Colruyt Group’s approach to packaging, including plastics
Packaging and why it’s so important
Packaging protects food against damage and deterioration while it's being transported, in store and at home. Packaging often carries useful information for consumers but its primary use is to guarantee hygiene and food safety, to maintain quality and to ensure it can be stored. Some materials are ideal for packaging, even if that doesn't align with their image. Plastic is one example of this: a thin layer of plastic packaging can significantly extend the shelf life of food.
As a retailer, we do our best to minimise packaging waste and its impact on the environment. But we also have a duty to combat food waste wherever possible; not only from a moral perspective, but also to limit the impact on the environment. And that's where packaging comes in, of course. In other words, choosing the right packaging is a balance between limiting its environmental impact and preventing food waste, so the challenge is to use less material or make it more sustainable while still ensuring that products are properly protected. And we're getting better at this all the time.
What are we currently doing?
Choosing packaging material is a constant and complex puzzle. What is the most sustainable option? How can we find an efficient way to transport the product and put it on sale? What are the requirements in terms of hygiene, food safety and storage? For this purpose, our in-house packaging experts carry out thorough research, such as life cycle analysis screenings. We like to map the full environmental impact of the product and its packaging before making our choice: from production and transport to consumption and waste processing.
Concretely, we reduce the environmental impact of our packaging by focusing on three pillars:
- Refuse, reduce, reuse
- Opting for more sustainable materials
- Focus on recycling
In other words, our aim is a circular economy where we only use packaging made from recycled material, which is then reused in turn to help make new packaging material.
Refuse, reduce, reuse
Obviously, we aim to minimise the amount of packaging we use, by making it smaller or thinner, or by not using it at all. We also consciously choose reusable packaging.
- We offer fruit and vegetables in bulk wherever possible, which means without packaging. Customers take them away loose or use their own reusable bags.
Some fresh products are still packaged when you buy them in store. Why is that? Some fruit or vegetables are too fragile to be sold loose, so we offer products like mushrooms and raspberries in trays. In winter, products like cucumbers, aubergines and broccoli from Spain are wrapped in plastic so they stay fresh for longer, combatting food waste in store and at home. But we are also testing unpackaged alternatives here.
- We have replaced the plastic cover of our nut and cheese cube containers with a resealable foil. In this way, we save more than 68 tonnes of plastic every year.
- The Boni and Everyday salad spreads are at 45.5 tonnes less plastic per year. Thanks to their new rounded bottom, they can be spooned out to the maximum, resulting in less food loss.
- Bring your own container.You can bring your own containers and shop without packaging at the counters in the Bio-Planet stores. You choose how much meat, cheese or ready-prepared food you want and the employee fills your container for you. Ten or so Bio-Planet stores offer a system where you can fill your own containers with a range of dried fruits, nuts, breakfast grains and In Braine-l'Alleud, even with washing and maintenance products.
- We have only offered reusable bags for loose fruit and vegetables since the start of 2020; strong polyester bags that are washable and can be reused at least 100 times. All single-use plastic bags for fruit and vegetables have been removed permanently from our stores, taking 150 million plastic bags out of circulation each year — equivalent to the volume of 23 trailers.
- If you buy bread from Bio-Planet, make sure you check out their new reusable bread bag made from organic cotton.
Focus on recycling
Together with the entire Belgian retail sector, we are committed to making most of our household packaging recyclable. We prefer packaging which is made entirely of one type of material. If this is not possible, we will use materials that can easily be separated. More of our packaging will now display icons that tell you which waste stream the packaging belongs to. Of course, it is up to you to actually sort the packaging. This is the only way they can be recycled and given a new life.
Recycling 100 % of outer packaging
It goes without saying that we also join in. We recycle 100 % of the outer packaging that remains in store or that we sort in our distribution centres. Outer packaging encloses the user packaging; for example, a cardboard box with several boxes of biscuits inside, or a plastic wrapping around several different containers of shampoo. Outer packaging increases efficiency throughout the chain, from storage and transport through to the store itself. It makes it easier for store staff to put products on the shelves or transfer them from one trolley to another at the till, limiting costs and helping to create the lowest prices at Colruyt. Of course, customers are free to leave excess packaging behind in stores and we will continue to sort it rigorously and send it for recycling.
From folding box to folding box
Colruyt's black folding box has a whole life behind it. That's because it's made from the around 70,000 discarded Collect&Go folding boxes that we recycle every year. That's equivalent to 80,000 kg of waste used as the raw material for new folding boxes, made in Belgium!
We also increasingly choose recycled materials for the plastic packaging of our own brands.
- Our first packaging made of 100 % recycled plastic is on the shelves: Boni liquid detergents and all-purpose cleaner sprays.
- By 2022, we want all plastic packaging of our private label beverages to be made of at least 25 % recycled plastic (rPET). By 2025, we are aiming for 50 %. We are also switching to transparent bottles that can be recycled again and again.
Innovative packaging techniques
We are looking for innovative storage technologies and packaging that extends the shelf life of fruit and vegetables. In this way, we save a lot of raw materials and resources needed for food production, processing and transport.
- Our Boni chicory also stays fresh twice as long thanks to a new breathable packaging with microperforations. It lets less oxygen in and less water out.
Together for less litter
Packaging should be on a product or in the bin, not discarded on the ground. We're doing plenty to reduce litter, including installing more litter bins on our central sites and in store car parks. We also organise in-house clean-up campaigns and support government action plans via the Comeos trade federation, waste management company Fost Plus and Fevia, the federation for the Belgian food industry. Combatting litter benefits everyone and also reduces the amount of microplastics that end up in the soil and water.
What other plans do we have in store for the future?
What are we doing as part of the retail sector as a whole?
Obviously, Colruyt Group is making the biggest impact on the packaging for its home brands like Boni Selection and Everyday. Just like other Belgian retailers, we have signed up to two objectives for our home brands:
We are also talking to suppliers of well-known national brands to discuss how we can work together to make packaging more sustainable. And, along with the entire Belgian retail sector and waste management company Fost Plus, we have committed to several ambitious objectives:
Searching for packaging for the future
Our R&D team is working with producers, knowledge institutions and universities on research projects involving new packaging, including the life cycle of materials. Projects include:
- inPaper: using paper in packaging
- GLOWPACK: searching for intelligent/sustainable packaging
- CircoPack: better food packaging
- Refoil: recycling or reusing complex packaging materials
- We are aware of the issues relating to microplastics and we are currently mapping which links in our logistics chain represent an additional risk of microplastics entering the water or soil.