Moving Boundaries

Sustainability to Go, Please!

The coronavirus pandemic is bringing yet more plastic waste to our environment. This is just one reason customers are calling for alternatives to plastic. METRO offers the food service industry a range of solutions using sustainable takeaway packaging.

Ordering takeaway from a favourite nearby restaurant is a popular option these days – it lets you spice up your life a bit while also supporting local restaurateurs during the crisis. But in the pandemic, takeaway means significantly more packaging waste for our environment. According to the German packaging market research institute Gesellschaft für Verpackungsmarktforschung, or GVM, which collected data on behalf of the country’s nature-conservation union NABU, single-use tableware and takeaway packaging accounted for 346,419 tonnes of waste in Germany in 2017. Other estimates point to the use of some 400,000 disposable food containers per hour in Germany – before the pandemic. And since the first shutdown, the use of food delivery services and single-use packaging has gone through the roof worldwide.

Zurab Natsvlishvili, Head of Global Sourcing, Near Food, at METRO AG, says: ‘The takeaway business has steadily increased in recent years, but during the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve seen double- and triple-digit growth in certain takeaway items. We expect it to remain at a high level, even after the pandemic has ended. We would of course welcome that, but at the same time, we’re concerned about the volume of plastic waste that the takeaway business often generates.’ In addition, the increased use of hygiene products and personal protective articles such as disinfectant and face masks has also produced more plastic waste. And the planet already had a massive plastic problem, even before the pandemic: in the EU alone, 60 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year, nearly 40% of which is used as packaging material.

Bags, to-go items, packaging for shipping – plastic is present throughout the food logistics cycle. Higher delivery and quality standards usually result in excessive packaging of goods. Many restaurateurs still see conventional plastic packaging as more hygienic and affordable than other options – but switching to more sustainable products, and especially to more sustainable packaging, can actually help to boost their business over the long term. That is because customers are increasingly demanding greater sustainability. According to studies, 90%* of customers are at least aware of the issue of sustainable consumption (ONEY, Sustainable Consumption in Europe, 2019); 88%** expect manufacturers to support them in living a sustainable lifestyle (Forbes, 88% Of Consumers Want You To Help Them Make A Difference, 2018); and 77%*** are prepared to spend more for sustainable packaging (PRO CARTON, European Consumer Packaging Perceptions Study, 2018).

‘For at least 2 years now, we’ve seen a clear trend towards purchases of items made of sustainable materials instead of conventional plastic,’ Natsvlishvili says. ‘Plastic consumption is continuously declining, particularly in Western Europe.’ For this reason, recyclable and even compostable products and packaging are an important pillar in METRO’s overarching sustainability strategy. In order to more strongly promote the sustainable use of raw materials and to minimise plastic waste, the company relies on 3 guiding principles: reduce, reuse, recycle.

Sustainability to Go Cup

METRO is actively seeking alternatives to conventional plastics and at the same time wants to continue to meet the high quality and hygiene standards expected by our customers. One solution is sustainable takeaway packaging made from renewable raw materials such as bagasse, which METRO also uses in its own-brand products. Bagasse is a by-product of sugar cane processing. It is a purely bio-based material that is fully compostable. It is an ideal replacement for plastic, as it is waterproof, grease-resistant and heat- and cold-proof. However, materials that in some cases can be recycled multiple times – like aluminium trays, paper, wood, bamboo, palm leaves or rPET – can also be used in more sustainable solutions for takeaway packaging. Various takeaway cartons, salad containers, soup bowls, cups, cutlery and pizza boxes can be made of more sustainable materials and still be just as popular with customers. Natsvlishvili explains: ‘We currently have over 50 items made of bagasse in our product range that can be composted at home. We also have wooden cutlery and paper drinking straws. In 2021, we’re developing more than 70 new articles in the area of aluminium trays, single-use paper items and further bagasse articles under our own-brand METRO Professional.’

More on the topic

Sipping a cool drink with a straw – that takes barely an hour, depending on your thirst and mood. But it can take 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose. The good news: there are alternatives. A comparison of some materials: Different Packaging, Different Decomposition Times.

... in the process of reducing our footprint

Additionally, in 2018, METRO committed to a drastic reduction in its own plastic footprint by 2025. One target was to reduce the amount of conventional plastic used in its own-brand packaging by 300 tonnes by the year 2023. The company had already achieved, and far surpassed, that goal by the end of financial year 2020 with plastic savings of almost 500 tonnes. Another major step towards a reduced-plastic future is the EU ban on a range of single-use plastic products from 2021. Through the use of more sustainable materials and sustainable packaging, METRO is thus steadily adapting its range of products to meet the growing demands of consumers and society – for a future with less plastic.

  • By using more sustainable products and packaging, restaurateurs can enhance their public image while also protecting the environment.
  • Active communication on the issue can raise guests’ awareness – and with it, their willingness to pay higher prices if necessary.
  • METRO encourages customers not only to recycle, but also to reduce and reuse – by doing without unnecessary packaging and relying on multi-use options, such as refillable containers and cups. These are all key elements in the fight against plastic waste.

Read more about our sustainability strategy and the 8 strategic focus areas in our Corporate Responsibility Report.


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