In the wake of a “recent and very disturbing experience” in his local Lidl, a reader by the name of Karl decided to make contact in “the hope that [we] might be able to help”.
He says that a few years ago, his local Lidl “took the initiative of installing recycle bins near the checkouts”. He says he is “unable to recycle in my apartment development [so] was very pleased about this as it meant that I was at least able to recycle much of my Lidl packaging (cardboard, plastic bottles, food cans, etc) And so, whenever I was about to visit Lidl, I would throw a few items into the shopping bag and deposit them in their recycling bins before doing my shopping.”
The system “seemed to be working well until a few months ago, towards the end of May, a member of staff walked towards me as I was approaching the recycling bins, stood between me and the bins and told me: ‘You can’t dump your rubbish here.’ I was completely taken aback as this was clearly not what I was doing. I explained to him that I was recycling Lidl packaging before doing some shopping and he replied that the recycling bins were for use at point of purchase only.
“I pointed out that the bins were labelled in such a way as to encourage customers to recycle “crisp bags, drinks cans, tin cans and plastic bottles”, items that clearly had to be brought back to store from the home but he was incredibly hostile and refused to listen, choosing instead to repeat his ‘You can’t dump your rubbish here’ line. After some further back and forth, he actually asked me to leave the store. I was absolutely shocked but made the point of recycling the items in my bag before leaving – in the appropriate bins, of course.
“This entire encounter had taken place in full view of other customers and staff members and I left the shop feeling stunned by what had just occurred. I had been treated with utter hostility for the heinous crime of trying to recycle Lidl packaging in the Lidl recycling bins.”
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Later that evening, Karl tweeted about the saga, making sure to @ the company as he did so.
“They quickly responded and were publicly very apologetic but when we took our communication into an email setting, their tone changed subtly and the various customer service representatives that I dealt with all repeated the ‘point of purchase’ mantra, and no matter how many times I pointed out that the signage clearly encouraged customers to bring certain items from home, they refused to engage with me on this point.”
He says he found this “enormously frustrating as they seemed to be going out of their way to avoid admitting any liability. I also asked direct questions such as, ‘Is it company policy to encourage shop floor staff to challenge customers on this point?’ I received no response, merely the same ‘point of purchase’ mantra.”
Over the next week or so, he communicated with customer service via email and asked them “what they were going to do to make this right and regain my trust as a customer. After they credited my Lidl Plus account with €20, I told them this was not adequate compensation for the humiliation and distress I had endured, and they would have to do better.”
He told Lidl he wanted an apology from the staff member who confronted him, clearer customer policy and signage regarding recycling, and he suggested a refund of the money he had spent in the store during the month of May, which amounted to approximately €150.
He tells us Lidl said no to his demands.
“Needless to say, I am no longer a Lidl customer but this sorry experience raises all kinds of questions for me. Corporate entities such as Lidl routinely sprinkle their correspondence with aggrieved customers with meaningless platitudes but bend over backwards to avoid admitting any real liability in the face of criticism… and that’s just wrong.”
We contacted Lidl and a spokeswoman said it had “became the first Irish retailer to offer customers in-store recycling stations nationwide to reduce packaging waste bought in-store back in 2019, after receiving feedback from customers that they wished to dispose of excess packaging before returning home”.
She said that it had “placed these segregated recycling stations at the end of customer checkout to facilitate this process and ensure excess packaging could be disposed of immediately after purchase. The unit containing the bins contains a brief explanation of what could go in each section for customers who might not have much experience with recycling. It was never intended that customers would return to store with their packaging after consuming products at home. We will take on board the feedback with regards to the examples used and will consider how this could be better explained in the future.”