Recently an active member of our community reached out to Coop & Migros Switzerland to gain a better understanding of their efforts in sustainability. The reply emails were forwarded to us. We believe that the answers given are worth publishing online to educate those who are interested & make people who are concerned aware of the companies efforts.
Email from Coop Switzerland.
Dear…Thank you for your message and for giving us the opportunity to comment.
Coop has been making efforts to reduce packaging for years: We want to save at least 4,000 tonnes of packaging material by 2020 or optimize it ecologically. So far, around 3,000 tonnes could be saved.
Above all with the organic products the renouncement of plastic also corresponds to a large customer request. From 2016 to 2017, we therefore analyzed and tested sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging together with the University of Applied Sciences of north-west Switzerland. In the future, organic fruits and vegetables will be offered at Coop wherever possible unpackaged or with ecological packaging. What is important, however, is that organic products must be offered separately from conventional goods by law and that mixing must be avoided.
In the summer of 2018, therefore, we started to switch from plastic film packaging to Elastitag (a type of rubber band with a significantly lower weight), especially for vegetables, which we exclusively source from Swiss production, and thus guarantee the duty of separation. In the course of the year 2019, vegetable varieties, some of which are imported, are also expected to be converted to Elastitag.
Certain types of fruits and vegetables will continue to require packaging because of their handling (e.g., berries) or because of their shelf life (e.g., cabbage stalk or spinach). In this case, we are in the process of converting existing materials to the most ecological and sustainable alternatives possible.
For products that are packaged in the network, for example, we switch from synthetic to cellulosic net. Thus, by the end of 2018, the entire range of onion plants, as well as all unpacked organic citrus fruits were changed accordingly. The cellulose is extracted from Central European wood (beech) and is already used in our Multi-Bag, the organic reusable bag for fruits and vegetables. Both the multi-bag and the packaging nets are therefore made of 100% renewable raw materials.
In addition to increased open sales and the cellulose networks, we are also constantly converting our cardboard packaging (trays) to grass paper. The cell material for the grass paper carton comes from 40% grass and only 60% from classic, FSC-certified wood.Even with the use of grass paper, a rapidly renewable raw material is used and a contribution to environmental protection is made.Grass paper packaging requires significantly less energy and water in production and can be recycled like conventional board. As a first step, we converted all packaged apples and pears to grass paper last year.
Email from Migros Switzerland.
Thank you for your message about packaging in the Fruits and Vegetables range.
I am pleased that you want the natural resources – Migros pursues the same goal and engages in the framework of Generation M with various projects.
In order to evaluate the ecologically best packaging, we calculate life cycle assessments for different solutions. These show us over the entire life cycle of a packaging on how high the environmental impact is.
From a purely ecological point of view, it makes no sense to completely dispense with packaging because it protects the products optimally during transport and before spoiling. The packaging of a food only contributes to a very small part of the environmental impact of the entire product – usually this is below 4 percent. Looking at the entire lifecycle of a product, namely cultivation, processing, transport, storage, packaging and disposal, cultivation and production are the most polluting to the environment. For the environment, a food that has been spoiled and thrown away due to a lack of packaging is more burdening than its packaging.
Migros already sells many organic products unpackaged today. Organic nectarines, organic melons, organic avocados, organic oranges, organic mangoes and many other fruits / vegetables we provide either with a sticker or banderoles. We drive this and our suppliers wherever possible. In addition, we are constantly reviewing new alternatives. However, organic products must always be clearly recognisable and separated from conventionally produced products due to the organic regulation, which is why we often pack these products. To mark only the display is not sufficient in this case. Because according to organic regulations, we have to make sure that our customers know each product, whether it is a bio article or a conventional article. With an open delivery it is more demanding to ensure this requirement. However, a thin plastic film makes sense in terms of product protection: After a few days, an unpacked cucumber can no longer be sold, but 1.5 grams of packaging keep it fresh for about two weeks.
Next, address the plastic bags in the fruits and vegetables section. Do you already know our reusable veggie bags? These are available at our sales outlets. If you reuse the Veggie Bag at least 6 times, you will be less polluting than using disposable plastic bags.
We also find out which material makes the most sense with plastic bags. Contrary to popular belief, biodegradable plastic does not fare better in life cycle assessments than petroleum-based plastic. Although biodegradable plastic is mostly made from renewable resources and is partially compostable.
The reasons for the poor performance of the biodegradable bag are the cultivation of renewable resources, such as intensive agriculture, monocultures and the use of genetically modified plants (for example, GM maize). In addition, we have to use more material to produce the same stability and tear resistance when making sachets from bioplastics. Another problem is that biodegradable materials partly compete with food production. Bioplastics, for example, are made from corn, potato or soybean starch – plants that are an important food source for many people.
Last but not least, the plastic bags in Switzerland do not end up in landfills, but in modern waste incineration plants. In Switzerland, we use the energy released when burning the sacks to produce electricity and heat.
I hope that with this letter I have been able to show you the efforts of Migros as well as the challenges it poses.