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January 13, 2020,

Why we decided to pilot a PET-bottle return system at Košík and what we expect from it

Why we decided to pilot a PET-bottle return system at Košík and what we expect from it

Perhaps you have noticed that, starting this Monday on Košík you can for the first time voluntarily purchase returnable PET bottles with an admixture of 80% PET. When you return such a bottle to us, we can guarantee that it will be reused in the production of another bottle with the shortest (and today the most environmentally friendly) cycle. We are collaborating with Mattoni 1873 on the project and, due to the increasing number of questions about it, I will be pleased to tell you about everything that led us to undertake this whole activity. And what we expect from it – I’ll add to the discussion that is going on around this step we have taken. And I apologize that this time I needed to lay out more than is my habit.

I care a lot about the world around us. That may be a cliché, but it’s true

I care a lot about the world around us. I am well aware that our Košík is only a drop in the bucket compared to Czech brick-and-mortar supermarkets, but we have a huge number of great and knowledgeable customers with whom we are in very close contact, which is all the more reason we should be the one to push for the improvement of conditions throughout the retail sector, as we simply have good conditions for that. And it’s not only about ecology.

A lot of projects that I truly take personally arose, for example, on the basis of our life experience – we were the first to start subsidising basic foodstuffs for senior citizens and we want to create good shopping conditions for families with children. Though we did not add our voice to the first wave of the media campaign against cage eggs, we focused our energy on ways to negotiate the purchase of cage-free eggs for a reduced price. And as soon as we found out that we could do that, we were the first supermarket to get rid of cage eggs and we helped a full range of others to get off the fence. We built the biggest ecological drugstore and grocery section for vegetarians and vegans. And they also wanted to look at reduction of the packaging that we unfortunately help to produce.

What aspects of our convenience are we able to sacrifice?

So, a year ago, after months of research, we were the first online supermarket to bring the concept of “packaging-free sales” to the internet and thus enabled the selling of certain grocery items and ecological drugstore products by weight. The Future Without Packaging section, as we called it, was intended to be primarily a laboratory that would show us and our partner MIWA (which wants to implement a package-free solution with completely different quality from what we currently have at the wholesale level and, of course, we expect that to eventually appear in our warehouse as well) what Czechs actually want and what aspects of the consumer “standard” can be exchanged for a reduction of the environmental footprint.

The more we researched the ideal packaging for “The Future Without Packaging”, the more we began to realise that one of the ways could simply be better and more efficient recycling of existing packaging. The technology has advanced to the point that properly recycled plastics (and even those that are converted to energy through combustion in a controlled manner) often leave a smaller environmental footprint than, for example, traditional materials, if we use them only once, even though they are naturally degradable (this includes paper bags).

What about voluntarily returning all of our packaging…

My initial idea was that we would give people the possibility to voluntarily return all of the PET bottles and cans that Košík offers. Thanks to the fact that we know how many of them customers have purchased, it is not a problem for us to motivate them to sort packaging and return it to us against a deposit. And, mainly, our customers themselves have asked us about this countless times. We would subsequently take the packaging to the warehouse and hand it over to a recycler, which would pre-sort it in an exemplary manner. We could even distinguish different types of bottles and cans and put them in different “boxes”. But the more we looked at the conditions for such a step, the clearer it became to us that it would not be possible due to legislative reasons.

And so the second attempt. We looked around on the market for someone who could help us with practical experience and, among others, we approached the Zálohujme initiative, which has long been striving to popularise packaging return. Mattoni is one of the initiative’s founders, so we talked it over and agreed on the pilot project – we will provide logistical know-how, experience from The Future Without Packaging and the possibility of “sorting from the door” by means of a three-koruna deposit, while Mattoni is contributing its ability to produces and sell beverages with an 80% share of recycled PET. As for the number of kilometres travelled because of the packaging, it will work the same way for us – after delivering purchases to customers, our vehicles keep going and then to the warehouse; we will pick up the packaging with the next purchase (thanks to which packaging will not in any way accumulate in customers’ homes; we will gladly take away even a single bottle). Likewise, vehicles that bring us new bottles will take away the old ones. The only thing that we have to teach customers is not to crush the bottles, not to tear the labels (so that we know that it is actually “our” material) and to hand them over with the caps on (for hygienic purposes during transport and, furthermore, the bottle caps can be reprocessed). We will also continue to sell common alternatives that cannot be recycled in a circular manner and we will see which products customers prefer.

The Effect? So far, not in terms of environmental impact, but we can motivate through practice

It is important to say that we know that this step is not a cure-all for the problem of plastic recycling. In this respect, I accept all criticism and I do not want to pretend that our activity has a real impact on the environment with the currently planned volume. However, we want to demonstrate that it works and I believe that in a few months we will clearly show that we are able to collect more than 90% of all packaging by taking it back. Because change is truly necessary – just because producing a bottle from “virgin” material (and subsequently “destroying” it because we mix it with other plastic waste) is currently cheaper than using recycled material – the difference is an unbelievable 50%. And our pilot project – if it is successful – may encourage recyclers to consider investing in rPET lines (there is not a single such line in the Czech Republic), which will make the production of packaging from recycled materials significantly cheaper and more accessible. And at least that is worth fighting for.

Watch the battle of the bottles with us – the initial results are already showing that customers want something different

I will be pleased to receive your feedback – both positive and negative. And, above all, ideas about how the future of sorting from the door may look.


Thanks for reading this far. Tomáš