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How retailers from supermarkets to department stores are working to improve their sustainability in 2021

More unpacked products are now available at Waitrose

Multichannel retailers from John Lewis to Sainsbury’s, Aldi and Asda are continuing to introduce fresh ways to improve their sustainability as they move into 2021. They are taking action in order to meet the environmental targets they have previously pledged, and to meet customer demand. Meanwhile, eBay says demand is growing on its marketplace for the recycled and refurbished furniture sold by sellers including ClearCycle. 

Moving towards net zero

The John Lewis Partnership says today that it is the first retailer to sign up to support Prince Charles’ Terra Carta agenda for sustainable action, part of his Sustainable Markets Initiative . The retail group has previously pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions across its operations by 2035. Its transport fleet will run on biomethane gas – derived from food waste – by 2028, while its own-brand product packaging will be recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2023. At supermarket Waitrose, it will source food only from carbon net zero UK farms by 2035, while department store John Lewis says all product categories will feature a buy back or take back solution by 2025, and key raw materials in its own brand products will be from sustainable or recycled sourced by 2025. 

Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, says: “HRH The Prince of Wales has made an outstanding contribution to global environmental preservation and protection for over 40 years and we are proud to support his latest initiative and become a Terra Carta supporter.

“The Terra Carta reinforces the Partnership’s commitment to sustainability and we’re pleased to be the first retailer to support. It will help galvanise our work to put the environment at the heart of what we do. We know we still have a long way to go but each day we are making progress.”

Supermarkets act on plastic 

Sainsbury’s today announces that it is trialling an in-store plastic recycling system that it says could help to save 7,000 tonnes of plastic a year. It is tackling hard-to-recycle polypropylene (PP) film, such as salad bags, frozen food bags, biscuit and cake wrappers in a new system that it is trialling in 63 Sainsbury’s supermarkets in the north east. This will help it towards its target of halving its use of plastic packaging by 2025 and becoming net zero by 2024. 

The retailer says the trial is the largest of its kind in a UK supermarket that specifically tackles PP film. Customers will be able to put PP packaging in the same recycllng bins that the supermarket currently uses in-store to collect PE plastics. That means all carrier bags along with bags and wrappings from fresh and dried food, and general merchandise can be recycled in one place. The ambition is to extend the system across all of its supermarkets by the end of 2021. 

Claire Hughes, director of product and innovation at Sainsbury’s, says: “Sainsbury’s is dedicated to trialling and testing new initiatives as part of our ongoing commitment to make it easier for customers to recycle. We hope that by trialling flexible film recycling points in our stores and accepting more of the packaging that our customers may be unable to recycle at home, we are helping our customers reduce plastic waste. We’ll listen to feedback from our colleagues and customers before we roll out the flexible plastic packaging recycling scheme wider. 

“As we work to reduce, reuse, replace and recycle plastic packaging, we’ll continue to find collaborations, working with our suppliers, academics and organisations such as WRAP to explore innovative ways to reduce and recycle more of our packaging.”

Dr David Moon, head of business collaboration at WRAP, says: “We welcome Sainsbury’s trials of polypropylene film recycling in stores across so many locations in the North East. Developing solutions to overcome the challenge of recycling flexible plastic packaging is a priority for The UK Plastics Pact. Collection points for films at these Sainsbury’s stores is an important step in the right direction, building on their trials of polyethylene film collections.

“We need all supermarkets to collect all plastic films, adopt consistent messaging and share their insights to make this work. WRAP urges other retailers to ensure that flexible plastic packaging can be easily collected for recycling throughout the UK.”

• Aldi is reshaping some of its Easter eggs as it removes two million pieces of plastic from its seasonal chocolate range and makes six of its Easter lines completely free of plastic. The eggs will have a square shaped bottom so they no longer need to be supported with plastic packaging. One fully-sustainable chocolate box will have an insert made of recycled potato skins, while previously-plastic windows will instead use a compostable cellulose film. Altogether, the supermarket expects to remove 29 tonnes of plastic from its Easter range. 

The measures are set to help Aldi meet its own target of using only reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by the end of 2025. 

Richard Gorman, plastics and packaging director at Aldi UK, says: “We’re committed to eliminating plastic wherever possible, and the changes to our Easter range are a great example of removing unnecessary plastic that we can all do without.

“We know our customers want to protect the environment, and it is changes like this that make all the difference.”

• Asda will this year remove a million pieces of plastic from its stores as a result of working with packaging specialist DS Smith to find a sustainable alternative for the shelf edge labels used in temporary in-store displays. 

The supermarket is working towards a target of cutting plastic in its own brand packaging by 15% by the end of this year, while packaging specialist DS Smith aims to remove a billion pieces of plastic from supermarket shelves by 2025.  The two have worked together to rethink the way they use shelf-edge labels on temporary in-store displays, which previously used PVC plastic that could not be disposed of in a sustainable way. The two developed a solution that uses adhesive and cuts plastic out of displays altogether. As a result, fewer than 5% of point-of-sale displays now contain plastic. Over the course of a year, this is calculated to mean savings of about eight tonnes of plastic waste and 21 tonnes of CO2. 

Angus Jones at DS Smith says: “This particular advancement is a great example that any step towards sustainability is a step in the right direction and the benefits that our customers can reap when they make subtle but impactful changes are second to none. We look forward to continuing our work with Asda as it advances further onto its sustainability journey.”

Lisa Walker of Asda says: “Removing unnecessary plastic is at the top of our minds and is also very important to our customers.  Using less plastic enables us to minimise our environmental impact and we are continually striving to identify opportunities to remove plastic from our business, in favour of innovative and sustainable alternatives.”

eBay reports rising customer demand for recycled furniture

eBay UK says there’s strong demand on the marketplace for environmentally friendly furniture, such as recycled and refurbished items. 

In 2020 the site saw sharp rises in searches for ‘eco furniture’, up by 123% compared to the previous year, for ‘sustainable furniture’ (+171%), ‘refurbished sofa’ (+133%) and ‘refurbished bed’ (+50%).  One beneficiary of the trend has been eBay seller ClearCycle, trading on eBay as ClearDeals Outlet, which refurbishes and sells returns or excess homewares stock from brands including Cox & Cox and Swoon. Its sales grew by 205% in 2020 on 2019 and the company now employs 15 people who service and distribute the products. 

Daniel Hague, ClearCycle commercial director says: “The past year has seen more and more consumers buy home furnishings and accessories online, which has naturally led to more returns too. With showrooms temporarily closed for a good part of 2020, ClearCycle has helped retailers find value in excess and returned stock that would otherwise be diverted to landfill. This has also come at a time when consumers are more willing to shop sustainably, proving that people can still buy high quality furniture and accessories, that’s better for the environment and excellent value for the customer.”

Alex Hiatt, eBay UK home and garden category manager, says: “It’s clear that more people than ever are choosing to invest in the spaces they live in – whether it be buying a new sofa, splashing out on furnishings, or upgrading kitchen appliances. The stamp duty holiday has also given an important boost to the sector, as renters become owners and need to furnish a brand-new home for the first time. Refurbished items are clearly front of mind for many not just because they are more sustainable, but they’re also great value. This customer interest is a trend we expect will continue – that both larger and smaller furniture retailers can continue to benefit from.”

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