Aldi CEO sees the pandemic as an opportunity – not a threat – to reducing plastic



Giles Hurley, Chief executive officer, Aldi UK & Ireland, 29 July 2020

There has been a lot of discussion about the impact of the pandemic on the plastic and packaging agenda. Some say that Covid-19 will cancel out the recent progress made on plastic across the sector, harming supermarkets’ ability to meet future packaging reduction targets.

As an industry, we definitely needed to make changes at the peak of the outbreak to reflect the increased hygiene measures and customers’ safety concerns – sales of loose produce fell, according to Kantar; some supermarkets waived carrier bag charges on online orders; and Defra pushed back the UK ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, for example.

These were emergency measures to deal with a national crisis but, as the economy starts to get moving again, I do not think we should resign ourselves to faltering in our mission to reduce plastics and packaging.

The UK is cautiously reopening and, as we return to some level of normality, so too will customers’ attitudes towards global challenges such as pollution and climate change. Indeed, a survey by FMCG Gurus found 55% of people globally have now become more concerned about the environment as a result of Covid-19.

The government has set out its recovery plan to ‘build back better’ and greener, so, far from slipping down the agenda, we must ensure environmental sustainability becomes an even more fundamental issue and face the challenge head-on.

In July, Aldi launched our new commitment to halve the volume of plastic packaging we use by 2025, equating to over 74,000 tonnes of plastic. We made this pledge because we know it is the right thing to do and because our customers are just as environmentally conscious now as they were before lockdown – in many cases, more so.

We see the evidence of this across our business – in stores where sales of loose produce are quickly returning to pre-Covid levels, and in the amount of correspondence we receive from customers about plastic.

Far from making environmental issues less of a priority, I firmly believe that Covid-19 has only served to heighten public sensitivity towards them. So, instead of viewing the virus as a threat to our sustainability goals, let’s see it as an opportunity.

Supermarkets and their suppliers need to view the disruption caused by coronavirus as a reason to review and re-evaluate their supply chains. The period around the virus’ peak was a comprehensive stress test of the sector’s distribution models and there are many lessons for us all to draw from it. Let’s take these learnings forward and use them to design waste out of our products, packaging and supply chains.

By investing in the circular economy and triggering genuine change, we’ll be more resilient if we’re ever faced with a similar situation again.

I wrote to all of Aldi’s suppliers earlier in the year to ask for their support with reducing and replacing plastic and non-recyclable packaging across our entire product range. Aldi’s position is no different now, and future buying decisions will be based on our suppliers’ ability to adapt and lead the way with packaging innovations.

Covid-19 had a huge impact on our sector but it must not become a reason for anyone to significantly fall behind in addressing the long-term issue of environmental sustainability. Ultimately, tighter government regulation is looming, including the plastic tax which is due to roll out in April 2022, and consumers conscious of plastic will use their purchasing power to drive change.

We now have an opportunity to reset and re-evaluate. I’m asking all of Aldi’s suppliers to grab it with both hands, and to work with us to reduce plastic packaging and make the changes necessary to protect our planet for the future. We should all do the same.