Stena Recycling and nemlig.com are introducing a new trail-blazing partnership in the field of plastics that will ensure the re-use of millions of plastic bags every year.
Every year, each Dane uses an average of 85 new plastic bags. This means that approximately 460 million new plastic bags – equivalent to 9000 metric tons of plastic – are put into circulation in Denmark every year. Many of the plastic bags are used when groceries are transported from the store to the home. But the vast majority of plastic bags end up at incineration plants after just one or two trips.
While plastic bags are often preferred and functional, but they are controversial. This is because they are neither re-used nor recycled to any appreciable extent. It is obvious that this is not environmentally sound. In particular, this is not sustainable when we think of the many years it takes for plastic to break down and once again enter the ecocycle.
We are producing plastic as never before and all indications point to this trend continuing over the years to come. Moreover, plastic bags are extremely resource- and energy-intensive to manufacture before they are even used. Due to this, plastic bags have a double impact on the planet - both upstream and downstream. The quantity of plastic, and thereby of plastic waste, is a major global problem, and this problem is growing. Awareness is increasing worldwide, however, of the need to do something about these substantial quantities of plastic waste. Among other things, this has led to China banning the import of plastic waste from the West, and France banning the sale of lightweight plastic bags.
Why has re-use of plastic bags not been a priority? Until now, there has been a lack of willingness to take responsibility, Motivation, the requisite sorting systems and the technology to ensure that discarded plastic bags can be used in plastic production has also been lacking.
But this is now changing. An innovative partnership has been initiated between two large private companies, each leaders in their fields - the leading recycling company in the Nordic region, Stena Recycling, and the Danish online supermarket, nemlig.com.
With its 80 years of experience of responsible waste management and with 19 Danish recycling centers, Stena Recycling is well represented in Denmark. Since the beginning of 2010, nemlig.com has achieved a leading position as Denmark’s biggest online supermarket for everyday necessities. These two trendsetting companies’ innovative partnership is now resulting in millions of plastic bags being re-used. Stena Recycling and nemlig.com have implemented a partnership based on development collaboration. They have invested in sorting systems, trained employees and have developed new technology. The partnership - which has held pilot tests in the Danish Triangle Region the is ensuring that nemlig.com’s plastic bags will be re-used.
“We can see that our customers are reacting positively to the opportunity to return our transparent plastic bags,” says Michael Pilemand, chief commercial officer at nemlig.com. “As a leader in the grocery sector, we have an obligation to develop and promote solutions that ensure that plastic can be re-used and become a part of the circular economy.”
Online shopping is rapidly growing in the grocery sector and nemlig.com is riding the growth wave. Eight years after being established, nemlig.com has around 800 employees, supplying everyday necessities to several thousand Danish consumers each year. The advance of online shopping is due to time increasingly becoming a scarce resource. Online shopping is especially popular among families with children. This has led to growing numbers of consumers choosing to skip the supermarket lines and shop via their computers and smartphones. A family can save an average of 14 working days a year by shopping online instead of in traditional supermarkets.
Nemlig.com hopes to be able to accelerate the shift from conventional grocery shopping to shopping online. While making shopping easy, simple and time-saving has been the primary goal, nemlig.com’s ambitions go a lot further than that.
With its many customers, nemlig.com can easily spot trends. Changes in the market are quickly noticed and one of the trends nemlig.com is seeing is the growing concern of customers about pollution, global warming and plastic waste. This is why nemlig.com wants to further assert its market position by promoting greener and more sustainable consumer behavior. Sustainability is already a core vision of nemlig.com. Compared to the rest of the grocery industry, nemlig.com’s customers already purchase organic products to a far greater extent.
Balanced growth is part of nemlig.com’s DNA. The company is consequently very aware that an increase in online shopping will not only save consumers a great deal of time, it will also protect the environment by eliminating unnecessary trips to the supermarket. Danish consumers drive to grocery stores three to five times each week. With this in mind, nemlig.com is convinced that online shopping for everyday necessities can minimize impact on climate, including CO2 emissions..
