Packaging is part of everyday life. It has many important functions: to keep food fresh, protect it and enable its transportation. It also creates a space for communicating key information. However, many negative ecological effects arise at different points along the packaging value chain. For example, the production of packaging requires the use of natural resources, consumes energy and creates emissions. If packaging waste is not recycled due to incorrect disposal, it ends up in an incinerator. However, if it is improperly disposed of, it ends up in the environment. The stakeholders of the REWE Group see packaging as a very important issue for the company (for more information see the section Materiality Analysis).
To permanently integrate sustainability into its company processes, REWE Group has developed an all-encompassing sustainability strategy that is made up of four main pillars: Green Products; Energy, Climate and the Environment; Employees; and Social Involvement. The Green Products Strategy 2030 was adopted in 2017 in a move to more strongly anchor sustainability within procurement processes. In the action areas of ethical business practices, conservation of resources and animal welfare, the trade and tourism company designs effective measures to reduce environmental and social impacts as part of the Green Products commitment. Within the area of action of conservation of resources, the focus issues of circular economy, water and biodiversity have been identified. Packaging has a special significance in the focus area of circular economy.
In its Guideline for Sustainable Business Practices, 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.
The circular economy is an important solution for the REWE Group for conserving resources and recycling raw materials. Packaging requires significant resource consumption, thus the trade company has developed a comprehensive approach to more environmentally friendly packaging. The REWE Group cooperates closely with key stakeholders, ranging from purchasing departments to select NGOs and packaging design experts. A data analysis was carried out to identify significant impacts and leverage points which formed the basis for development of this approach. Relying on a detailed analysis of all available packaging data, in 2018 REWE Group identified key suppliers and key packaging fractions. As a second step, the company initiated optimisation projects and supplier talks across all product areas aimed at the avoidance, reduction and improvement of packaging materials for the benefit of the environment. Specific targets and measures were then determined as part of this approach.
To make progress measurable, REWE Group defined the following key performance indicators (KPIs) for the area of packaging for gauging attainment of associated targets.
|Percentage of more environmentally friendly store brand packaging||100% by the end of 2030||↗︎|
|↗︎On Track Target attained✕Target not attained
1 Detailed information on the current status of target attainment should be available from 2019 upon the introduction of system tracking.
By the year 2030, all packaging for REWE Group store brand products in Germany and Austria are to add more value to benefit the environment, This was, REWE Group reduces the environmental impact of its packaging and furthers circular economy. “More environmentally friendly packaging” is defined as packaging that reduces negative impact on the environment, either by avoiding packaging, reducing its volume or improving its design or make-up.
In this approach, REWE Group differentiates between reusable and disposable packaging.
Sustainability is systematically integrated into purchasing processes. REWE Group has defined three procedures for use based on the degree of complexity and characteristics of packaging:
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; and in Austria 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. Thus far, more than 1,000 packaging types have been re-designed for greater environmental friendliness (as of May 2019). The resulting packaging changes implemented have cut use of plastics by REWE and PENNY by 7,650 tonnes annually.
As the first step, REWE Group is working intensively on packaging avoidance (1):
REWE has utilised “natural branding” since March 2017, which means that logos and information are applied directly to the skin of sweet potatoes by laser. The laser simply removes pigments from the exterior of the skin. 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, 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. Additionally, in a pilot at all BILLA stores throughout Austria, organic kiwis are being lasered with the “Ja! Natürlich” logo.
Since early 2019, REWE and PENNY have been offering organic cucumbers year-round bearing nothing but an adhesive label, dispensing entirely with the protective film. This is projected to save 80 tonnes of plastic annually. The complex transport processes for organic cucumbers have been modified through coordination with the relevant trading partners so that encasing them in film is no longer required to maintain their freshness and quality. Echt B!O – the PENNY organic brand in Austria – has offered pumpkins and courgettes free of packaging since 2018. In addition, some 630 REWE and nahkauf stores in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland will be carrying out a pilot from April 2019 for largely eliminating plastic packaging and using more environmentally friendly packaging for organic fruit and vegetables. These measures will mean a 90,000 kilograms reduction in packaging material used per year, including 55,000 kilograms of plastic.
