The first ‘Irish Times’ sustainability survey: supermarkets

Part 2: Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and Ardkeen Stores

 

This is an edited selection of responses to a sustainability survey that The Irish Times asked a selection of food businesses to take part in.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related articles in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times, with food-related articles in all our sections, plus reader events, competitions and exclusive content at irishtimes.com/foodmonth

Marks & Spencer

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
Over the next 12 months we’ll remove over 1,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from our business and test ways in which we can go even further and faster in the future. One of our top priorities is to cut down on single-use plastics. For example, we’re replacing the 75 million pieces of plastic cutlery given out in our stores each year with alternatives made from FSC certified wood and we’ve swapped our two million plastic straws for paper versions in M&S Cafés.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
All our suppliers are required to commit to supporting the delivery of Plan A - our sustainability programme. We’ve been working on improving the environmental credentials of our packaging for many years and have developed clear guidelines for our suppliers to follow.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
Since 2012, we have been zero waste to landfill across our own operations in the UK and Republic of Ireland and as part of our Plan A 2025 targets, we’re committed to be a zero waste business across all that we do in our operations, supply chains and when customers come to remove packaging and use our products. This includes designing our products and packaging to underpin the creation of a circular economy in the markets we serve.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
Yes. Over half of our plastic packaging is now widely recyclable and we’re researching new solutions for hard to recycle plastics like pouches and films. We’ll make sure that by 2022 all our plastic packaging is easy to recycle.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
We work extremely hard across all areas of our business - farmers, suppliers, distributors and stores - on a shared goal of minimising the amount of M&S food that goes unsold. Our target is to halve food waste in our M&S operated stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland by 2025.

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use. If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
Our customers want us to make it easier for them to do the right thing and make a difference. We know the world has a plastic problem, with 320 million tonnes of plastic produced each year - of which only a small fraction gets recycled. At M&S, we agree this has to change.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
We believe a successful business must also be environmentally and socially sustainable. We launched our sustainability programme - Plan A - to move away from CSR, towards a more holistic approach that addresses all the sustainability issues affecting our business and supply chains. It is designed to equip us for a future in which our success in staying relevant for customers will depend on our ability to deliver exceptional products and services in a world that is increasingly resource constrained and experiencing social change. We’re committed to helping to build a sustainable future by being a business that enables our customers to have a positive impact on wellbeing, communities and the planet, through all that we do. We are proud to be the world’s only major carbon neutral retailer and have been since 2012.

Aldi

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
Aldi aspires to zero-waste business practices, guided by our ethos of reduce, reuse, and recycle. A wide-ranging packaging and plastics reduction plan is being implemented across our Irish operations.

We have committed to ensuring that 100 per cent of our own label packaging will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022, and achieving a 50 per cent reduction in packaging across our own-label products by 2025. It is also our intention to discontinue the sale of single use plastics from our own label range in 2019.

To help hit these targets, we have set up an internal task force - made up of internal and independent experts - to help drive innovation in reducing plastic and packing. From 2019 we will be publishing an annual packaging and plastics report, stating the progress of our packaging initiatives.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
We are fully committed to reducing packaging waste in our grocery supply chain and work closely with all our suppliers to improve packaging design and recyclability of our own label products. Each of our suppliers is fully onboard to help us achieve the packaging and recyclable materials commitments and targets we have set for our business.We hold regular progress updates with our entire supply base and our Supplier Conference in 2019 will place a strong focus on packaging and recycling.

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
As a longstanding member of Repak, recycling and re-use has always been to the forefront at Aldi. Improvements have been made right across our business, with more to come. For example, we removed all plastic stems from our cotton buds in December 2017 and banned all microbeads and microplastics from products in 2015. The publication yesterday by the government banning the sale of sale of certain products containing plastic microbeads, to include “rinse-off” personal care products, detergents, and domestic and industrial abrasive cleaning products and scouring agents, is therefore welcomed by Aldi.

We also removed over 40 tonnes of plastic annually from our apples range by moving our plastic trays to a more environmentally friendly pulp tray. We continue to increase the number of loose fruit and vegetable products in our range. We now have 23 such lines in our fruit and veg range, from cauliflower to cabbage to scallions.

We have undertaken a review across the whole business on plastics, highlighted by the fact that our specialbuys team for Aldi UK & Ireland have also achieved a reduction of over 100 tonnes of plastic annually since 2016. Our dishwasher tablets will have the plastic packaging replaced with dissolvable wraps by the end of the year - this will achieve a reduction of 41 tonnes of plastic for the business annually.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
All of our own label products’ packaging lists clear information regarding its recyclability. This packaging information is verified by Aldi’s technical service provider along with Aldi to ensure that customers are given clear and precise information regarding our products’ recyclability.

