METRO reduces its plastic footprint: By 2025, a further 10% of total plastic packaging weight is to be reduced in the own brand assortment

17 November 2021
Since 2014, the wholesale specialist has been working on an ambitious packaging optimisation initiative in its own brand assortment. To date, several hundred tonnes of packaging waste have been permanently saved. But savings are only one part of the strategy.
METRO further reduces its plastic footprint
  • METRO has been working on packaging optimisation since 2014
  • As part of its commitment to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy, METRO eliminated nearly 500 tonnes of plastic packaging between 2018 and 2020
  • By 2025, the wholesale expert aims to reduce the total annual weight of plastic packaging by a further 10%
  • Whether disposal costs, plastic tax or the obligation to offer reusable dishes: METRO always keeps the challenges of its professional customers in mind

By 2025, METRO aims to save a further 10% of the total weight of plastic packaging in its own-brand range. This was announced by the international wholesaler today in connection with the publication of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's annual New Plastics Economy Report. In this context, METRO reports on the current status of its efforts to decisively reduce its own plastic footprint by 2025. The company's packaging optimisation programme pursues various goals, including the exclusion of certain materials, the use of alternative raw materials, pilot tests with reusable packaging and test procedures for more efficient recycling. In this way, the wholesale company also has solutions for the challenges of its 16 million professional customers in gastronomy and independent retail in mind. With the METRO Plastic Initiative, METRO is also creating a framework that transports topics such as recycling and the appreciation of resources to the numerous guests who eat, order or shop at METRO customers worldwide every day.

Status quo and new goals

In October 2018, METRO announced its intention to decisively reduce its own plastic footprint by 2025 by pursuing the following goals:
  • offer reusable, recyclable or compostable alternative products
  • supporting our customers in the transition phase
  • promote the move towards a circular plastic economy.

Already since 2014, the wholesale specialist worked on a packaging optimisation initiative in the own brand assortment, permanently eliminating over 400 tonnes of packaging material by 2018. In the same year METRO joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy (internal link: https://www.metroag.de/en/news/2018/10/29/metro-signs-ellen-macarthur-foundation-global-commitment) with the goals of, among other things, eliminating questionable and/or unnecessary plastic packaging, advancing reusable packaging and ensuring that 100% of plastic packaging is easy and quick to handle and can be safely reused, recycled or composted by 2025. In the "New Plastics Economy Spring Report 2019", METRO also committed to saving an additional 300 tonnes of plastic packaging by 2023. A target that was already exceeded by the end of the financial year 2019/20 with 491 tonnes of permanently saved plastic packaging material. As of today, 18 METRO countries and the international purchasing units are actively participating in the packaging optimisation initiative. The focus is not only on reducing plastic material. Packaging is designed for recycling right from the start, harmful substances such as PVC and EPS are replaced, black colour particles are eliminated. Thousands of packaging units have already been successfully reworked in this way.

Supporting our customers

Less plastic means less packaging waste for customers

Plastic is a big issue for a wholesaler like METRO, which specialises in food. Only with appropriate packaging can high quality and hygiene standards as well as product shelf life be guaranteed. The challenge is to design packaging in such a way that it meets the quality and handling challenges placed on it, but has as small an ecological footprint as possible, for example by being made from renewable raw materials, recyclable or reusable materials. METRO's 16 million professional customers also benefit from appropriately designed packaging. Less plastic means less packaging waste and thus a reduction in waste costs. With the introduction of the "Plastic Tax" at EU level, the burden on companies that use virgin plastic in their packaging will also increase. The METRO countries Spain (2022) and Italy (2023), for example, have already announced a corresponding tax. Less plastic, especially in the form of newly produced plastic, also means financial relief here.

By using better materials, restaurateurs and independent retailers also demonstrate to their customers that they are addressing the highly sensitive issue. For example, 26% less plastic material is used in the packaging of certain sausage specialties under METRO's own brand. This not only means less packaging waste for customers, but also 28% more units per pallet that METRO distributes to its stores - and thus further positive ecological effects. The bags of METRO Chef organic carrots are completely compostable and the outer packaging of private label disposable plates, for example, has been replaced by cellulose and is thus now 100% plastic-free. With revised, clear symbols on its own brand packaging, METRO informs its professional customers about the materials used, how they have been reworked and their recyclability.

Revised icons inform METRO customers on packaging specifications

Promoting a circular economy

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, ordering and delivery services in the food service industry have experienced exponential growth and with it the demand for corresponding delivery packaging. METRO has been able to respond to this with a wide range of products, some of which include compostable packaging made from renewable raw materials such as bagasse, paper and cardboard or bamboo. From 2023, restaurateurs in Germany will also be required to offer reusable options for all to-go solutions, i.e. dishes that rotate in a deposit system, for example. METRO plans to test a corresponding reusable system in its own corporate catering, which now has a delivery system at the Düsseldorf campus, in order to gather experience and share it with its own customers.

Another reusable system at store level is being tested by the national subsidiary METRO France in 10 selected METRO stores in the Ile-de-France region from the beginning of 2022. Together with the LOOP solution initiated by the recycling company TerraCycle, customers will then be able to buy fast-moving items such as olive oil, mayonnaise or sauces in reusable containers subject to deposit, which can be returned empty to the store, professionally processed and then refilled.

Digital watermarks shall decisively improve recycling processes

With its affiliation to the HolyGrail 2.0 project, METRO also supports an industry-wide initiative that aims to increase the recyclability of packaging through a system of digital watermarks. Printed stamp-size across the board on the packaging, the codes are to be able to communicate to corresponding technology in sorting plants exactly how they are to be recycled. A first semi-industrial test is currently underway at the Amager Resource Center in Copenhagen. At the moment, METRO is examining which own-brand packaging can be included in the test series. Over 130 companies and organisations have joined the initiative since its launch in September 2020. HolyGrail 2.0 is led by the European Brands Association AIM and supported by the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.

METRO also supports the development of recycling and disposal systems in countries that do not yet have a corresponding infrastructure. In France, for example, METRO customers can recycle their plastic waste free of charge in appropriate containers at selected METRO car parks. In Ukraine, as part of the zero waste strategy, METRO offers to its customers 11 waste collection points as well as reverse vending machine for plastic beverage bottles.

METRO Plastic Initiative

In June 2021, METRO launched the METRO Plastic Initiative together with the Canadian social enterprise Plastic Bank, 14 selected global suppliers and its own-brand assortment as well as its 16 million professional customers. With this initiative, METRO is shining a light on products with more sustainable packaging, sensitising its customers towards responsible buying behaviour and the importance of recycling. During corresponding campaigns in the store, customers' attention is drawn to the topic of packaging and disposal.

Many people are concerned about the issues of plastic waste and ocean pollution. With the METRO Plastic Initiative, METRO gives its professional customers the opportunity to show consumers in their restaurants, bars, cafés and kiosks that they are taking responsibility – and even go beyond. Because METRO’s partner Plastic Bank works with collectors in impoverished coastal regions who exchange wildly discarded plastic waste at local collection centers for a premium that they can use to provide themselves and their families with necessities like food and clothing or the access to education, for example. The collected plastic, in turn, is reintroduced into the material cycle by processing it and offering it as Social Plastic® for the production of new packaging. In the first year of the partnership alone, the METRO Plastic Initiative aims to stop 65 million plastic bottles, the equivalent of over 1.3 million kilos of plastic waste, on their way into the oceans.

With Plastic Bank, METRO jointly fight plastic pollution of the oceans at source