Recycling everything that can be recycled
When products arrive at Lidl’s store in Nöykkiö, Espoo, they are swiftly moved to the storeroom and on to the shelves.
The surplus material is also recycled very efficiently. The staff collects the cardboard, paper and plastic from the packaging to a collection point in the back room, where each material has its own place.
Lidl Finland’s CSR Coordinator Maija Järvinen says that material efficiency has always been a central part of the company’s business model. The international chain has been operating in Finland for 15 years.
“We want to be environmentally responsible, and prevention of material waste plays a huge role in the company’s profitability,” Järvinen explains.
Järvinen points out that the materials that are recycled are valuable, and the income generated from them covers the waste management costs at the Lidl stores and distribution centres.
Fast circulation reduces waste
The storeroom in the Lidl store in Nöykkiö is small in relation to the size of the store itself. This is possible because the orders are planned to meet the demand exactly. Products do not need to be stored for long before they are sold.
“For us to minimise food waste, it’s vital that the staff knows how to order the right amount of stock,” says Järvinen.
Fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables are delivered to Lidl stores daily, which guarantees their freshness and high quality and also reduces waste.
The staff actively monitors the sales and sell-by dates on products.
“When a product’s sell-by date approaches, it’s marked 30% off with a red sticker.”
Lidl also donates food products nearing their sell-by date to organisations that distribute food to those in need and as feedstuff for animals. Even products that are past their sell-by date are not wasted as they are used in the production of bio gas.
Detailed data about recycled materials and products
Lidl has more than 160 stores in Finland, from Hanko in the south to Sodankylä in Lapland. Deliveries to the stores come from the distribution centres in Janakkala and Laukaa, and packaging waste and other recyclable material are returned to the centres in the delivery trucks.
“Lidl’s recycled materials are further processed in European production facilities,” says Anna Liitiäinen, Lidl’s Project Manager in charge of recycling logistics.
Liitiäinen explains that Lidl’s recycling processes are based on a detailed analysis that determines the amount of waste produced in the stores and distribution centres.
“We can tell how much and where we produce packaging waste down to a kilo and a metre. We have also carefully considered the locations of the collection points and the transport to the processing facilities so that it’s easy for our staff to take materials to the collection points and the points are easy to empty.”
Lidl also encourages its customers to recycle more. In addition to the bottle and can collection points, Lidl stores have take-back points for cardboard, plastic bags and batteries.
“We want to help our customers by offering them a place where they can easily take their recyclable materials when they do their shopping,” says Liitiäinen.
Liitiäinen says that apart from the recycling solutions available in the market, Lidl also develops its own processes that improve the operations. This is supported by the group, which operates in 27 countries.
“Practices that have proven useful in one country can be applied in all the other countries too,” says Liitiäinen.
A cardboard baler developed for Lidl is a good example. The horizontal baler in the back room compresses packaging cardboard into 400-kilo industrial bales, which makes their transportation to processing plants very cost-efficient.
Liitiäinen points out that improving material efficiency and recycling processes requires constant work.
“The market for recyclable materials is also evolving quickly, which opens up new opportunities for us.”
New tools to prevent waste
The Finnish Grocery Trade Association (PTY) carried out a project in 2015-2016 in which member companies tried out new tools to manage waste in their stores. Motiva and Kauppavalmennus Oy were the project’s consultants.
PTY’s Director Ilkka Nieminen says that improving material efficiency is a continuous learning process.
“Waste is like throwing money in the bin. That’s why prevention of waste has always been on the agenda. In this project, however, we wanted to create tools that would work in individual stores,” says Nieminen.
The project covered 13 stores where waste was monitored in more detail than usual. This led to the identification of the causes why unsold food products had to be thrown away.
“All the reasons related to the store’s everyday operations. Some waste was due to the staff’s activities, some to the chain’s shared practices or other issues such as automated operations that are used for ordering products,” says Nieminen.
Lidl was one of the project participants.
“We gained new insight into issues that we had already been considering. The project provided us with ideas and tools so that processes designed at the headquarters can be implemented in stores more easily and the staff can become committed,” says Maija Järvinen.
Food waste costs 200 million euros a year
Motiva estimates that the value of food waste in the grocery industry in Finland is more than 200 million euros a year. This estimate does not include indirect costs, such as additional staff costs incurred from the collection, transport and disposal of waste products.
Motiva’s Senior Expert Henrik Österlund says that the waste management operations in the grocery sector have improved significantly over the past few years. One of the main contributions to the improvement is the introduction of ordering systems that automatically forecast the sales of products.
“The pilot project, however, showed us that there is room for improvement. At their best, the pilot stores managed to reduce waste by about 20 per cent over the 11-week period when the new tools were tested,” says Österlund.
The project identified 18 causes of waste, of which 6 were more prominent in all store chains. Österlund emphasises that the elements requiring improvement vary from store to store and can be best identified on site.
“The new tools make the issue more visible at product level, even down to individual milk cartons and bread bags, making it easier to prevent waste. Improvements can also be achieved by clarifying the staff’s responsibilities and training them.”
Text Matti Remes
Photo Sampo Korhonen