We are currently in discussion with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment in relation to our packaging pledges and how we can work together in developing a packaging policy for the entire retail sector.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? If so, why do you believe that to be the case?
I think it’s fair to say there has been a revolution in consumers’ attitudes to recycling and sustainability. We carried out research in October which noted that 80 per cent of Irish shoppers have heard of ‘reducing use of plastics’ through the media, which is a positive. Equally, we carried out CSR market research in June which noted that 81 per cent of Irish adults felt that the ‘environment’ was an important issue that brands should support.

The challenge for Aldi as a retailer is to bring the customer on the recycling journey and we have set ourselves a tough target that 100 per cent of our own label packaging will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
Helping combat both food poverty and waste is massively important to Aldi. Food waste is one of our sector’s most pressing issues and Aldi has led the way in tackling it. We were one of the first retailers to partner with FoodCloud in 2014, and now support them on a national basis, with all of our 133 stores donating consumable, surplus food to charities and community organisations that need it through FoodCloud.

To date we have donated over 1.4 million meals to some 267 local charities around Ireland through our FoodCloud partnership. This equates to a saving of over €1.9 million for the charity partners involved.

We have also introduced smaller pack sizes, and have also made perishables, like bananas, apples, oranges and avocados available for individual sale to minimize food waste.

In addition to our national partnership with FoodCloud, Aldi signed up to the Food Waste Charter and became a member of the Retail Action Group, along with becoming a signatory to Courtauld Commitment 2025.

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Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use? If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
The feedback from our stores is that sustainability is a pressing issue for our customers. For example, research we commissioned found that 87 per cent of consumers would prefer to shop at a retailer that redistributes its unsold food to those in need. At Aldi we listen to our customers and aim to deliver what they want. Hence, we are taking considerable steps right across our business to make our operations more sustainable.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
We have a long-standing awareness of our responsibility to the environment and to reducing our environmental footprint. Sustainability is an increasingly important aspect of doing business, particularly in the production of food and drink.

As part of our commitment to pursuing sustainable business practices, we signed up to the Origin Green sustainability charter earlier this year and developed a comprehensive sustainability plan with 55 sizeable targets that sets out key sourcing, health and nutrition, social responsibility, waste emissions and energy targets.

The long-term impact of this initiative is that Aldi is reducing its environmental footprint across its Irish operations and is increasingly aware of the role and responsibility the business has to the communities in which we operate. The Origin Green programme has provided an opportunity to continue to frame t

Lidl

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
Earlier this year we discontinued the sale of single use plastic items including plastic drinking straws, disposable plastic cups and glasses, plates and cutlery in stores. We have also committed to discontinuing the sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds in stores nationwide in the coming months. We are currently working with suppliers to replace the products with biodegradable alternatives and are committing to the end of 2019 as a deadline.

Additional measures in our Sustainable Plastic Strategy include the elimination of microbeads in all cosmetic and household ranges and the removal of unrecyclable black plastic from a number of product categories. We published several ambitious plastic reduction targets, including using 20 per cent less plastic packaging by 2022 and having 100 per ent recyclable own-brand packaging by 2025.

We welcomed the latest EU announcement banning single use plastics as we believe a combination of policy, industry collaboration and consumer awareness is essential to achieve impactful progress on the war against plastic.

Over the past year, Lidl’s sustainability programme has won a number of prestigious awards, including the ‘Outstanding Achievement in Corporate Social Responsibility’ at the Chambers Ireland CSR Awards, as well as the Excellence in Environment. In addition Lidl received the ‘Green Retailer of the Year’ and ‘Excellence in Waste Management’ awards at the Green Awards 2018.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
Yes, we pride ourselves on our long-standing partnerships with our suppliers and work closely with them on numerous sustainability topics; from sourcing of certified products and ingredients such as palm oil and cocoa, to ethical practice, and topics such as packaging reductions.

We have observed very positive outcomes as a result of our collaboration with suppliers. An example is the removal unrecyclable black plastic packaging that we announced in October this year. Black plastic packaging is not recycled in Ireland because recycling sorting systems cannot detect the carbon black pigment. The packaging, which cannot be recycled, will be scrapped from fresh fish products by February 2019, followed by fresh meat, poultry and cured meat ranges before August. As a result of this move, over 60 tonnes of black plastic waste will be avoided annually from fruit and vegetables alone.

