Circulatory systems

Recyclable Materials & Recycling

Thomas Kyriakis, Board Member, PreZero
Thomas Kyriakis,
Board Member, PreZero

Waste is just recyclable material that is in the wrong place – this fact is our mission at PreZero. A large share of worldwide waste is not disposed right or reused properly – and that is a huge problem for the environment. This is why we focus on a closed loop, which starts by having a completely reusable product from retail and disposal up to sustainable recycling and repro cessing into new products. Our goal: zero resource waste across our entire value chain.

Here you can find out more about our management approach to recyclable materials and recycling

Zero Waste:
We will reuse, recycle or recover the volume of waste that accumulates in the corporation by a significant percentage by the end of 2025. We strive to limit our non-recoverable waste that accumulates within our own company in pilot countries to a maximum of 5 percent by the end of 2022.

Food Waste:
We will reduce our food waste at the Schwarz Group level by 50 percent by the end of 2030. We will reduce food waste in the supply chain for selected raw materials.


of all waste is recycled, reused, fermented or composted. This is the equivalent to 2,260,678 tons (2019)

Implementation and Measures

Recyclable material loops are only truly effective if all steps in the cycle are carried out properly. They start with consumers, for example, when they sort waste after the checkout area, but they also include stages which go far beyond this. The better waste is separated, the easier it is to extract new, valuable recycled raw materials from it. Together with its subsidiary PreZero, GreenCycle has been a member of the German “Gelbe Tonne” (Yellow Waste Bin) initiative alliance since 2019.

Together with the Initiative Alliance Yellow Bin, PreZero, Kaufland and Lidl educate consumers in Germany about good waste separation quality.
Together with the Initiative Alliance Yellow Bin, PreZero, Kaufland and Lidl educate consumers in Germany about good waste separation quality.

PreZero and the initiative work together to educate consumers in Germany about properly separating waste in the yellow bins. As its first step towards better separation quality, the initiative – with the active support of PreZero, Kaufland, and Lidl – held a promotional tour across Germany. The initiative held campaigns in front of Kaufland and Lidl stores in Germany to sensitize more than 20,000 people in a playful and informative manner to the proper separation of waste so that they can do it at home.

Our measures for avoiding food waste are geared to the entire value chain – from production and transport to discounting products which are nearing the end of their shelf life. Our approach for giving away food that can no longer be sold but is still suitable for consumption to charitable organizations such as food banks plays a central part (see p. 50). Our customers can make a significantly greater contribution to avoiding food waste by storing food properly and by trusting their own judgment when dealing with best-by dates.

For this reason, Kaufland and Lidl in Germany have joined the “Too Good To Go” organization as one of the many measures in their “Usually Good for Even Longer” initiative. The organization labels appropriate products to encourage consumers to use their own judgment when assessing the shelf life of food. Its goal is to avoid throwing away certain types of food which can often be eaten beyond the best-by date. Through the program, the retail divisions of the Schwarz Group are laying the groundwork for raising consumer awareness of non-perishable foods on a wide scale.

Despite our forward-looking approach to volume planning, it sometimes happens that food needs to be written off and disposed of. Products that cannot be sold or donated despite careful ordering and discounting before their expiration dates are collected and partially recovered in biogas plants at Kaufland and Lidl in Germany and a few other countries. Other parts are recovered as fertilizer in agriculture and as animal feed and contribute to the production of new food.

The retail divisions, with the support of GreenCycle, are able to reuse some of their food waste for energy generation as well. Lidl also makes use of innovative ideas from startups. Lidl Austria, in cooperation with “Livin farms”, is trying out another method for making practical use of food waste. The young business has developed a process which converts organic waste such as old bread into high-quality proteins and fertilizers. In a test run carried out in four stores in the Vienna area, baked goods from the bakery shop which cannot be sold are collected separately and picked up by Livin farms on a regular basis.

The Viennese start-up has developed a small industrial facility in which mealworms utilize organic waste. The insects are later used as an alternative source of protein, for example as animal feed. The potential of this method is great, since 15 percent of Lidl Austria’s biogenic waste currently consists of old bread. Their goal is to implement separate bread collection in all Austrian stores by the end of fiscal year 2020. PreZero is currently building a similar facility in California.

In cooperation with the start-up "Livin farms", Lidl Austria is testing how food waste can be put to good use thanks to the use of mealworms.

