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  • Author: Anne Hildebrand

METRO's Commitment to the Circular Economy

Position Paper to Circular Economy / Plastics Strategy

With today's Plastics Strategy the European Commission takes another step along the road started in December 2015 with the publication of the Communication "Closing the loop - an EU Action Plan for a Circular Economy". Within this context, METRO AG wants to reiterate its commitment to the objectives set out in the action plan, that is, the "transition to a more circular economy, where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised".

>>> Position: METRO's Commitment to the Circular Economy

We are living in times where the "take, make, waste" industrial model has reached its limits: Today we are using 1.6 times of the Earth's carrying capacity. Resources are already scarce and global population will further increase to 9.6 billion by 2050. The marine pollution results mainly from a mismanagement of waste and recyclable materials and calls for a radical rethinking of plastic.

The principles of the circular economy affect our business model in two aspects mainly:

  • The own brands line -i.e. the production and marketing of food and non- food products- is, besides trading, part of our core business. Therefore, advancement and correlating provisions with regard to producers, such as eco-design or extended producer responsibility for a product disposal, are relevant issues for METRO;
  • Moreover, as an interface between manufacturers and professional customers (hospitality sector, trader shops, etc.) and end consumers, METRO can play an important role in driving behavioural change by raising awareness of the circular economy. For example, by encouraging customers to opt for more recyclable products and/or make use of repair and re-use services. METRO regards this aspect as one central driver to transform the European and global economy and wants to engage with its customers to this end.

We are convinced that the transition to a more circular economy is the right way forward and reiterate our commitments to promote innovative production and recycling technologies. We believe that an efficient and smart use of global resources at the beginning of a product life cycle, as well as the effective reuse and recycling of resources at the end of this cycle is fundamental to transform our current system into a more sustainable, resilient and competitive economy decoupled from growth.
Changing from a linear to a circular economy requires a major transformation of our business. We see the transition as an opportunity to make our business more effective and efficient and to increase the added value for our customer by re-thinking our products and services.
To drive this change we think it is essential to implement a cross-value chain dialogue mechanism to ensure a close and trustful collaboration between all actors. Bringing together product designers and recycling engineers at one table and starting collaboration between different sectors of the industry have never been more important than now. Facilitating and advancing this dialogue along the supply chain has been always a fundamental part of METRO's business.

Zoom in

1. Product design

METRO agrees that the design of a product is crucial for a longer life cycle and better recyclability. However, rigid regulation on eco-design can have a detrimental effect by limiting creative and innovative approaches which also foster competitiveness. Instead, appropriate market conditions to foster and incentivise innovation to prolong the life cycle of products are an even more significant driver for change. It is the challenge for all involved to come up with product designs that are on the one hand, more focused on re-use and recyclability and on the other hand, just as user-friendly as the less circular product.

2. Plastic Packaging

Driven by the 3R principles "reduce , renew & recycle,", METRO Cash & Carry has developed detailed packaging guidelines, documentation and monitoring systems to reduce the environmental impact of its own brands' packaging. For the time being we cannot afford to cast aside plastic packaging. However, in close dialogue with our suppliers we are optimising our own brand packaging by using the fewest materials, increasing efficiencies in transport and distribution, boosting the use of recycled materials and minimising post-industrial waste to reduce its environmental footprint. This has led to a total saving of 359,38 tons of material since 2014.
Our technical packaging team is in a close dialogue with our suppliers and packaging industry to investigate innovative, environmental friendly and renewably sourced packaging materials and concepts that are at the same time functional and cost effective.
To further encourage the usage of compostable packaging material and after-use pathway, we would welcome a clarification of the term "bio based" plastics and "biodegradable" by harmonised guidelines on the definition and marking of packaging. However, we must be also aware that many of our ambitions towards a more efficient plastic economy can cause conflict of goals in some cases, for example replacing plastics vs. food waste reduction for instance. More research in these fields is, indeed, needed.

3. Macro- and microplastics

Stopping leakage of micro and macroplastics into the environment, particularly into the oceans, must be a priority for the global community. The survey of IUCN on primary microplastics in the oceans (2017) shows that personal care products and detergents, ranked at fifth place of the most common sources, are the only source where microplastics are intentionally added. This result gives us a mandate to act and start the discussion with our Own Brands' suppliers to phase out microbeads, even though cosmetics and personal care sector potentially contributes between 0.01% and 1.5% of the total amount to aquatic plastic litter. However, potential alternatives also need to be tested to make sure that they are safe and economically viable. Especially, with regard to microbeads added to cosmetics and personal care products, we would welcome a two-fold policy approach that first enables and promotes voluntary actions by businesses - possibly backed up by legislation at a later stage.

4. Recyclability and Secondary Raw Material Market

Building up a secondary market of high quality recycled raw material is crucial to achieve a close cycle economy of plastics, accompanied by an incentive system to trigger the dynamic of supply and demand, to increase the utilisation of recyclable material when designing a product or packaging, and to prevent marine litter on a large scale.

METRO has already started working on the transformation to contribute and response to the new plastics circular economy, always balancing environmental, social and cost efficiency aspects. We continue working on a more circular economy.
If you want to know more about "Circular Economy in practice @METRO", please check our Position Paper on the Circular Economy here

Anne Hildebrand

Information about the author

Anne Hildebrand is Head of Corporate Responsibility at METRO AG Anne.Hildebrand@metro.de