We also introduced biodegradable packing solutions on our Fairtrade banana suppliers, removing all plastic. The solution was the first of its kind in Ireland. Another example is reformulation of our Formil liquid detergent to a more concentrated formula and subsequent reduction in the plastic bottle from 3 litre to a 2 litre and 1.5 litre is moving to a 1.1litre, which will give us savings of over 10 Tons per year.

We continue to trial more unpackaged fruit and vegetable options - the recent addition of 17 new loose items means that more than 25% of its fresh produce range is now package-free. We will continue to work with suppliers and provide guidance on how to reach our common objectives of more sustainable packaging: reducing plastic volumes, increasing recyclability and the use of renewable content

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
Lidl’s Sustainable Plastic Strategy has developed in recent years and is centred on a progressive circular economy programme, which aims to drive demand for recycled materials and ensure that topics such as waste and recycling remain a priority. Thanks to this approach, this year we have:

Achieved zero waste to landfill – The majority of Lidl’s waste is cardboard recycled into paper and packaging. Lidl’s plastic is also recycled and organic waste is turned into renewable energy through a process called anaerobic digestion.

Each of our stores is partnered with local charities to donate surplus food. We donate approximately 50,000 meals to over 300 local charities each month.

As a member of Repak, we contribute over €2 million annually to subsidise the collection and recovery of waste packaging through registered recovery operators across Ireland.

Lidl was awarded the ‘Business Recycling Champion’ at the 2017 Pakman Awards and also received the ‘Green Retailer of the Year’ and ‘Excellence in Waste Management’ Awards at the Green Awards 2018.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
Yes, we work closely with suppliers, partners and our international teams to remain fully informed on recyclability of materials.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? Is so, why do you believe that to be the case?
We have noticed an increased focus on both plastic packaging and food waste as well as other environmental topics. Consumer awareness and commitment is the driving force for positive impact on sustainability. We try to harness this awareness where possible by sharing our progress, asking for insights and updating them as frequently as possible on our commitments, targets and ambitions.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
We are a lean retailer that cuts out the frills and focuses on every part of the supply chain to drive efficiency to give customers the best value. Lidl operates a just-in-time operating model that stock carried by the entire organisation. Every day we work hard to minimise any waste in our business - it makes business sense, and food waste is no exception.

In addition we have a surplus food donation programme. Working in conjunction with the social enterprise FoodCloud we have developed the ‘Feed It Back Network’ where we redistribute surplus food from our warehouses and stores to over 300 local charities. We donate approximately 50,000 meals to over 300 local charities each month. Our aim is to tackle food waste and use our surplus food for good, to “feed it back” into our local communities to help those who need support.

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use. If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
Yes, we would regularly receive ideas and insights from our customers on sustainability. We value our stakeholder feedback and complete regular materiality assessments to ensure we are working on what matters most to our stakeholders, communities and society at large.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
Sustainability is at the core of our company’s daily operations, with a strong ethos of responsibility towards people, society and the environment embedded in the company mission. Through our sustainability programme ‘A Better Tomorrow’ we are working towards a successful, sustainable future - not just for our business but for the communities we serve.

Ardkeen Stores, Waterford

Our coffee and juice cups have been biodegradable for quite a while and recently we have been giving customers more environmentally friendly packaging options throughout the store. Hopefully, before long, we will only use packaging which is either biodegradable or recyclable.

We have encouraged suppliers to explore more sustainable packaging and some have made progress. We obviously have more influence on smaller suppliers and although these producers generally have less resources to devote to this exercise, they are more likely to want to make a change.

We have been working to improve our sustainability in general and introduced options for customers like paper carrier bags and biodegradable bags a our fruit & veg section. We also encourage customers to bring their own coffee cups by offering a discount.

Like most people we are learning more as time goes by. Good information is hard to come by sometimes and what seems to be the best option often has hidden environmental costs. State agencies could be playing a more supportive role here perhaps?

This has become a hot issue in the last year. In my opinion, David Attenborough played a significant role in making people face up the the consequences of unsustainable choices over many years. Government is playing catch-up here, instead of leading the charge.

Thankfully, we do not usually have much food waste. Sometimes we would be able to use produce in our kitchen that has not sold and we have a policy of applying a “reduced to clear” discount to food products if we need to. If it comes to it, food waste will be composted.

There’s no doubt that our customers are more concerned with environmental issues than before. The main issue for them is packaging but any initiative that we introduced has been well received. Having said that, we still sell a lot of single use plastic bottles of water!

