In a three-part series, we shed light on Greiner’s current sustainability performance. Here in detail: Greiner’s circular economy balance 2021 and which measures we are taking to improve it.
The world is facing multiple crises – climate, energy, inflation, war in Europe, pandemic – yet one enormous challenge is almost in danger of being forgotten: the continuous pollution of our environment by plastic. Yet 11 million tons of plastic waste continue to enter the world’s oceans every year. The consequences of this littering are almost unimaginable: Almost every species is negatively affected and ingested plastic moves up the food chain. Until it eventually reaches people, too. Even if plastic pollution were to stop overnight, the amount of microplastic in the world’s oceans would still multiply in the coming years. For us as plastics producers, it is therefore clear: We must act quickly.
While we do everything we can to produce our products in a recyclable and resource-saving way, we cannot fully control disposal and recycling. Consumers and the respective markets ultimately bear the final responsibility in this regard. Even if products end up in incinerators or landfills instead of the environment, it’s far from ideal. Landfills release methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2. Landfilling can also lead to groundwater contamination and trigger health hazards for humans, animals and plants. Burning plastics produces CO2 emissions, which we have now calculated for the first time as part of our 2021 sustainability reporting. At 22 percent, these so-called end-of-life emissions account for an enormous share of our total emissions.
Pilot projects on mattress recycling, yogurt cups and school milk
We are investing heavily in our own product development to ensure that our products do not end up in nature, landfills or incineration plants in the future, but are returned to the cycle or have a longer life. By 2025, we want to have further developed all our plastic packaging so that it can be reused, recycled or composted. In recent months, a number of pilot projects have been implemented in this regard, such as the “K3® r100 cup” – a yogurt cup that separates itself – or a research project on the recycling of mattresses together with the chemical group BASF. Also, for the first time, school milk in Upper Austria is filled in 100 percent sustainable cups made of recycled PET (r-PET). Together with the other project partners, we received the TRIGOS, the award for responsible business, for this. All these projects boost the circular economy and show what the future could look like.
More recycled plastics in production
In production, we will make greater use of recycled plastics than in the past. By reusing materials we have already produced, we have been able to save enormous amounts of waste and emissions. The aim here is to expand recycling streams worldwide in order to realize a circular economy.
Increase in landfilled waste
Greiner has grown over the past year. However, growth also means more production, and therefore also more waste . Our landfilled waste increased by 848 tons from 2020 to 2021, which caused the share of landfilled waste in total waste to grow from nine to eleven percent – we cannot approve of this development, because the landfilling of valuable raw materials must come to an end once and for all. However, it must be mentioned that this deterioration is also due to improved data quality (while in 2019, 26 percent of all waste was assigned to the “Unknown” category, in 2021 we were able to accurately assign 93 percent of our waste to the various categories). What is clear is that to achieve our goal of zero waste to landfill in Europe by 2025 and globally by 2030, we need to intensify our efforts.
Supply chains must also become more sustainable
We also have a great need for action in the area of our supply chains: Our target of 80 percent of suppliers operating sustainably, i.e., having a so-called Code of Conduct, , was clearly missed in 2021 – as it was in 2020. In addition, there are still no knock-out criteria that mean that suppliers who are demonstrably not sustainable may not be selected. This and many other things will change in our company.
To do this, we will start with a risk screening of all our suppliers based on the industry that they are in and their operational locations. This screening will help us to prioritise which suppliers to focus on when it comes to ESG assessment. In parallel we will add a sustainability criteria in the supplier selection and integrate sustainability criteria into buyers performance review.