Colruyt, sustainable vision double wrapped in plastic

This summer, Colruyt turned out to be the largest polluter of the Brussels canal according to the results of our Brand Audit. The supermarket itself refused to respond to the news in front of the press cameras. They did communicate in writing that they are fighting against litter and that they offer their packaging as sustainably as possible. We investigated and found just the opposite. Colruyt adds unnecessary double plastic packaging to its products, thus creating a gigantic mountain of plastic waste.

Read also: Results of our Brand Audit and our reaction on Colruyt’s reaction in the press.

After a visit to one of the Colruyt stores, we noticed 171 different products with double plastic packaging, ranging from wine, coffee and shampoo to dog food and beer. We contacted all producers and the system is clear. To achieve larger sales volumes, Colruyt packages multiple units of the same product together. The producers are still given the choice to do this themselves, but since no one has the infrastructure for this, Colruyt does it itself and then sends the invoice for the extra packaging to the producer.

An example: brewers supply Colruyt with glass reusable beer bottles in reusable deposit beer crates, completely zero-waste. Colruyt then takes 6 bottles out of this, wraps them in plastic packaging and puts them on the shelves. And this for all beer and the 170 other products in the hundreds of Colruyt stores. Given the supermarket’s enormous sales figures, this amounts to a gigantic mountain of unnecessary plastic waste. For beer bottles, there may be the option to bundle 6 bottles together with a small cardboard plate only at the top, but Colruyt does not want this, it must be a fully wrap-around packaging to avoid customers only buying 1 or 2 bottles.

Some of the producers have already raised the issue of double plastic packaging with Colruyt, it does not fit their image, but to no avail. The image of Colruyt itself has been brightened up with renewable energy and a lot of communication about planting trees. However, the reality for their core activity, selling products, is different; in the supermarket itself there is little evidence of sustainability or avoiding litter. The discussion today should be about consuming without packaging, as is possible for so many products and also happens in bio stores. At Colruyt they are still miles away from that with their double plastic packaging.

We are addressing this because this unnecessary packaging contributes to litter. Plastic Overshoot Day falls on December 11 in Belgium. That is the day when the amount of plastic waste generated exceeds the waste processing capacity. In other words, from December 11 to December 31, all plastic waste produced in Belgium ends up in nature and ultimately into the sea via waterways. There they pose an enormous danger to marine life and ultimately this plastic ends up in our food chain. Millions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year, the plastic tap must be turned off. That is why it is completely irresponsible that a supermarket such as Colruyt pumps huge amounts of unnecessary plastic packaging into the consumption chain.

Why more is this unnecessary plastic packaging a problem?

  • Thousands of types of additives in plastics are dangerous to our health.
  • Microplastics have already been found in the lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys and even in the placentas of newborn babies.
  • Plastics contribute to global warming at every stage of life; in 2019, the global production and combustion of plastics resulted in carbon emissions equivalent to 189, five hundred Megawatt coal-fired power stations.
  • Globally, 430 million tons of plastic are produced annually, which is equal to the weight of the entire world population. And the speed of production is still increasing.
  • Colruyt’s package sales probably also cause extra food waste. In Europe, 58 million tons of food are wasted every year, 54% of which is wasted in our households. One of the reasons for this is excessive purchases, the consumer buys more than he needs.

Colruyt’s way of selling products shows a complete disconnect from the current situation, as if we are not facing a triple planetary crisis of global warming, pollution and biodiversity loss.

Alternatives such as a plastic strap around some products or increasing the share of recycled plastic in the packaging cannot be solutions or intermediate steps. The only goal should be to completely phase out all unnecessary packaging, as France plans to do by 2025. With their Loi Anti-gaspillage, they also want to completely ban all single-use plastic packaging by 2040. Large or small, recyclable or not, the packaging is harmful to the climate and the environment.

What should be done then?

Colruyt should completely abandon this double packaging and sell per unit. What’s more, they should sell packaging-free products wherever possible. This should be generally applied in all supermarkets. Only in this way can we protect people, animals, the environment and the climate against the consequences of plastic pollution. That is why we would also like to call on the Flemish, Walloon and Brussels governments to implement policies that make it impossible for companies such as Colruyt to put unnecessary amounts of plastic on the market. They won’t stop on their own.

View at the bottom of this page all products that are double-packed in plastic in one Colruyt store.

Update 18/12/23:

Our press release led to several news reports. with one of them for TV. Colruyt refused again to appear in front of the camera and communicated different information than we received from them earlier. Find out here in this video and read their email below.

Email Colruyt: