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 throughout 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 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 areas of action of people, animals and the environment, the trade and tourism company develops effective measures to reduce environmental and social impacts as part of the Green Products commitment. Within the area of action of the environment, 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 Guidelines 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. As a basis for developing the approach, a detailed analysis of all packaging data was conducted to identify significant effects and ways to develop more environmentally friendly packaging: for instance, in 2018, REWE Group identified important suppliers and significant 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) and the respective targets for the area of packaging:
|Proportion of more environmentally friendly product and service packaging of store brands||100 % by the end of 2030||↗︎|
|↗︎On track Target attained✕Target not attained
1 Exact information about the current status will be possible with the introduction of a system-based recording system, which will likely be available from 2020.
By the end of 2030, all product and service packaging of REWE Group store brands will offer more environmentally friendly added value. This was, REWE Group reduces the environmental impact of its packaging and furthers circular economy. “More environmentally friendly packaging” is defined as packaging that has a positive effect on the environment by avoiding, reducing or improving packaging.
REWE Group has also defined specific sub-goals for REWE and PENNY brand products in Germany: By the end of 2025, all plastic product and service packaging for REWE and PENNY brands that cannot be avoided will be recyclable. Also, by the end of 2025, 20 per cent less plastic will be used for product and service packaging for REWE and PENNY brands and, already by the end of 2020, only certified raw materials will be used in paper packaging.
In this approach, REWE Group differentiates between reusable and disposable packaging.
The introduction of three sustainability seals at REWE und PENNY in Germany creates more transparency and allows better orientation in purchasing. The seals show whether the packaging has been optimised by reduced use of material, the use of recycling material or the use of alternative materials (such as grass paper). The first products with these new sustainability seals have been available since February 2020.
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. So far, more than 2,000 packaging types have been re-designed for greater environmental friendliness (as of October 2019). With these changes in packaging, REWE and PENNY now save about 8,900 tonnes of plastic each year.
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 seasonal planning, fruit and vegetable products will be regularly checked to see if they are suitable for natural branding and, where appropriate, will be tested and changed over to this method. After successful trials in the Austrian sales line BILLA, organic kiwis with the laser inscribed logo “Ja! Natürlich” were successively introduced to all trade companies in Austria.
REWE and PENNY have been selling various fruit and vegetable items unpackaged for some time. An increasing number of fruit and vegetable items are now available without packaging, such as cucumbers, which have been sold throughout Germany since October 2019 all year round without film and just with an adhesive label – this applies to both conventional and organic cucumbers. This reduces the amount of plastic used each year by around 160 tonnes. With the involvement of all the participating trade partners, the relevant, complex transport processes have been changed so that cucumbers no longer have to be shrink-wrapped but still retain their freshness and quality. In addition, some 630 REWE and nahkauf stores in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland carried out a pilot in 2019 in which plastic packaging was largely eliminated and more environmentally friendly packaging was used for organic fruit and vegetables. The experience gathered during the pilot will be used to smooth the national roll-out in March 2020. By the end of 2020, REWE plans to sell organic fruit and vegetables largely without plastic or with improved packaging. This will produce annual savings of around 210 tonnes of plastic and 80 tonnes of paper in the area of organic fruit and vegetables.
Another example of the avoidance of packaging material is the changeover from film packaging to adhesive tape or adhesive labels in the case of bananas. Since REWE and PENNY changed over from film packaging to adhesive tape and stickers for bananas, around 205 tonnes of plastics have been saved each year.
Each holiday maker uses at least 20 plastic bottles during a tour of Asia. In order to reduce the amount of plastic waste in holiday regions, Go Vacation, the destination agency of DER Touristik, has been handing out refillable water bottles to tour guests of DER Touristik tour operators Dertour, Jahn Reisen, ITS, Meiers Weltreisen, ADAC Reisen, Travelix and Kuoni in Indonesia since winter 2017/18 at the start of their trip. At the end of their holiday they can take these bottles home with them. In all tour hotels and during stops in restaurants there are water dispensers where the tourists can refill their bottles. Single-use plastic bottles will no longer be used, at all. In Bali, guests also receive cloth bags so that plastic bags are unnecessary. The water bottles and also the cloth bags were produced locally. In 2019 this action was expanded to Vietnam and Sri Lanka.
After successful trials, REWE Group in Austria now allows meat, cheese and coffee to be put into containers that customers bring with them in all BILLA and MERKUR stores. Customers bring along an empty, clean reusable container or coffee mug, staff fill the container and put a label on it. This reduces packaging usage. Since June 2019, it has been possible for customers to bring along their own containers at nearly all REWE stores in Germany which have a meat and cheese counter.
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.
REWE Group is working on a range of measures to reduce (2) materials usage where complete packaging avoidance is not possible:
By using less film packaging on selected REWE and PENNY store brands, such as sandwich and rubbish bags, and for kitchen towels and toilet paper packaging it has been possible to reduce plastic packaging by 590 tonnes per year.
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. By using secondary raw materials, it is possible to keep raw materials in a closed loop and, as a result, conserve resources. 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 circular economy principles. 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. Since 2017, packaging for 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 comes from “Gelber Sack” collections. In addition, since 2019, REWE and PENNY have been marketing “today” brand shower gel and soap in packaging made 100 per cent of recycled material. Here, too, 20 per cent of the material comes from “Gelber Sack” collections. The use of the “Gelber Sack” raw materials is made possible by sorting technology based on laser optics. In the future, more packaging will be 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. In 2019, the assortment of paint buckets made of recycled plastic (Procyclen®) comprised 100 items. The carbon dioxide emissions from recyclate containers are up to 50 per cent less than for packaging made of primary, unrecycled material. In January 2015, toom Baumarkt DIY stores added paint trays, buckets and storage boxes made of recycled plastic to the assortment, and are 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 for improving packaging is the use of grass paper. The alternative 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 for PENNY Naturgut organic apples and PENNY Naturgut organic vine tomatoes nationally and for REWE organic pears regionally.