The drugstore retailer dm also wants to take a leading role in sustainable packaging. The topic of recyclability in plastic packaging is a hot topic in the consumer goods industry, as dm packaging expert Dagmar Glatz reports. FACHPACK is taking up this topic: Numerous exhibitors, as well as experts in the PACKBOX and TECHBOX forums, will present examples.
The fact that market success and a sense of responsibility are not mutually exclusive has been demonstrated by dm, Germany’s top-selling drugstore company, for many years. The Group, which employs 41,000 people, therefore also wants to be at the forefront regarding sustainability, especially when it comes to the environmental impact of its products and their packaging. With currently more than 12,500 articles in its stores and more than 18,000 in its online shop, this is no easy task.
To create meaningful sustainability profiles, the drugstore retailer therefore enlisted scientific support from the University of Berlin. “To us, it is important not to single out just one aspect, such as the packaging of the products, but to constantly improve the entire ecological footprint of our product range,” emphasizes Dagmar Glatz, who is responsible for more sustainable packaging at dm. Through these calculations, the retail company was able to quickly find and implement the greatest potential for improvement.
Even though the share of packaging in the carbon footprint and environmental impact of products is relatively small, the company has set itself ambitious goals in this area and has already achieved some milestones. For example, by the end of 2021, 33 percent of the plastic used in dm’s branded product packaging was already made of recycled material. By 2025, 90 percent of packaging is to be recyclable and the amount of plastic used is to be reduced by 45 percent in relation to the amount used in 2018. By then, all non-food plastic packaging are also supposed to have a recycled content of at least 50 percent.
Efficient use of materials
The main goal of the strategy is to make savings on packaging material. “This lever is particularly effective,” explains the packaging expert. For example, even in the case of bottles made of glass and plastic, which were already very thin-walled, it was possible to make further reductions on closer inspection. This alone reduced the amount of material used even further. “We are still in the process of trying to save as much primary packaging material as possible.” The same applies to transport packaging, she says. “But it doesn’t serve any purpose to save on product packaging if more transport packaging then has to be used to protect the goods,” Glatz adds. That’s why she is convinced that only looking at the entire system will have the desired effect.
“There is still potential for savings, but it is not infinite,” says Glatz. In that case, she says, savings can only be achieved through new product concepts. As examples, she mentions solid hair shampoos, solid body lotions or solid shaving foams. However, new product concepts must fit into the overall eco-balance: “The reduction of packaging material must not lead to a deterioration in sustainability elsewhere, for example in production.”
“Forum Rezyklat” as a source of inspiration
It is also important not to focus on plastics alone, but to assess the sustainability of all materials. It is necessary to weigh up each product individually, for example, whether glass or recycled plastic has the better eco-balance. “All systems must be developed further, be it plastic, paper or glass,” Glatz emphasizes. This can only be achieved in cooperation with partners along the value chain. That’s why in 2018 the company created the “Forum Rezyklat”, a platform that regularly brings together players from industry, trade, waste disposal companies and politics. “In this framework, I was particularly struck by the fact that it is not enough for dm to take its partners along with it on this topic. Rather, all market participants must be involved so that we all move in the same direction. In my opinion, this is the only way to make a circular economy possible,” emphasizes the trained plastics engineer.
In recent years, the “Forum Rezyklat” has initiated many processes and made progress, such as the labeling of products with a high recycled content or the mapping of the recycled content of packaging materials in the GDSN, the global association of certified master data pools. This makes it possible to transparently communicate sustainability-relevant information in the supply networks. Among other things, this gave dm the opportunity to display the recycled content of packaging at the POS. “When we decided that any product with a recycled content of more than 70 percent would be advertised at the POS, many manufacturers were activated. You could clearly see how the recycled content skyrocketed for many products,” Glatz said. Through the “Forum Rezyklat”, the second and equally important attribute was also defined, namely recyclability. By the third quarter of 2023 at the latest, these values are also to be stored in the barcode of the products. “The fact that we offer packaging that is partly made of 100 percent recyclate shows that the idea that nothing is recycled cannot be true,” Glatz emphasizes. The recyclate content is evident, for example, from the grayish color of HDPE bottles for soaps and the like.
Technological developments for plastics recycling are advancing on many levels. These include CO2 recycling, in which captured carbon dioxide can be used to recover basic chemicals for plastics production. LanzaTech, a partner company of dm, has developed a biochemical technology to produce ethanol from it. This in turn can be used directly as an ingredient in products or as a sustainable raw material for plastic packaging. This raw material is now already being used for some PET packaging. “We have already evaluated this process in terms of overall ecology, and the numbers speak for themselves,” Glatz reveals. At FACHPACK 2021, this process was awarded the German Packaging Prize.
At this year’s FACHPACK, the winners of the 2022 German Packaging Award will be honored. On three exhibition days, the event in Nuremberg will provide a compact yet comprehensive insight into the range of products and services covering the packaging process chain for industrial and consumer goods. The PACKBOX Forum on September 27, for example, will focus on the current situation and challenges regarding plastic packaging.