In addition to CO2 emissions being reduced through online shopping, nemlig.com is also involved in reducing the extent of packaging. This is being achieved at nemlig.com through the elimination of bulky and brightly colored packaging. There is no battle here for consumers’ attention; this is being fought is online – not in the stores. The company is working with suppliers to supply more products in basic standard packaging. This also entails considerable benefits for the environment. The company is currently focusing on the considerable quantities of plastic.
“It is our clear ambition to create the sustainable supermarkets of the future, and with our rapid growth comes substantial responsibility,” says Mikkel Pilemand. “We can influence consumers’ attitudes and shopping patterns, and we are happy to shoulder our social responsibility in promoting sustainable development. We are giving consumers a choice and this is why we are now taking this step in partnership with Stena Recycling.”
Nemlig.com’s customers receive their groceries in plastic bags. The groceries are packed in transparent plastic bags with separate packaging for dry commodities, fruit and vegetables, and refrigerated products.
But many consumers are reacting negatively to plastic. They would like to see plastic completely eliminated. Plastic bags are perceived to an increasing extent as waste and nemlig.com is often asked to reduce the use of plastic. Plastic is an important resource and is actually much better for the environment than alternatives such as paper and bioplastic, according to a study by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.
With this in mind, nemlig.com went to work on finding a solution that would enable plastic bags to be re-used, leading to the company contacting Stena Recycling, specialists in creating value through re-use.
For decades, Stena Recycling’s specialists have been developing solutions to deal with new challenges., Stena Recycling had been responsible for nemlig.com’s waste management for the past four years. Could Stena and nemlig.com work together to come up with a solution to the extensive plastic waste problem?
The answer was a resounding yes! Over the course of the past 5 years, Stena Recycling has invested more than SEK 1 billion in a large recycling plant in Halmstad on the Swedish west coast that can also handle plastic waste. The new plant converts waste materials into new resources. Besides its high-tech plant, Stena Recycling also maintains close contact with its customers. Stena Recycling’s material specialists make it easy for customers to routinely re-use waste materials through their expert and proactive advice. Improvements in re-use always begin with Stena Recycling’s staff getting to know the particulars of each customer’s operations. And this naturally also applies to nemlig.com.
“Being a logistics company, having an efficient flow is critical,” says Mikkel Pilemand. “Stena Recycling has helped us organize our routines to make it simple and easy to collect and sort plastic bags. It has been of the utmost importance that Stena Recycling clearly understands our business model and can guarantee a solution with the recycled plastic becoming a resource for other companies.”
Once nemlig.com’s employees have collected the waste, Stena takes over, sorting, treating and cleaning the different types of plastic at the plant in Halmstad so that it can be melted down into granulates that can be used in the production of the next generation of plastic bags and other plastic products.
From day 1, Stena Recycling has been applying its in-depth knowledge of technologies, materials and marketing potential to provide expert guidance on how nemlig.com can create a sustainable solution that is in line with both environmental and financial considerations.
“The new partnership shows that waste can create value,” says Søren Keller, product manager for plastics at Stena Recycling. “In these cases, the developing partnership ensures that plastic becomes a valuable resource that can reenter the ecocycle.”
“Stena Recycling is helping us to realize our ambitions in becoming more sustainable,” says Mikkel Pilemand. “At all stages – from initial discussions about the design of the plastic bags to dealing with packaging and structuring of waste sorting – Stena Recycling’s solid knowledge of waste sorting has been very important for us. We are extremely satisfied with the partnership.”
“If handled correctly, systematically and responsibly, we can ensure that transparent plastic can be re-used for many purposes,” says Søren Keller of Stena Recycling. “But a close partnership is required to create results that benefit consumers, the environment and businesses.”
It is not just in plastics that waste volumes are significantly increasing. Stena Recycling is already handling large quantities of all types of waste for a wide range of companies, both at home and abroad. With Stena Recycling’s partnership model, the company’s extensive know-how in waste management is a good fit with other companies’ ambitions to contribute to more sustainable value through innovative solutions.
“If we want to change consumers’ views of plastic and turn the material into a resource, we need to take joint responsibility for the entire value chain,” says Mikkel Pilemand. “As a result of our partnership with Stena Recycling, we not only take responsibility for collecting the plastic bags, but also ensure that the plastic is re-used in producing new products.”