Ahold Delhaize’s Commitment to Sustainability Success 1/20/2021
In 2018, Ahold Delhaize joined the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with UN Environment Program. The focus of the commitment is threefold: to eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuseable packaging models; to ensure that 100 percent of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025; and to circulate the plastic produced by significantly increasing the amounts that is reused or recycled and made into new packaging or products.
As part of this commitment, Ahold Delhaize reports annually on progress against these targets to help drive momentum and ensure transparency. By 2025 all of the retailer’s plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable; it will have increased the amount of recycled content used in our packaging by as much as possible; and will have eliminated unnecessary single-use plastics in favor of reusable alternatives. Furthermore, it will ensure all plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals and the health, safety and rights of all people involved are respected.
In this interview, I speak with John Laughead, Product Sustainability Manager for Ahold Delhaize USA about the progress of this initiative and how the retailer is engaging suppliers to reach its 2025 goal.
Laughead and his team will be participating in ECRM’s Sustainable & Eco-friendly Packaging Program, which will be held March 23 to 25 on the ECRM Connect platform.
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ECRM: Can you give us a little background on becoming a signatory of Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy Commitment?
Laughead: In the fourth quarter of 2018, our global CEO, Frans Muller, challenged our operating companies and our brands globally by making us a signatory to the Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy Commitment. At that time, single-use plastics was something that was certainly important to our overall strategy, but we had some opportunities to say the least. So over the last 24 months, we've really had the opportunity to work along industry partners, alongside industry partners like yourself, and a lot of our wonderful suppliers to really articulate and drive performance in this single use plastics space.
ECRM: It's a significant goal and opportunity. I know that reducing single use plastics has been a major emphasis for you and for the industry at large. How did you land on these goals?
Laughead: On that day when we became signatories to the Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy, a lot of that commitment of becoming signatories came with goals. We really had a strong ambition, but we needed to drive KPIs. So as we reflect back on some of those goals, the first one that stands out is we have a commitment to 100 percent of our products being recyclable, reusable, or compostable by the year 2025. And that's an Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy target. Our second goal is to really strengthen our recycling markets. We hear so often how maybe China has curtailed some of its recycling. How can we bolster the U.S.-based recycling infrastructure? So our second goal is to spec 25 percent, on average, post-consumer content in our single use plastic packaging on our shelf.
The last goal, as we try our best to do our part in bolstering those recycling infrastructure components in the U.S., it's to reduce single-use virgin material. So as we spec that 25 percent post-consumer recycled content, we hope that that virgin use material begins to curtail a bit. So those are our three targets: One hundred percent reusable, compostable, or recyclable plastic; Twenty-five percent on average post-consumer recycled content in packaging; and to do that while keeping virgin material static.
ECRM: What are you doing to drive performance against these goals?
Laughead: At any major corporation, to drive performance you have to have governance. You have to have a systematic way of driving performance. So thanks to a lot of our leadership internally, we've built what we described as our PCE or our Plastic Center of Excellence. It's a group that's comprised of four or five key departments internally and is also engaging our brands. If you think about Food Lion, Giant Food, The Giant Company, Hannaford, Stop and Shop, we have representation in our PCE from each of those groups. We have subject matter experts that evaluate new plastics as they go through our RFP process. So as new materials come in, we have a group that evaluates those. We also have an innovation arm in our PCE and all that's underpinned by our leadership. There's no one single department that's responsible for it. It's a group effort at Ahold Delhaize USA.
ECRM That's a terrific top down focus. So you have big goals in front of you, and the support of the leadership and the governance to make this all happen. But what challenges will you face along that journey?
Laughead: There's multiple challenges weighing in along that journey. Probably the biggest one that comes to mind is just data – data interoperability with our systems. Back in 2018 when we became signatories, one of the first things we set out to do was to build a baseline. How much single use plastic is on our shelves today? And what we quickly learned is we needed more data. We not only needed to know the material type, the resin type of a water bottle or the weight of that resin, we needed to understand the weight of the lid on that water bottle. We needed to understand the resin type of the lid on that water bottle, the label, the overwrap. So our biggest challenge was just beginning to get that data, understanding we have a gap and beginning that outreach. This means understanding the questions that we needed to ask our key suppliers to be able to procure some of that very detailed data.
ECRM: How do you avoid the unintentional alternatives when you're looking at that data?
Laughead: That’s always a big question internally. We certainly want to push progress, but what happens if we move into a regrettable alternative? We don’t want to do that. So one of the elements that we created at the end of 2018 and into 2019 is our Sustainable Packaging Playbook for our suppliers. This playbook really outlines our expectations at a very high level. We've took a triaged approach to this Sustainable Packaging Playbook – a yellow, green, and red approach. So what that means to a supplier is if their packaging today is in the green box, it's a good package, it meets our requirements. It's really helping us reach some of these goals in the Ellen MacArthur New Plastics Economy. If it's a yellow, there may be some innovation needed to get that across the finish line. It's good today, but it's a cautionary product. And if it's in that red spot, it lacks some innovation. There's some opportunities there, so it's really speaking to our suppliers in a clear way on what our expectations are.
ECRM: If I am a packaging provider, a supplier with sustainability design innovation capabilities, what is the best thing I can do to approach Ahold Delhaize USA?
Laughead: If you have that innovative packaging, please use those methods you already have in place – your category managers, your brand leadership – reach out to them, ask them questions about it. They know how to get in touch with their liaison to the Plastic Center of Excellence. We'll look at that package. We'll evaluate that package. We encourage innovation. We need innovation if we're going to meet these 2025 ambitions. So if you're packaging supplier and you're watching this and you have a new, emerging technology or opportunity for us, reach out to your category manager, reach out to your brand leader, let them know, and they will certainly get in touch with their PCE brand representative.