To mark World Environment Day, retail giant Woolworths Group has released research results showing that amidst CoVID-19 consumers are still making sustainable choices a priority, and outlines steps it is taking to pave the way to a greener future.
Amidst COVID-19, 70% of Australians are continuing to rank taking care of the planet and making sustainable choices as important to them, according to results from a national online survey of customers and revealed by Woolworths Group for World Environment Day.
Commenting on the research findings, Woolworths Group CEO Brad Banducci said he found the continued importance of the environment to consumers, even at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, “surprising”.
“This is something that we’re equally passionate about and Woolworths remains as committed as ever to creating a greener future,” Banducci said.
“While we’ve made pleasing progress in reducing the amount of plastic in our stores, supported recycling labelling initiatives, and made improvements in energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing and reducing food waste, we know there is still much more to be done to meet our customers and our own aspirations.”
Fresh take on plastics
In the last year, Woolworths has removed 237 tonnes of plastic packaging in its fresh produce department. In the last six months, further plastic reducing initiatives have included moving out of plastic clamshell and into adhesive tape for bananas (64 tonnes reduction in plastic), replacing rigid plastic trays with pulp fibre on tomatoes (45 tonnes), moving to a paper tag on broccolini (19 tonnes), and downgauging plastic film by 30 per cent in weight on carrots (61 tonnes) and potatoes (70 tonnes).
The tray Woolworths uses for its sweet potatoes and organic apples is now made of recycled cardboard, rather than plastic. Woolworths has also started a trial to switch plastic packaging in its popular Fresh Food Kids range of apples, pears and bananas to easy-to-recycle cardboard boxes.
But wait, there’s more…
The list of plastic packaging reductions is extensive, and includes transitioning Woolworths own brand 600ml spring water bottles to recycled plastic content, and removing plastic straws from shelves (approximately 134 million plastic straws have been removed from circulation).
In a groundbreaking initiative, Woolworths will be partnering with Loop from 2021, where Australian grocery shoppers will be able to receive products from their favourite brands in reusable containers, delivered right to their doors.
The retailer is also a strong supporter of RedCycle, and over the past approximately 10,600 shopping trolleys’ worth of soft plastics have been recycled through its national in-store RedCycle program. As a result, more than 1378 tonnes of soft plastics has been repurposed into useful items like outdoor furniture and benches for community groups and stores.
Woolworths was also the first supermarket to adopt the Australasian Recycling Labelling (ARL) on own brand products. Each label clearly tells the customer how best to dispose of each type of packaging, from plastic tubs to plastic film.
Since Woolworths removed single-use plastic bags in 2018, more than six billion bags have been taken out of circulation. Taking this progress a step further, this week Woolworths has also started to offer paper shopping bags made from 70 per cent recycled paper as an alternative to the reusable plastic bags it sells.
Food waste prevention is another priority for Woolworths – all stores now have food waste diversion partners in place. Over the last twelve months, the supermarket has diverted over 33,000 tonnes of food waste from landfill to its food relief partners or donated to farmers as feed stock.
The Odd Bunch range at Woolworths helps farmers sell more of their produce that may otherwise go to waste. According to Woolworths, customers have now bought over 156,000 tonnes of The Odd Bunch fruit and vegetables since it launched in 2015.
Across Australia, Woolworths has been working closely with OzHarvest, Foodbank and FareShare to assist their hunger relief efforts and currently donate the equivalent of over 346,000 meals each week. Woolworths also recently became the sole retail partner of the $70 million Government funded food waste Co-operative Research Centre (CRC). The CRC was established to find new ways to reduce household food waste, which costs the average Aussie household up to $3,800 each year. It’s estimated $20 billion is lost to the economy through food waste each year.
Woolworths Group says it will continue to invest in a range of initiatives to optimise energy use across stores, distribution centres and support offices. Investments are being made to switch all lighting in stores to LED, improve efficiency in refrigeration and air conditioning, with over 120 Woolworths Group sites (Supermarkets, Endeavour Drinks, Big W) with solar panels installed.
The reductions in the past year equates to enough electricity to power more than 10,000+ homes. Woolworths has also installed 400kW PV solar and 250kW / 500kWh Tesla Powerpack battery at its Sydney Liquor Distribution Centre and says it will reduce its emissions by 60 per cent by 2030 compared to its 2015 baseline.
This deep-dive into the results of each of these initiatives, however simple some may seem – like switching a broccoli tag from plastic to paper – shows just how the cumulative effect of these steps will propel us faster on our journey towards a circular economy and a greener future.