En route to 100% circular packaging
Earlier this year, the last black plastic packaging disappeared from the household product range at Lidl. “An explicit choice to go for more recycling,” says Giles De la Marche, Packaging Specialist at Lidl Belgium and Luxembourg. “The reason is that black packaging is not recognized by the machines of the sorting centres, and therefore they end up in the residual waste and are lost to recycling.”
Lidl is pursuing a rational approach to making its packaging systematically more sustainable. This begins with the choice of materials. “Despite a negative perception among the general public, plastic packaging is often a good option, as shown by our life cycle analyses. They are light, sturdy and flexible, and so offer the best protection for a lot of products while using a minimum amount of material. This also increases their shelf life,” says Giles De la Marche.
Towards fully recyclable
In addition, Lidl has committed to putting only recyclable or reusable packaging on the market by 2025. In the past few years, many types of packaging that are difficult to recycle, including several kinds of multilayer and composite packaging, have therefore disappeared from our shelves. Earlier this year, black plastic packaging also had to make room for recyclable alternatives. These were mainly packaging for fresh fish and meat products. They have been replaced by completely transparent PET containers.
Black is invisible
“Though black plastic packaging has been allowed in the blue bag since the extension of the PMD rules, unfortunately, they cannot be recycled,” explains Mikaël Vandeskelde, account manager at Fost Plus. “They are not recognized by the optical sorters at our sorting centres, and therefore end up in residual waste. Moreover, the market for recycled black plastics is limited. Simply put: you cannot turn black packaging into white or transparent ones, yet the latter are the most widely sought-after on the recycling market. That is another reason why we advise our members to stop putting black packaging on the market.”
On the front row
Lidl knows the problem of black packaging first-hand. The Pre-Zero sorting centre in Evergem is one of the five sorting centres that sort PMD for Fost Plus, and like Lidl belongs to the international Schwarz Group. “The close link with the sorting centre gives us insight into what happens afterwards with our packaging, and so we are able to take into account certain aspects at the design stage,” says Giles De la Marche. “Moreover, we ourselves increasingly use recycled plastics, which means we are closing the cycle.”
Communicating with the customer
From a marketing point of view, the phasing out of black packaging is hardly straightforward. “The decision to use black plastics was no coincidence: black makes the meat look more attractive and gives products a premium look. And yet we decided to stop using it. We are convinced that today’s consumers find the recycling of a packaging more important. We also state on our packaging that it is recyclable, so that customers can better understand our choices. In this way, we also improve the chances of their being correctly sorted and recycled,” concludes Giles De la Marche.