As the world’s largest buyer of Fairtrade cotton for employee clothing, Kaufland consistently puts the concept of sustainability into practice and does this at the end of the value chain as well. In 2018, some of the no longer used employee clothing at Kaufland in Germany and six other European countries was not disposed of but instead was recovered with the support of the Group’s own recycling company GreenCycle. Among other products, the recovered clothing resulted in the production of more than 10,000 warming blankets, which Kaufland then donated to the German Workers’ Samaritan Federation (ASB).

Another exemplary measure for recycling initiatives implemented by our national entities is the “Recicleta – Your Ecomunity” project initiated by Kaufland Romania. This project, which was initiated in Bucharest in 2017, involves an environment- and climate-friendly technology used for the disposal of paper and plastic waste – it has the aim of making separate disposal profitable, even for smaller amounts of waste, and making sustainable disposal possible for individual households, apartment blocks, and schools.

In 2019 alone, the technology made it possible for a record 146 tons of recoverable waste to be collected, and it has enabled a total of 430 tons to be recovered since the project started. The initiative benefits roughly 46,000 residents of the Romanian capital city. In addition, Recicleta successfully carries out educational campaigns in schools – in fact, two tons of the waste which the project collected in 2019 came from collections at 20 schools where appropriate awareness measures were implemented.

In Romania, Kaufland raises awareness of waste separation with the "Recicleta" project.

Materials & Packaging

Jörg Aldenkott, Board Member, Schwarz Produktion
Jörg Aldenkott,
Board Member, Schwarz Produktion

Whether it is drinks, ice cream or nuts, it is not just the content that counts, but also the packaging. Before you can assess how environmentally friendly a piece of packaging is, you need to consider its full life cycle. We, in beverage production, rely on disposable PET bottles with high recycled content and low weight. As a result, we only transport our water in Germany over short distances. Our bottles are light, hygienic, and safe – and the environment wins as well. After the bottles are returned to stores, they are pretreated in our recycling plants and then processed into new bottles. In this way, everyone can work together to contribute to conserving resources and protecting the climate.

Here you can find out more about our management approach to materials and packaging

The Vision of REset Plastic:
“Less Plastic – Closed Loops” is also systematically pursued against an economic backdrop. In this context, we are the first retail group to commit to use up to 20% less plastic and to make 100% of our private label packaging maximum recyclable by 2025 in all countries and business units – starting from production, procurement, and logistics and ending with disposal and waste management.


new plastic saved through recycling PET

Implementation and Measures

The Schwarz Group makes a major contribution to a sustainable circular economy with its unique recyclable material loop for deposit PET bottles, which Schwarz Produktion developed in 2010 together with Lidl and operates for the retail divisions with the support of GreenCycle. Every bottle that passes through a Lidl return machine in Germany is subsequently brought into Lidl’s recycling system.

Bottles taken back to Kaufland are likewise processed in this cycle. The Schwarz Group has succeeded in incorporating all the steps of the PET recyclable material loop under one roof. This makes it possible for us to use our available resources optimally and ensure that we will be able to continue to use as much food-grade recycled PET as possible to manufacture new PET bottles.

With a unique recycling system for returnable PET bottles, the Schwarz Group makes a major contribution to a sustainable recycling economy.

The success of its commitment is best demonstrated by the 1.5 liter PET bottle for the still mineral water of Lidl’s “Saskia” own brand. Except for its lid and label, the bottle has been made exclusively out of recycled PET since fiscal year 2019, and new plastic is not required for its production. PET bottles are collected in stores and then sorted, recycled, and processed into new bottle bodies by Schwarz Produktion. They are subsequently filled in the corporation’s ownbeverage plants and delivered back to stores.

The remaining PET bottles under our beverage own brands, which are manufactured in Schwarz Produktion plants, consist on average of more than 50 percent of recycled PET material. In addition to the use of recycled PET, Schwarz Produktion is also continuously working on reducing the weight of the PET bottles it produces and thus has saved as much as 30 percent of plastic per bottle since 2008. All in all, this weight reduction and use of recycled material has made it possible for us to save more than 60,000 tons of new PET material in fiscal year 2019 alone and thus more than 110,000 tons of CO2.

The Schwarz Group has set itself the goal of examining its use of plastic in all areas of the Group and reducing its use whenever this makes sense and contributes to sustainability. This goal also applies to our packaging. By 2017, Lidl had already listed standard plastic bags with a thickness between 15 and 50 micrometers for use in all of its 3,200 German stores. Kaufland likewise implemented this measure in all its countries in 2019, making it the first retailer in Poland, Slovakia, and other countries to do so.