Sustainable packaging has become a big issue for our business but sustainability is about more than that. We have invested in lower energy lighting and refrigeration and recently installed 350 solar PV panels on our roof which will significantly reduce the amount of electricity we will need to purchase. See photo attached.

Tesco

What are you/your business doing to end single-use plastic?
Tesco Ireland is working hard to reduce the use of plastics through working with suppliers and by minimising plastic packaging in Tesco own label products. We have set challenging targets that will deliver a step change in how much plastic waste we generate: by 2025 all our packaging will be fully recyclable or compostable, all our paper and cardboard will be 100 per cent sustainable and we will halve the amount of packaging weight in our business.

In collaboration with our suppliers we can reduce and simplify the types of materials we use in our packaging so that less packaging is used and packaging is easier to recycle. We have reviewed every material used in our Own Brand packaging and as a result of our review and consultation process with our suppliers, we have developed a preferred material list for our product packaging. This list will evolve over time but it aims to remove plastics that are most difficult to recycle, for example PVC, Polystyrene and PLA (Polylactic acid) by 2019.

We continually look at new ways to reduce, re-use, recycle and recover packaging and waste. We are constantly engaging with our suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging in their produce to make our contribution to a greener tomorrow.

Have you spoken to your suppliers about sustainability/plastic/excess packaging? If yes, what has been the outcome of those discussions?
Yes, in collaboration with our suppliers, our technical and product teams are developing innovative packaging plans to deliver on our 2025 commitments. Following consultation with our suppliers, we will remove all packaging that is hard to recycle from our business including PVC and Polystyrene (as above).

Has recycling/re-use improved in your business in recent years - if so, how?
At Tesco we believe every little help makes a big difference. We have made great strides in reducing waste across our operations. Some recent examples of this work include a 20 per cent reduction in the weight of packaging for Tesco Baby Wet Wipes; changes to our Tesco finest steaks packs which has reduced packaging by 20 tonnes per year and the removal of soak pads from our Tesco Mince which has reduced the packaging weight by five tonnes per year.

Are you clear on what is and is not recyclable in terms of plastics?
We work closely with our suppliers to ensure our products have clear labelling to distinguish between recyclable and non-recyclable products and that they meet the highest safety and legal requirements. Our technical team guide and up-skill our suppliers on delivering these standards and carry out extensive tests to ensure compliance.

Is the public more committed to sustainability recycling? Is so, why do you believe that to be the case?
It’s very clear that consumers are aware of the need for Ireland to meet its current and future recycling targets. Tesco is a member of Repak which has led the way in improving recycling levels in Ireland and we have proudly signed Ireland’s ‘Pledge on Packaging Waste’. We are committed to ensuring our targets are met.

What is your business doing to reduce food waste?
As the first Irish retailer to publish our food waste data, we are acutely aware of the need to reduce food waste. We plan to continue combating food waste by donating surplus food to organisations and local causes in need. We have committed to ensuring that no food, which is suitable for human consumption will go to waste in our stores in Ireland by 2020.

Currently, we give surplus food from our stores and since 2014 we have donated over six million meals supporting over 350 local groups across the country. To support our ongoing commitment, our ‘Community chill’ initiative, launched last year, has provided charities across Ireland with free food storage and transport solutions. We have provided 150 free fridges and freezers and 20 decommissioned grocery home shopping vans for suitable groups who currently receive or want to receive food surplus donations from Tesco.

Are your customers raising issues of sustainability including plastic use? If yes, please give an indication of their concerns?
Our customer insights show that it is an important issue. Like our customers, Tesco shares the sentiment that more needs to be done. We support the vision of a circular economy for plastic packaging and we have committed to, remove, reduce and redesign packaging materials and their use; improve recovery and recycling and raise awareness to change customer behaviour.

What does “sustainability” mean to you/your business?
Being a sustainable business is very important to us and we’re proud to be a verified member of Origin Green, an initiative of Bord Bia. In becoming a member of Origin Green, we have set out a sustainability plan that targets key operational, sourcing, health and nutrition and social responsibility targets. In committing to the Origin Green sustainability charter the structure provides meaningful goals which are independently verified on an ongoing basis.

Tesco Ireland is committed to sustainable practices within our business operations. We believe all our actions have consequences across society, we strive to act in an ethical manner that allows us to sustain our operations in the long term. Being a sustainable business is very important to us, and we’re equally proud to be a good neighbour and support the communities we serve.

As the first national retailer to launch a surplus food donations programme in 2014, our sustainability plans have been to the forefront of our business for many years. The Origin Green framework helps us to set further clear goals and measurable targets to achieve further sustainability aims within our business as part of the charter over the next five years.

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