Case study Aldi: The path towards fully recyclable

 

Sustainable packaging is high on the agenda at ALDI. “It starts with avoiding or reducing packaging wherever possible”, says Stefaan De Schepper, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at ALDI. “And where packaging is absolutely necessary, we go for fully recyclable.

Sustainable packaging is high on the agenda at ALDI. “It starts with avoiding or reducing packaging wherever possible”, says Stefaan De Schepper, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at ALDI. “And where packaging is absolutely necessary, we go for fully recyclable. We work closely with Fost Plus to make sure that our packaging can be admitted into the system as well as possible.”

Consumer awareness of packaging has increased a great deal over the past few years. The subject attracts a lot of attention in the media. In addition, governments are adopting increasingly stringent approaches to the packaging that comes onto the market. “Packaging is high on the agenda in our own CSR policy, as well”, Stefaan De Schepper says. “We now have a 'dedicated' team of people who work full time on the issue of sustainable packaging. As a result, we have the space needed to develop our policy and undertake great projects.”

Every gram counts

As a discounter, reducing packaging is part of ALDI’s DNA. “For us, the drive for efficiency and optimisation goes hand in hand with sustainability. If we save one gram of cardboard or plastic on a high-rotation article, then at the end of the day we have a major impact on the price tag of the packaging and therefore the article”, Stefaan De Schepper explains. “So we are the last people to add packaging when it is not strictly necessary.”

The company has also set concrete packaging reduction goals. The total weight of packaging for own products is to fall by 10% by the end of 2024. For some categories (such as fruit and vegetables), ALDI is going a step further and looking for areas where packaging can be eliminated entirely. Last year, for instance, the plastic bag round the organic fair-trade bananas was replaced by a simple wrapper, while more and more fruit and vegetables are being offered unpackaged, in bulk.

Facts and emotions

But ALDI has no intention of demonising packaging, and plastics in particular, just like that. “We don’t allow our choices to depend on the perception surrounding a particular material. For us, the shelf life of products remains essential, because food waste almost always has a far greater environmental impact than packaging - especially when the packaging is properly recycled. In a good many cases, plastic remains the most suitable material for this, and sometimes it is even the only option. And when plastic packaging is selectively collected and recycled in full, it is often one of the most sustainable solutions.”

The drive for efficiency and optimisation goes hand in hand with sustainability. If we save one gram of cardboard or plastic on a high-rotation article, then at the end of the day we have a major impact on the price tag of the packaging and therefore the article

Towards fully recyclable

When ALDI cannot avoid packaging, it opts firmly in favour of recyclable materials. The company aims to use fully recyclable packaging for all its own-brand products throughout Europe by the end of 2025. “In Belgium, we expect to achieve more than 99% as early as the end of next year. We follow the advice given by Fost Plus closely here. For instance, during an examination of our meat packaging, we decided to replace all black packaging - which the sorting centres do not recognise- with transparent trays.”

ALDI decisively favours recyclable packaging in other product groups, as well, such as snacks or fruit and vegetables. “ We systematically replace coloured PET containers by transparent versions, which are easier to recycle. Indeed, the iconic blue mushroom container will probably disappear from our shelves shortly. We are conducting a wide-ranging test project on this at the moment. IWe also removed the last remaining extruded polystyrene containers from our range. Sometimes we look at specific products and packaging, as well: for instance, we have switched the organic courgettes from a plastic flowpack to a wrapper and for the Kanzi XS apples we now use cardboard packaging instead of plastic.”

The final hurdles

Nevertheless, there remain a number of hurdles to be overcome. “Composite and above all laminated packaging – which combines plastic and aluminium, for example – is difficult to recycle. For the time being, however, this remains essential for a number of items, such as animal food, coffee or dairy products. But through our contacts with Pack4Food and Fost Plus we see that alternatives are on the way here, too. The industry is clearly not remaining idle and we are convinced that we will be able to close the loop for these forms of packaging, too, in the next few years”, Stefaan De Schepper concludes.