The supermarket chain is also taking a number of other steps to help combat the global plastics catastrophe.
Sometimes when I am in a large supermarket I do a little thought experiment that goes like this: I imagine all the food and products in the entire store removed from their packaging – what would we be left with? I then picture the two mountains; a smaller mountain of food and products that will mostly be consumed, and a much, much larger mountain of packaging trash, much of which will end up in the landfill and oceans. It's a good exercise for me because the vision always sends me straight to the bulk bins.
In a way, the big supermarket chains are the gatekeepers for much of what the country consumes. They are the link between the manufacturers and the consumers, and as such, are able to have a large potential impact on things like plastic packaging and waste.Which brings us to news from ALDI US, a chain with more than 1,800 U.S. stores in 35 states, and that serves more than 40 million customers each month. The company has announced new commitments to plastic packaging reduction.
According to a press statement, the company is uniquely positioned to influence how its products are sourced, produced and brought to shelves because more than 90 percent of the store's range is ALDI-exclusive. The company plans to reach the following set of goals by working with its suppliers:
- By 2025, 100 percent of ALDI packaging, including plastic packaging, will have reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging;
- By 2025, packaging material of all ALDI-exclusive products to be reduced by at least 15 percent;
- By 2020, 100 percent of ALDI-exclusive consumable packaging to include How2Recycle label;
- By 2020, implement an initiative to make private-label product packaging easier for customers to reuse;
- Guide continuous improvement of product packaging by internal expertise and external evaluations.
Of the new commitment, Greenpeace Senior Oceans Campaigner David Pinsky says, “ALDI US is taking steps in the right direction by acknowledging its role in the plastic pollution crisis, and beginning to embrace reduction and reuse. The company has already taken positive steps by never offering single-use plastic grocery bags, ensuring they are kept out of landfills and our oceans."
To that point, indeed, the company explains that they have never offered single-use plastic grocery bags, estimating that this decision has helped keep around 15 billion single-use plastic bags out of landfills and oceans. (Also proving that people can and do adjust to life with these reckless conveniences.)
“ALDI has never offered single-use plastic shopping bags. And while we’re pleased that we’ve helped keep billions of plastic grocery bags out of landfills and oceans, we want to continue to do more,” says Jason Hart, CEO of ALDI U.S. “The commitments we’re making to reduce plastic packaging waste are an investment in our collective future that we are proud to make.”
While these are great goals, for sure, it's becoming increasingly evident that recycling is not the feel-good magic bullet to the waste problem that we've been taught to believe it is. According to Pinsky, to date, only nine percent of single-use plastics ever created have actually been recycled. (And we'd still like to see responsibility for recycling directed more to the manufacturer, rather than the consumer.)
“It’s important that ALDI US and other retailers act with the greatest urgency and ambition to eliminate problematic plastics. While the company might intend to make packaging recyclable or compostable, it does not mean that packaging will actually be recycled or composted," says Pinsky. "We encourage ALDI US to accelerate efforts to reduce throwaway plastics and build systems of reuse for the sake of our planet and communities impacted by the pollution crisis.”
Yet recycling woes aside, these new goals are still positive and will hopefully go far in helping to alleviate some of plastic's burden on the planet; they may also spur other large chains to do the same. And in the meantime, I can now envision a new scenario in my supermarket thought experiment: A third mountain with sustainable packaging that won't end up in the waste stream. Even though I'll still head to the bulk bins...