, real-life customers behaviour and environmental impact observation.
Removing plastic that protects vegetables for instance could generate more food waste because shelf-life will be shorter. The impact in terms of fossil energy use and CO2 emissions for farming could then make plastic replacement counterproductive.
Also, replacing plastic by other materials should not generate similar waste issues. We should tackle the issue, not the symptom; i.e avoid single-use of products and packaging rather than just focusing on the plastic question.
We can imagine that Iceland could also consider for its next steps to increase the number of products in returnable durable packaging: e.g. returnable metal packaging for ice-cream instead of one-way plastic container. Recycling company Terracycle is currently testing such a Loop system in France and the US.
To be followed...