In its Guideline for Sustainable Business Practises, REWE Group has committed itself to the efficient use of the natural resources soil, air and water as well as of raw materials and fuels. As part of this effort, REWE Group optimises the use of relevant resources in its business processes and takes product- and raw-material-related steps aimed at both the upstream and downstream links in the value chain. This work includes the PRO PLANET process in which resource-conservation activities are addressed (for more information about PRO PLANET, see GRI 204: Procurement Practices).
Product-related measures are implemented in areas including packaging, recycled materials and optimisation of closed loops. In its own business process, REWE Group focuses on energy management, optimisation of logistics processes and the use of environmentally conscious paper.
The importance of protecting natural resources and preserving biodiversity along supply chains was reaffirmed in the “Strategy Green Products 2030” that was newly developed in 2017 for PENNY and REWE in Germany. Within the area of action “conservation of resources” defined as part of this strategy, the focus issues of circular economy, water and biodiversity were identified. A special role in the focus issue “circular economy” is played by the area of packaging, for which the following key performance indicator has been defined:
To make product packaging more environmentally friendly, REWE Group has worked with stakeholders and held internal workshops to identify improvement ideas and potential, which have provided the impetus for preparation of a packaging guideline.
Making packaging more environmentally friendly is firmly anchored in REWE Group’s strategy and already plays a role in the procurement process. The overarching strategy for optimising packaging consists of three pillars: avoid, reduce and improve. Avoidance always comes first. If the packaging cannot be dispensed with, e.g. for reasons of product shelf life or due to legal obligations, REWE Group reduces the materials used for the packaging. Where no reduction is possible, the packaging is optimised as much as possible.
To help reduce plastic rubbish, REWE Group has stopped selling plastic shopping bags. In Germany, this step was initiated by the sales lines REWE in 2016, PENNY in 2017, DER Touristik travel agencies in 2017, and toom Baumarkt DIY stores in 2018. In Austria, it was also taken by BILLA, MERKUR, PENNY, BIPA and ADEG in 2017. In addition, REWE Group has implemented a variety of other measures to make packaging more environmentally friendly and to optimise the use of resources:
A comprehensive overview of packaging used for fruit and vegetables was conducted and ways to make packaging more environmentally friendly were generated. Initial implementations have already taken place. Since March 2017, REWE and PENNY have been using “natural branding”: logos and information are applied directly to the outer skin of sweet potatoes and avocados by laser, with only pigments of the outermost layer being removed. The labelling only takes place on the surface, is completely contactless and has no influence on taste, quality or shelf life. This makes printed packaging for labelling organic products superfluous, meaning that plastic, paper and metal can be saved. During future seasonal planning, all fruit and vegetable products will be regularly checked to see if they are suitable for natural branding and, where appropriate, tested and changed over to this method.
Avoidance of plastic bottles at DER Touristik
Each holiday maker uses at least 20 plastic bottles during a tour of Asia. In order reduce the amount of plastic waste in holiday regions, as of winter 2017/18, Go Vacation, the destination agency of DER Touristik, will be handing out refillable water bottles to tour guests of DER Touristik tour operators (Dertour, Jahn Reisen, ITS, Meier’s Weltreisen, ADAC Reisen, Travelix and Kuoni) at the start of their trip that they can also take home with them. There will be opportunities to fill up the bottles at water dispensers in all hotels included in the tour and also during stops at restaurants. Disposable plastic bottles will be completely dispensed with in the future. In Bali, guests also receive cloth bags so that plastic bags are unnecessary. The water bottles and also the cloth bags were produced locally.
An expansion of this campaign to other Asian countries, such as Vietnam or Sri Lanka, is in the planning stage.
Tapes and stickers to reduce the use of plastic
An example of the reduction of packaging material is the changeover from film packaging to adhesive tape or adhesive labels in the case of bananas. Having replaced the foil packaging used previously for bananas with tape or stickers, REWE and PENNY now save enough plastic each year to cover just under 2,200 football pitches.
Reduction of film thickness
Reducing the amount of film used for food and rubbish bags, as well as for packaging of selected store-brand kitchen towel and toilet paper products at REWE and PENNY, has resulted in a total savings of 300,000 kilograms of plastic film – and that only since 2016.
Testing of reusable nets for fruit and vegetables
At the end of 2017, REWE Group looked at ways to reduce the amount of plastic bags used for picking fruit (“roll bags”): Customers were able to purchase reusable mesh bags for fresh goods at REWE stores participating in the trial and bring them back for transporting fruit time and time again. It was also pointed out that fruit and vegetables with a natural protective skin can also be transported without packaging.
Promotion of the circular economy
The concept of the circular economy plays an important role for REWE Group when it comes to improving unavoidable packaging. For example, REWE Group is a member of the Recyclat Initiative, an alliance of partners from a range of different industries that promotes effective recycling and practises the principle of a circular economy. Their shared goal is to develop sustainable closed loops and to use materials produced by Germany’s “Gelber Sack” (Yellow Bag) programme in which plastic rubbish is collected from private households in the country. Packaging for a portion of store-brand products in the product groups “washing, cleaning, scrubbing” at REWE and PENNY is being gradually switched to materials made entirely of recycled material. Twenty per cent of this material will come from Gelber Sack collections. The use of the Gelber Sack material is made possible by sorting technology based on laser optics. The next goal is to increase the percentage of Gelber Sack material.
Paint containers made of recycled material
Working with its suppliers and other partners, toom Baumarkt DIY stores have developed packaging made of nearly 100 per cent recycled plastic. Since 2011, the DIY stores have been selling their store-brand paint in containers made from recycled plastic. This range was expanded during the reporting period. As a result, 86 products were offered in paint containers made of recycled plastic (Procyclen®) in 2017. The CO2 emissions attributed to containers made of recycled material are up to 50 per cent lower than the levels generated in the production of buckets made of primary materials. The containers can also be reused as frequently as desired. In January 2015, toom Baumarkt DIY stores added a paint tray made of recycled plastic to its product range. They are also continuously expanding their range of products made with recycled materials.
In Austria, the BIPA sales line introduced a new line of household and care products in 2014 under the name bi good. The packaging consists exclusively of recyclable materials and has the current maximum possible proportion of recycled content. For example, bottles (HDPE or PET) and folding boxes (paper) are made of 100 per cent recycled material. Tubes (PE) consist of 60 per cent recycled material.
Another approach to improving packaging is the use of grass paper. The new packaging material consists of 40 per cent sun-dried grass and only 60 per cent wood. Grass is a raw material that grows back quickly and requires less water and energy to process into grass pellets than it does to produce virgin fibre or recycled paper. No chemicals at all are used in the production of grass pellets. In addition, the production of grass paper causes less greenhouse gases than the manufacture of conventional paper from virgin fibre or recycled paper. In the future, the raw material for the grass pellets will come from unused compensation areas near the paper mill. This means that grass packaging has a comparatively good ecobalance.
REWE Group is currently testing customer acceptance and the suitability for everyday use of packaging made of grass paper in the approximately 5,500 REWE and PENNY stores. The first test was performed with organic apples. So far, the tests have been successful and there has been no loss of quality. In the future, all relevant fruit and vegetable products will therefore be checked during seasonal planning to see if grass paper can be used. In the case of one million apple packages, for example, more than half a ton of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalents) and approximately ten per cent energy can be saved in total compared to existing apple packages.
The primary paper packaging of store-brand products at REWE and PENNY will gradually be completely switched over to more environmentally friendly alternatives. By the end of 2020, the plan is for all paper packaging to be produced only from recycled or certified paper. Using recycled paper is better for the environment because it requires less virgin fibre. If recycled paper is not suitable for a particular packaging, REWE Group uses virgin fibre paper originating from certified forests.
REWE Group is working on measures to create closed loops in order to conserve resources and promote sustainable consumption. Together with a cooperation partner, REWE Group has set up a collection system for textiles: in 2017, 334 containers were placed at 270 locations of the PENNY sales line, where consumers can dispose of their used textiles, which are either worn again as second-hand clothing or sent for recycling. If no further use is possible, a proper disposal is ensured. PENNY’s range also includes textile products made from recycled fibre – including socks produced from 65 per cent recycled cotton, which meet the OEKO-TEX Standard 100.
To reduce the amount of transport packaging rubbish, the logistics operation of REWE Group employs reusable containers for such products as fruits and vegetables. In addition, conventional wooden palettes are being replaced by plastic alternatives. Plastic palettes are lighter and have more capacity in terms of transportable packaging volume. This, in turn, has a positive impact on the energy efficiency of transports. The plastic palettes can also be completely recycled and are returned to the recovered substance cycle when a defect occurs.
In the intense work it has done with printers and ink producers over the years, REWE Group has worked to replace conventional inks containing mineral oil with low aromatic alternatives. And the work has paid off: Since January 2016, only low aromatic inks have been used to produce REWE Group fliers. In accomplishing this, REWE Group fulfilled the requirements of the environmental seal Blauer Engel (Blue Angel) for printed products (RAL 195). The seal called for the use of low-emission paints and inks to start in 2017.
This switch, pushed by REWE Group, has led to sustainable changes in the entire industry. It prompted leading ink producers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to primarily supply low aromatic ink for heatset printing processes.
The switch by the printing companies to low aromatic ink represents a key step in efforts to use recycled paper for food packaging. Recycling paper may not be used for packaging if conventional inks containing mineral oil are used. The reason: The aromatic substances in inks containing mineral oil could be transferred to the food. This transfer is considered to be a health threat. REWE Group is working to turn the use of aromatic-free ink into a printing industry standard. This would represent a critical step in the use of recycled paper for food packaging.
Paper is a key resource that all business fields of REWE Group use extensively. In response, REWE Group encourages the use of recycled paper, which is utilised in particular for fliers and other printed matter as well as in its administration work. In 2009, the company began to make a transition to more environmentally conscious paper, a key component of its sustainability strategy. This effort focuses on using recycled paper (with or without the German environmental seal Blauer Engel) and paper from sustainable forestry that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC™).
Paper is a key resource for a trade and tourism company, one that plays a major role particularly in product advertising. Total paper consumption by REWE Group rose from about 175,606 tonnes in 2016 to 180,327 tonnes in 2017. Flier production is the primary cause of paper consumption. The rise is also reflected in specific paper consumption, which totalled 18.59 kilograms per square metre of sales area in 2017. The primary reason for the rise in paper consumption was increased advertising conducted as part of the competition for customers. This increase was reflected in the higher print runs of products like fliers, catalogues and company publications.
Area of application: REWE Group Germany and Austria, including partner retailers.
The share of more environmentally conscious paper in total consumption at REWE Group is nearly 100 per cent. The share of recycled paper among more environmentally conscious paper exceeded 95 per cent in 2017. For the remaining total of nearly five per cent, the company uses virgin fibre paper from sustainable forestry that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) or the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC™).