Minimizing waste and not going bankrupt: about how business trying to implement Zero Waste concept

What prevents business to switch to more environmentally friendly forms of management has been discussed at Zero Waste: Between Ecology and Food Safety round table discussion at Realnoe Vremya

Minimizing waste and not going bankrupt: about how business trying to implement Zero Waste concept
Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

Retailers, food manufacturers, the deputy minister of construction of the Republic of Tatarstan, representatives of housing and communal services and eco-activists met at the Zero Waste: Between Ecology and Food Safety round table discussion organized by Realnoe Vremya. They discussed the acute issue of waste minimization (in particular food and industrial packaging) and the factors preventing the realization of the most waste-free lifestyle at all levels. Alisa Sitdikova, the marketing director of Essen retail chain, told about what steps of business in this direction can be effective.

Aleksey Frolov: “Less than 10% of waste today goes for recycling”

First Deputy Minister of Construction Aleksey Frolov opened the discussion with a story about how the ministry of construction is preparing to organize sites where the waste will be processed in Tatarstan. Three large territorial clusters have been designated where new projects are going to be developed and implemented. Aleksey Mikhailovich announced the task facing the ministry of construction today: “To ensure that all fractions that can be processed in the future come as raw materials in various areas of business so that we receive products from waste generated.”

This task looks very ambitious: taking into account the fact that the construction of the recycling infrastructure is planned to begin next year and how little waste from Tatarstan is now processed in principle:

“According to the current situation, less than 10% today goes for processing. Our task — together with regional operators and municipalities to create this infrastructure, to provide a field for small and medium-sized businesses to make as much use of the waste that is now formed on the territory of the republic.”

Aleksey Frolov: “Our task is to ensure that all fractions that can be processed in the future come as raw materials in various areas of business”

Representatives of the ministry of construction are even planning to go to the United States to adopt the experience of the projects for recycling there, especially of plastic, some types of which are particularly difficult to recycle and reuse. On the question of what to do to minimize waste generation, Frolov said that this is the task of all authorities, business and society:

This is a philosophy of life, one short point cannot describe this task — market relations also work here

The further conversation was on the problem of market relations and what prevents the business to implement the concept of Zero Waste.

Maria Yashenkova: “It is impossible to pack milk in plastic for 180 days without sacrificing quality!”

Maria Yashenkova, the director of Bright Consulting, talking about the problem, emphasized that when discussing the topic of waste minimization, it is impossible not to take into account the existing business processes that are in place for a reason. First of all, it concerns the issues of food safety and logistics costs:

“It is impossible to pack milk in polyethylene for 180 days without sacrificing quality! And the most reliable packaging, which ensures maximum safety of product properties, is the one that is poorly processed. We cannot choose the most environmentally friendly material when we are faced with the task to transport the product for 5,000-7,000 kilometres away. Plus, it is logistics issues: when we carry the product through the distribution centres of federal retail chains, we must be confident in its safety and therefore choose the packaging that will preserve the product during transportation. These are wooden pallets and complex foil multi-level packaging. And the transition to other solutions requires a serious revision of the entire business process.”

The third sore point, about which Maria Yashenkova says, is huge inertia of consumption: “There is nothing more difficult than to overcome the stereotypes of consumer behaviour.” Over the past 20 years, we are all so accustomed to convenient plastic so that unconditionally vote for it in rubles, that is, the current situation is under a one hundred per cent economic justification. Before giving up plastic and complex packaging, it is necessary to offer the consumer something in return, and then the question arises: who will pay for it? Neither business nor the authorities are ready to take on the financing of the mass transition to waste-free production, which means that it will fall on the shoulders of the consumer. At the same time, only 10% of consumers are ready to choose expensive solutions every day, like milk in glass bottles. The rest will continue to choose economical rather than eco-friendly packaging.

Maria Yashenkova: “Before giving up plastic, it is necessary to offer the consumer something in return, and then the question arises: who will pay for it?”

Environmental activists see only the final level and campaign to go grocery shopping with a shopping bag, to carry own bottle of water and compost their waste, but the global problem, says Yashenkova, is much larger and more global, and the change in consumer behaviour cannot change all that huge machine that is behind manufacturing and retail. According to her, it is necessary not to move towards the rejection of modern high-tech packaging but to develop new ways of recycling. We need chemical innovations that will allow us to deepen and secure processing to the maximum.

Alisa Sitdikova: “If we start selling milk in non-packaged form, Rospotrebnadzor will turn green and faint”

Alisa Sitdikova, the marketing director of Essen retail chain, shared her successful experience of the first steps that the largest local retailer of the Volga region has made on the way to Zero Waste.

Alisa Sitdikova: “The quality of milk in the dairy machine will have to be constantly monitored, it is very difficult to implement technically”

First of all, Essen stores are developing the sale of bulk products in bulk: groceries, tea, coffee, candy — in all these categories systematically increases the share of bulk trade. In total, over the past year, the network has increased such sales by 5%. For example, if in 2018, 25% of all groceries in Essen were sold in bulk, then in 2019 it will be 27%. The pilot project of bulk sale of tea and coffee has been implemented in several hypermarkets, next year it is planned to extend this successful experience to the entire network. The sale of loose sweets has been increased by 2% over the year.

Alisa Sitdikova announced the opening of the first Zero Waste chain stores in 2021: customers will have the opportunity to buy cereals, sugar, tea, coffee in their own containers, bread in paper packaging. Sitdikova focused the attention of the audience on the fact that the network has managed to reduce the cost of unpacked products and thereby attract the poor: the social responsibility of business is realized in this way as well.

Other activities to reduce the amount of waste used are also being implemented in the network:

“In the bakery segment, we have 100% abandoned plastic bags: now we sell bread only in craft paper. At the box office, you can buy packages: we have long refused free ones. Each buyer we give the opportunity to buy the product in its own container. We're also working on recycling. Now we are being at the stage of concluding contracts for the processing of primary transport packaging (pallets, stretch film, in which the goods come to our distribution centre). Besides, we wondered at what regulations to develop to reduce this transport packaging.”

In 2019, Essen stores have reduced the order of plastic packaging by about 25%. Due to the introduction of a mobile application, the printing and production of promotional magazines has been reduced by 70%: now customers learn about all promotions and offers electronically. Customer loyalty in connection with all these steps has managed to increase by 17%.

Kira Kamalova, eco blogger

The environmental activists asked Alisa whether the network planned to start selling milk in bottling in the own container of consumers. She answered this question quite clearly: no, they did not, and this is due to the strict quality control of products.

If we start selling milk in non-packaged form, the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) will turn green and faint. For cereals, it is easier to implement, but even here we go the thin and risky line. Just imagine: let's say 100 people came for milk with their containers, and 20 of them washed this container badly. Or, for example, they have E. coli in the water supply for some reason. Who will be to blame if they catch it with our milk? How do we prove it wasn't our fault? Besides, the quality of milk in the dairy will have to be constantly monitored, it is very difficult to implement technically

But also what Alisa Sitdikova told about forces to hope for the best: at least, large distribution networks are ready to support Zero Waste philosophy, to invest in its popularization and marketing, to organize unpackaged sale, sometimes to the detriment of themselves. Maria Yashenkova noticed that there is not a single store in Russia that sells bulk products in the container of a buyer who has never received a fine from Rospotrebnadzor for this activity.

By Lyudmila Gubaeva. Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov