Aldi boss: We’ll delist brands that don’t act on plastics packaging

Giles Hurley (pictured) sent the frank letter to all major third-party suppliers. Image: Aldi UK

The retailer is aiming for all plastics and non-plastics packaging used on own-brand lines to be 100% reusable, compostable or recyclable at kerbside by 2022 – and Hurley’s letter, sent on Tuesday (10 March), states that third-party suppliers’ contracts will be axed unless they make the same pledges.

In the letter, Hurley writes that future buying decisions “will be based on our supply partners’ ability to lead and adapt in this area”, and that compliance with the 2022 targets will become a “non-negotiable” contract clause.

The letter, seen by edie and The Grocer, highlights Aldi UK’s success at working with own-brand suppliers to phase-out non-compliant packaging since the 2022 pledges were announced in 2018. To date, it states, 2,700 tonnes of plastic has been removed and 3,700 tonnes of hard-to-recycle or non-recyclable packaging has been replaced with recyclable alternatives.

“I request that you speak openly with your buying contact to actively explore all opportunities to develop more innovative packaging solutions and deliver on our packaging commitments,” the letter states.

“We want to work with you to trial alternative materials, innovate new packaging solutions and crucially be open-minded to all options. I look forward to seeing the progress that we can achieve together, in this business-critical area.

Hurley’s call to action is similar to those issued to suppliers by Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis and Asda chief executive Roger Burnley in recent months.

Last August, Lewis vowed to end contracts with third-party brands which use excessive and non-recyclable plastic packaging, starting in early 2020.

Burnely’s open letter, sent to suppliers in October 2019, urged recipients to “take a step into the unknown” in packaging innovation. Asda has pledged to reduce the total amount of plastics used in its own-brand packaging by 15% by February 2021, against a 2018 baseline, and to ensure that 30% of plastics used in packaging comes from recycled feedstocks by the end of 2020.

Refill revolution

Aside from warnings of imminent contract axing, Hurley’s letter reveals that Aldi will be trialling packaging-free “reuse and refill” schemes this year.

Given that only 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled – something the general public are increasingly being made aware of through campaigns such as Sky’s #PassOnPlasticA Plastic Planet’s #TurnOffThePlasticTap and media such as Blue Planet 2 and BBC’s War on Plastics – many supermarkets are either planning or piloting such schemes.

Waitrose & Partners, for example, took more than 200 products out of their packaging – from fruit and vegetables, to grains, beer and wine – out of their packaging at its Botley Road store in Oxford last spring. The trial proved so popular with customers that it has since been expanded.

Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) similar “fill your own” offering also proved successful enough to warrant an expansion, with customers citing interactivity and the ability to avoid food waste as key differentiators beyond plastic avoidance.

Taking notice of this success, Sainsbury’s recently began trialling refill stations for Ecover washing-up liquid at its Haringey store and will extend the format to 19 more locations this year. The chain is also exploring refillable versions of products such as milk and fizzy drinks in the coming years, as it strives to halve the amount of plastics it uses for packaging by 2025.

Similarly, Asda will begin trialling packaging-free, refillable versions of some of its most popular products in May. The trial will begin at its Middleton store in Leeds, taking in own-brand lines as well as Kellogg cereals.

Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, is due to begin offering TerraCycle’s Loop format to London-based consumers at the end of the month. Under the platform, consumer goods brands such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Colgate Palmolive provide product refills while retaining ownership of their reusable packaging. The offering is already proving successful in Paris and the US, through retailers Carrefour and Kroger respectively.

Sarah George

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