Sainsbury’s is switching its private label coffee pods from plastic to aluminium

Image source: Mike Kenneally, Unsplash

Sainsbury’s is switching its private label coffee pods from plastic to aluminium

Thomas Reiner | 18.11.2022

British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s is switching its entire private label coffee pod range from plastic to aluminium. The move is intended to encourage near-household collection of emptied packaging and prevent ten million pieces of plastic every year. The action by Sainsbury’s shows how much pain there is in cycles that are not closed. But we should not forget that plastic would actually be the better choice from a CO2 climate point of view. We have to be careful not to play off the cycle against the climate. In the end, we need both: closed cycles AND climate neutrality.



The announcement from Sainsbury’s came in September: from October 2022, the British supermarket chain said, it would switch all of its private label coffee pods from plastic to supposedly fully recyclable aluminium.


The goal

By switching from plastic to supposedly fully recyclable aluminium, Sainsbury’s wants to make it easier to dispose of its coffee pods close to home and save ten million plastic parts from landfill every year. The move is intended to reassure consumers that their waste is going into the right waste stream and is actually being recycled.

The British supermarket chain sees the switch to aluminium coffee pods as a step towards its goal of halving the amount of all private label plastic packaging by 2025. The company also wants to change and redesign the packaging of other products. For example, the refillable 1-litre sachets for hand washing products. They also want to double the length of toilet paper rolls and thus save 84 tonnes of plastic per year.


Hair in the soup

Sainsbury’s encourages consumers to empty and rinse the aluminium coffee pods with a teaspoon after use. With this pre-treatment, they are optimally prepared for near-household disposal. This is certainly a good thing technically and in terms of ensuring the smoothest and most efficient cycle possible. However, we as consumers want solutions – not tasks. The extent to which consumers actually reach for the teaspoon here remains open.



If we do not close the plastic cycle, plastic will be substituted by other materials. Endlessly recyclable aluminium is one possibility. But we should not forget that plastic has clear advantages over aluminium from a climate point of view. Its CO2 balance is much better even compared to recycled aluminium.

The main advantage of aluminium is that it pays towards companies’ plastic reduction targets. And it is fully recyclable. The Sainsbury’s example just goes to show how big the pain is in terms of (lack of) recyclability.



We need to be careful not only to ensure circularity, but also to be on the right side of the climate balance. We need both. Implementing one at the expense of the other cannot be a final solution.

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Thailand bans plastic waste imports completely by 2025

Image source: Florian Wehde, Unsplash

Thailand bans plastic waste imports completely by 2025

Thomas Reiner | 11.11.2022

Through a three-step plan, Thailand is enforcing a complete ban on plastic waste imports by 2025. The ban is part of the kingdom’s broader anti-plastic plan, which also includes restrictions on the use of single-use plastic products in the future. It has long been clear that circular economy is a global issue – one that is also attracting global attention. Google search word queries show that concern about “ocean littering,” for example, is not a European phenomenon. On the contrary, interest is growing especially in places where people must live with the effects. The point remains: the prohibitions around plastic will not abate as long as we have leaks in the plastic cycle.



Thailand has already been discussing a ban on importing plastic waste from other countries since 2020. One must protect one’s own country and not become a dumping ground for other countries, for example, emphasize the Thai Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Varawut Silpa-archa. The ban is part of a larger plan to reduce plastic, under which other measures have been and will be defined.


Intended measures

Measures already announced include:

  • A gradual ban on the import of plastic waste via a 3-step plan by 2025.
  • A voluntary commitment to reduce the use of single-use plastic products.
  • The drafting of a plan by the Department of Pollution Control for the management of national plastic waste. The plan is to cover the years 2023 to 2027 and focus on four key areas. These include the removal of plastic waste from landfills and its material recycling. According to Silpa-archa, Thailand produces 24.98 million tons of household waste annually, of which only 32 percent is disposed of correctly.


The 3-step plan

The total ban on plastic waste imports will not take full effect immediately, but will unfold over three stages into 2025.

  1. Phase 1 will start in 2023: Thailand will limit the amount of imported plastic waste to what is actually needed or can be recycled. This will be done by determining the demand from 14 major factories in Thailand’s free trade zones. Only the amount that is actually used in production may be imported.
  2. Phase 2 starts in 2025: Only 50 percent of the quantities determined in phase 1 may be imported. Other imports to waste facilities outside the free zones must be approved in advance by a subcommittee on plastic and electronic waste management.
  3. Phase 3 starts in 2025: a complete ban on all imports of plastic waste is enforced.


Unclear impact on the economy

What impact a complete ban on plastic waste imports will have on the plastic packaging industry remains unclear – especially in terms of production and costs. Here, a look at other countries that have already enforced a similar ban may shed some light.


Global issue

Circular economy has become a global issue. It has power and shaping force not only in the countries of the so-called “first world.”

The starting point for the establishment and importance of the topic are grievances such as “ocean littering”. Here, too, it is evident that people do not want to look the other way. Google’s statistics on search queries with the corresponding keywords show this quite clearly. And here, too, it is clear that people’s interest is all the greater in terms of how they themselves are affected in real terms in the world around them and in their lives.

There is nothing to twist and turn: As long as we cannot close the loops of plastic, material-related bans will increase worldwide.

