Challenges

Circular super markets

Everyone goes to the supermarket. This is why there are recycling posts there for bottles, batteries and lamps. It is a convenient place for a collection point.

My idea is to expand these supermarket collection points to include the collection of reusable plastic or glass containers. The supermarkets can start this transition to reuseable containers with their own branded products. Albert Heijn for example has many own branded products - a lot already in glass containers. The energy (CO2) used to clean a glass bottle and put a new label on it is significantly less than that needed to remake a bottle from recycled glass. Where glass is not practical (e.g. a butter tub) these could be redesigned using high quality, reusable plastic packaging.

The attached photo is of an Albert Heijn biolobigical ketchup bottle. With this product they are already halfway there - having replaced the standard plastic bottle with glass. Now all they need to do is provide a way for customers to bring it back. 

The technology that allows the electronic collection of drink bottles already exists in supermarkets, this just needs to be expanded to include other food containers. People are already very familiar with returning bottles to the supermarket - even crates of glass bottles. So this idea does not require significant behavioral change. High quality plastic containers would also have the advantage of being light (for ease of transport) and stackable (to reduce volume).

Supermarkets have evolved to become the source of most of our food - and therefore much of our packaging. In the same way, I see supermarkets being the place we go to return the packaging - it is convenient and we are doing it in part already. I see supermarket activities being expanded to process (clean and reuse) this packaging and allow it to be reinserted into the economy.

p.s. I buy the AH ketchup in the glass bottle, but I like a the convenience of a plastic squeezy bottle. So I transfer the contents of the glass bottle to a squeezy bottle which I continuously reuse. I am working on an innovation that makes it easier to remove the ketchup from a glass bottle :-)

Orgainc ketchup in a glass bottle

Comments (4)

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How can this be improved?
Kate Rushton
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  • Hi Claude! This is a super detailed and thorough submission. This comment of yours made me think - "I buy the AH ketchup in the glass bottle, but I like a the convenience of a plastic squeezy bottle. So I transfer the contents of the glass bottle to a squeezy bottle which I continuously reuse. I am working on an innovation that makes it easier to remove the ketchup from a glass bottle :-)"

    What if you could buy a giant glass bottle for the ketchup that could be decanted multiple times into a squeezy plastic bottle? This giant bottle might be a lot cheaper than lots of smaller bottles. The main issue would be hygiene and avoiding contamination.

    Idoia Letona Castrillo
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  • Hi Kate! Actually, larger sizes usually are lot more cheapear than smaller sizes, beacause of packaging cost mainly.
    The issue with large sizes (when food/drinks) is that they run out of date... and in the case of this ketchup that I see that it's an ecologic product, it probably doesn't have many food preservatives.
    Buying larger sizes is always better, due to the cost and due to the environmental impact of the packaging, but when talking about perishable goods, I believe more issues need to be taken into account...

    How can this be improved?
    Federica Parisi
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  • I really like this idea! It shows how little of the current infrastructure need to be changed to have great environmental benefits.

    What might be lacking is a strong enough incentive for retailers to change the current state of things. Although there would be a future saving from the purchase or production of disposable containers, the initial costs of setting up the structure for extra collection and sterilization might be a big downside for a company.

    I think local governments should design incentives for the virtuous retailers that undergo this kind of beneficial changes.

    Claude Dewerse
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  • Hi Federica, thanks for your comment.
    I think that smaller retailers may struggle to do this, but I am imagining the key players (at least initially) would be the larger supermarkets who have their own brands that they control - here in the Netherlands that would be Albert Heijn, Jumbo, Hema, Lidl... Typically with new big ideas, it is the larger companies that have the capital to invest time and money and to lead the way.
    I also think there are strong incentives for retailers to change. There are three types of business value that could be created here:
    1.Sourcing value - reducing direct costs by closing the loop. Yes, there would be initial investment needed, but washing a bottle must be so much cheaper than making a new one so this would pay back. Also, the circular economy is about long term thinking.
    2.Environmental value - reduced CO2 footprint and improved green image.
    3. Customer value - increased customer loyalty and satisfaction, and superior brand protection.
    Albert Heijn are already in the game: https://www.esmmagazine.com/albert-heijn-opens-first-circular-economy-s…
    Here is a way to keep pushing the boundaries.