At this point, no Kaufland or Lidl store in the world offers any kind of disposable plastic shopping bags (< 50 micrometers). Instead, the two retail divisions rely on sturdy permanent shopping bags that are more sustainable because they can be reused, and for the most part, the bags are produced from their own film waste. The divisions also provide reusable shopping bags made out of
certified cotton.

Both retail divisions of the Schwarz Group offer durable reusable nets as an alternative to plastic bags.

Alternatives to conventional plastic bags are also being established in other areas: For example, Kaufland and Lidl offer their customers a wide assortment of unwrapped fruits and vegetables. Both retail divisions also provide durable reusable nets, which make it safe and easy for customers to bring these products back home. Since they can be used a number of times, they are more resource-efficient than conventional plastic knot bags.

The net bags made of recyclable polyester can hold up to five kilos of fruit and vegetables, are reusable, and can be washed in a washing machine at 30 °C. The reusable nets from Kaufland and Lidl are available in all of our stores around the world.

The retail divisions continuously analyze the areas in which packaging material can be optimized or reduced. As members of the European Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (A.I.S.E.), Kaufland and Lidl are committed to sustainability in that area – also through combining products and packaging designs. For example, by changing the formulation of its Formil laundry detergent, Lidl has been able to reduce the amount of detergent required per load from 120 g in 2006 to 65 g today.

While still maintaining 65 washes per package, optimizing the powder detergent made it possible to re-develop the product’s packaging and to reduce its weight by more than 20 percent as a result. Through the optimized packaging, Kaufland has likewise been successful in saving materials for products like laundry detergent, polishers, and cleaning agents. The packaging of six products in its K-Classic line – including the bathroom cleaner and McBride rinse and fabric softener – consists of 60 percent recycled PET. Kaufland is consistently optimizing packaging for its textiles and accessories as well.

In the autumn of 2018, Kaufland began to switch from poly-bags to recyclable FSC cardboard for all packaging for textiles including clothing, accessories, and home textiles; this is how it has minimized its need for plastic by nearly 100 percent and also saved approximately 60 tons of plastic each year.

With the packaging label “Bewusster verpackt” (consciously packed), Kaufland makes it easier for its customers to understand the extent to which new product packaging has been optimized in comparison to the previous one. The logo is applied to the front or back of the optimized packaging of private labels – for example on the sunflower oil as well as toothbrushes, herbal baths and foot care products.   

With new logos, Kaufland and Lidl are creating more transparency for their customers as to the extent to which new product packaging has been optimized in comparison to the previous ones.
With new logos, Kaufland and Lidl are creating more transparency for their customers as to the extent to which new product packaging has been optimized in comparison to the previous ones.

Lidl’s logo “verantwortlicher verpackt” (packaging responsibly) also creates greater transparency for customers. Labelling with the logo “verantwortlicher verpackt” is currently planned or has already been carried out for 170 of over 320 private label packagings, including yoghurt, juice, smoothies, sausage cold cuts and various other sausage and meat products.

For “verantwortlicher verpackt” at Lidl and “Bewusster verpackt” at Kaufland, at least one of the following criteria must be met:

  • Recyclability of at least 80 percent
  • Recycled materials account for at least 30 percent
  • Material savings of at least 10 percent

To improve efficiency and transparency in the logistics chain, GreenCycle has developed its own load carrier: the Heilbronn Half Pallet (HHP). It consists of 100 percent recyclable plastic. At just 6.75 kilograms, it is much lighter than a conventional wooden pallet and more practical to handle.

The high breaking strength of the material ensures stability in the warehouse and simultaneously reduces the risk of accidents for employees. Heilbronn half pallets have a much longer service life than conventional wooden pallets and can withstand more than 100 cycles without damage. In the long run, this means considerable material savings and contributes to more efficient and sustainable goods logistics.

The innovative GreenCycle/PreZero half-pallet consists of 100 percent recyclable plastic.

At Kaufland, a load carrier has been developed which, in addition to considerable ergonomic advantages in the clearing of goods in the store and order picking in the distribution center, also significantly reduces the use of foil. By using the Kaufland folding pallet, almost 50 percent of the foil can be saved compared to the EUR-pallet. In 2020 the rollout of the Kaufland folding pallet will take place in two regions in Germany and the whole of Slovakia.