At select BILLA and MERKUR stores, REWE International in Austria is conducting a pilot in which sausage and cheese purchases are placed in containers brought along by customers: The customer brings along an empty, clean reusable container, staff fill the container and put a label on it. This reduces packaging usage. From June 2019 it will be possible for customers to bring along their own containers at nearly all REWE stores in Germany which have a meat and cheese counter.
REWE Group is working on a range of measures to reduce (2) materials usage where complete packaging avoidance is not possible:
A comprehensive overview of packaging used for fruit and vegetables was conducted and ideas to make packaging more environmentally friendly were generated. Initial implementations have already taken place. 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 banderole tape or stickers, REWE and PENNY now use 205 tonnes less plastic. The amount saved is enough to cover some 2,200 football fields. Banderoles are useful for reducing packaging with other products as well, like organic courgettes, fennel, cauliflower and leek.
In April 2018, toom Baumarkt announced the complete discontinuation of use of non-reusable shopping bags. All toom Baumarkt DIY stores will now exclusively offer reusable bags in various designs and sizes. The reason for this: The more often a bag is used, the better its ecobalance value. Alongside cotton shopping bags, permanent bags made of recycled material and cardboard boxes are also available for use. Since the roll-out year, toom Baumarkt DIY stores have eliminated 470,000 disposable bags annually.
Reducing film usage with select REWE and PENNY store brand products, such as sandwich/lunch bags, garbage bags as well as kitchen towel and toilet paper packaging has yielded total savings of 300 tonnes of plastic since 2016.
Where packaging reduction is not possible, improvements (3) in environmental friendliness are sought:
The concept of the circular economy plays an important role for REWE Group when it comes 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 milestones are further increasing the percentage of “Gelber Sack” recyclable materials and converting other packaging over to recyclate.
Recycled water bottles have been sold at REWE and PENNY stores since the spring of 2019. For example, the store brands PENNY Ready and REWE Beste Wahl offer mineral water (still) in a 0.75-litre water bottle with sportscap made of 100 per cent recyclate.
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 for 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. The raw material for grass pellets comes from unused compensation areas near the paper mill. This means that grass packaging has a comparatively good ecobalance.
REWE Group is currently using grass paper packaging at its roughly 5,500 REWE and PENNY stores for PENNY Naturgut national organic apples, PENNY Naturgut national organic vine tomatoes and REWE organic pears regional.
|Organic vine tomatoes and apples (PENNY)||Switching from the cardboard shells previously in use to grass paper shells|
|Organic canola (rapeseed) oil and sunflower oil (REWE)||Reduction in materials through the use of lightweight glass|
|Mushrooms (REWE)||Use of transparent trays instead of blue plastic trays to improve recyclability|
|Ice cream (REWE and PENNY)||Elimination of the sealing foil between container and lid, switching to tamper-evident container closures|
|Various meats (REWE)||Packaging reduction in plastic trays|
|Raspberries, blueberries, light and dark grapes (REWE)||Switching from trays with lids to trays with thin foil for closure|
|Peaches, nectarines, apricots (REWE)||Switching from plastic trays with lids to plastic trays with mesh|
|Salad containers (REWE To Go)||Switching from trays with lids to trays with thin foil for closure|
|Wet wipes (REWE and PENNY)||Foil made of 50% recycled material|
|Insulated frozen food bags (REWE and PENNY)||Made of minimum 80% recycled plastic, meeting requirements for the Blue Angel ecolabel|
|Detergents and household cleaning products (REWE and PENNY)||Packaging made of up to 100% recyclate|
|Toothbrushes (REWE and PENNY)||Increased use of recycled material in plastic packaging up to 90%|