Sparks Circular economy

A battle on the shelves

 By Paola Arpino
Circular economy

“Less is more”, a wise old adage that is worth remembering at a time when we need to change direction after a long period of consumerism…

It is possible to leave the old ways behind, if we pay greater attention to responsible consumption and cut out the things that we do not really need.
The most important global change is the shift from the last century’s “linear” model of economic growth to a circular economy, as proposed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Essentially, the circular economy is about minimising waste through industrial policies that reduce production and consumption by reusing products.

Time for change

The increasing awareness of consumers of the impact that waste has on the planet, has produced in recent decades a growing demand for more sustainable products. This new awareness can be seen in people’s new trend towards just the “necessary” or “just enough” way of shopping.
One of the solutions introduced is to focus the attention on the components of the product itself, such as, for example, the use of plastic free packaging or even avoiding it.
One possible solution in this area is to focus on the components of the product in question, extending their usability, starting for example with plastic-free packaging that degrades independently or, even better, avoiding packaging altogether.

A “green aisle” in the supermarket

Ekoplaza, based in Amsterdam, is the world’s first plastic-free supermarket, with over 680 products wrapped in biodegradable packaging.
Eric Does (Founder and CEO of the Ekoplaza chain) was inspired to package all the food in his supermarkets in a non-oil-derived, completely biodegradable material by the A Plastic Planet appeal, which criticised the excessive plastic packaging (40%) in food aisles and set a challenge for the entire sector.
During the “Sustainable Foods Summit” organised by Ecovia Intelligence, in Amsterdam, Does took the opportunity to raise awareness among suppliers and consumers about the need for greater awareness of sustainable consumption.

In Amsterdam, Ekoplaza, a chain specialising in organic products, opened the world's first plastic-free department, replacing product packaging with various biodegradable and other recyclable materials (Ekoplaza)

Sustainability and ethics becoming inseparable

The idea of setting up a network of plastic-free shops came from one of the Netherlands’ biggest organic food brands, Udea, as Steven Ijzerman, quality control manager, explained in an interview with Italiachecambia. According to Ijzerman, one of the biggest environmental benefits is that a plastic-free shop improves the lifecycle of the materials, as they use a type of plastic that decomposes into water, carbon and biomass, instead of microplastics. In addition to environmental benefits, plastic-free products also attract customers who are increasingly mindful of the ethical aspects of products on sale. Ekoplaza’s “green aisles” are now in around 70 stores, exclusively within the Netherlands.

Coop: a big Italian brand

Following on from the European Commission’s Pledging Campaign to reduce plastic use in all branded products, Italian supermarket chain Coop decided to sign up voluntarily to demonstrate their commitment on the issue.
Coop Italia is aiming to make all its own-brand products using recyclable, compostable or reusable packaging by 2022, far ahead of the 2030 deadline set out in the EU objectives. The group is working quickly and intends to have innovative solutions in place as soon as late 2019.

Coop has voluntarily joined the commitment campaign launched by the European Commission to increase the use of recycled plastics (Alessandro Tolio, Wikimedia)

Unpackaged food – an Italian speciality

For some, the answer has been to “undress” the product entirely. For example, Berlin’s Original Unverpackt supermarket has banned all packaging and products are sold loose.
The sale of unpackaged items began in Italy with products sold “on tap”. Then, in 2009, Italian retailers began to promote spesa leggera (“light shopping”) by specialising in selling loose products in returnable containers, with the aim of both cutting prices and minimising environmental impact. In Turin, Negozio Leggero (“Light Shop”) was set up and now has 16 stores across Italy, France and Switzerland.
Since then, more and more operators in the business are selling products “on tap”, allowing customers to fill up their bottle in-store, which is an excellent waste and energy saving solution and plastic use reduction.

European Commission targets

The Plan for the Prevention and Management of Packaging and Packaging Waste 2019 presented by CONAI, sets out a number of initiatives to cut waste production, hit new targets for the reuse and recycling of urban waste, and achieve higher recycling targets for packaging waste.
In 2018, the “Circular Economy Package” was adopted by the EU, amending six directives on waste, including packaging.

This explains the grocery sector’s race towards more eco-friendly products, as they seek to reduce the quantity of non-recyclable material and to cut back on usage of raw materials.

Look out for “fakes”

Researchers have been working on a variety of alternative, eco-friendly packaging solutions since the EC Directives came into force. However, sometimes materials that claim to be “plastic-free” actually do not degrade on contact with water, meaning they are just as polluting as plastics derived from fossil fuels.

READ MORE: This packaging will self-destruct by Paola Arpino

about the author
Paola Arpino
Traveling with myself, through Rome, London and Milan, dreaming that one day I could be writing....