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De-paperization? Tesco trial removes cardboard packaging from branded toothpaste tubes

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De-paperization? Tesco trial removes cardboard packaging from branded toothpaste tubes

Thomas Reiner | 04.11.2022

Tesco is launching a pilot trial in the UK to reduce cardboard waste. To this end, the folding carton is being removed without replacement from toothpaste brands such as Oral B, Sensodyne and Colgate. If the largest retail chain in the UK is leading the way in this way, it is already a sign. Consumers increasingly perceive secondary packaging as a superfluous nuisance. At the same time, they are a logical target in the efforts of retailers and brands to reduce the resource input and climate impact of their products. For the folding carton industry, it is now: Open your eyes and act! Secondary packaging made of cardboard must become primary packaging with the help of recyclable barriers and protective functions. Otherwise, there is a threat of trouble. After all, the approach taken with toothpaste can be transferred to many other areas and segments.



Tesco had already decided in November 2021 to remove cardboard secondary packaging from its private label toothpaste. As of 2022, Britain’s supermarket chain is now igniting the next stage in cooperation with major toothpaste brands – and is also doing away with the folding box in almost UK-30 stores for brands such as Oral B, Sensodyne, Colgate, Aquafresh and Corsodyl.


Resource and climate effects

Eliminating secondary packaging on its toothpaste private label brands has saved 55 tons of cardboard annually, according to Tesco. The company hopes to increase that figure to 680 tons annually by eliminating folding toothpaste cartons from branded products and other stores.

At the same time, Tesco says the removal of “unnecessary packaging” also means that more tubes can be transported in the same space, helping to take delivery trucks off the road and saving CO2 accordingly.

Reducing toothpaste packaging to its essential elements is part of Tesco’s 4R packaging strategy, which has already saved more than 3,000 tons of packaging per year since 2019 by removing, reducing, reusing and recycling, according to the company.


Customer feedback

Tesco reports very positive feedback from consumers on the removal of secondary packaging from its own brands in November last year. Officials say they are convinced the move makes sense for customers because the first thing they throw away when buying toothpaste is the cardboard packaging.


The secondary packaging…

Secondary packaging almost automatically comes into focus when retailers and brands, as well as consumers, start looking for “superfluous” packaging. This also applies to packaging materials made from renewable raw materials. Consumers’ material sympathy for paper and cardboard decreases rapidly when secondary packaging is involved.

The fact is that by saving on secondary packaging, you can make a contribution to many factors: One serves the customer’s desire, reduces raw material requirements and costs, and reduces one’s own carbon footprint.


… needs primary functions

The drive to reduce resource consumption and climate impact necessarily leads to an attempt to reduce packaging. For the folding carton as secondary packaging, this means that it must transform itself – and virtually become primary packaging, ensuring direct product protection itself while remaining fully recyclable.


Sustainability beats POS performance.

For the folding carton industry, Tesco’s initiative with toothpaste should be a wake-up call. After all, the approach can be transferred to many other areas. Can’t cereals, for example, only be put on the shelves packaged in pouches? The arguments are there – and when in doubt, sustainability beats POS performance.

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Start-up: Circleback launches deposit system for cosmetics and hygiene packaging

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Start-up: Circleback launches deposit system for cosmetics and hygiene packaging

Thomas Reiner | 21.10.2022

The start-up Circleback is placing its first self-developed deposit machine for plastic packaging of cosmetics and personal care products in a Berlin supermarket. With the help of the app-based deposit system, Circleback aims to achieve a recycling rate of 90 percent. The idea and approach are absolutely right. Because we need system solutions to close loops. And the closer we operate to the retail sector, the greater the chances of success. What the new solution also shows is that PCR as a raw material and resource remains a top issue for the industry. At the heart of the matter is the effort to secure recyclate. That’s where the value lies.



Circleback was founded in Berlin in 2021 with the aim of developing and operating collection, recycling and lifecycle management systems for packaging and materials. The start-up is going into practice with the first use of its self-developed deposit machine for returning plastic packaging for empty shampoo bottles, cream and toothpaste tubes.

The site is an EDEKA supermarket on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. The vending machines are also intended to reach consumers who tend to shop more conventionally.


The deposit system

Circleback is based on the structures of the state deposit system for beverage bottles. There, a recycling rate of 90 percent is achieved. Circleback aims to achieve the same. The path to the goal:

  • Circleback cooperates with brand manufacturers who pay a fee to the start-up as partners.
  • The start-up collects the partner packaging via its vending machines and processes it into recyclate.
  • Each partner receives the recyclate that comes from its packaging.
  • The first partners include Kneipp, Catrice, Dr. Bronner’s and i+m.


The deposit app

  • Consumers identify themselves at the deposit machine using the Circleback app and can then return the partners’ emptied packaging.
  • Up to 20 cents is credited for each returned package.
  • The deposit amounts are paid out via the app. In the future, Circleback will also offer other types of compensation from participating brands.


The outlook

Circleback’s market entry is in cosmetics and personal care. But the startup sees potential for expansion into other European countries, in addition to other types of packaging that can use the same infrastructure.


It does work

To close loops, we need system solutions. The closer these operate to retailers, the greater the chances of achieving good (and needed) recycling rates.

Circleback’s approach is also exciting because it “lures” brands with recyclate. PCR is increasingly becoming a valuable and sought-after resource. Those who can secure this raw material are in a position to offer recyclate. And this is where the real value lies.

That the new approach comes from a newcomer is no coincidence. Start-ups and “outsiders” are often more pragmatic than the insiders. There, concerns are too often at the forefront.

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