Non-financial report 2022: Improving and reducing our packaging
As a food company packaging plays a critical role in our supply chain to ensure the safety and freshness of our products. However, packaging production and disposal both negatively affect the environment and pose a significant cost factor. That is why we prioritize efforts to minimize the packaging we use, and continuously seek to develop more sustainable solutions. In order to minimize our impact, we follow the waste hierarchy, meaning that we avoid, reduce, promote recyclability and innovate wherever possible.
Reducing packaging usage following a data-driven approach
One of last year’s major milestones was the international roll-out of our in-house developed award-winning Dynamic Packaging Configurator (DPC). This solution helps us use packaging more efficiently by calculating the suitable packaging sizes for each individual order, based on metadata of the shapes and dimensions of our ingredients. The DPC also assigns the right insulation type, thickness and amount of ice needed to maintain food safety during transit. That means we can use less insulation and ice packs on shorter routes or in colder climates while ensuring that our product always arrives in the same quality.
In the US, we have a similar solution called the Box Fit program, which we continued to develop in 2022 and introduced to our EveryPlate and Green Chef brands. As a result of the BoxFit 2.0 rollout and continued expansion of linerless boxes to these brands, we were able to avoid approximately 212 metric tonnes of paper packaging and 54 metric tonnes of plastic packaging in 2022, as compared to what would have been assigned via our previous secondary packaging assignment model.
We also started a process of rolling out standardized packaging across more markets and brands, which helps us to identify best-in-class packaging solutions, offering optimal performance with the lowest material use.
In the US we removed our polystyrene foam liners, and are now using shrink wrap for certain items instead of plastic bags which reduces packaging weight by 50% to 100% per item.
Our continious efforts led to a 12% reduction of packaging weight per meal in 2022.
Improved recyclability by switching from plastic to paper-based packaging
While we constantly work on minimizing our packaging we are aware that some packaging is essential to preserve the quality and safety of our product. That’s why we take additional measures to improve our environmental footprint. One of the most impactful actions we can take is increasing the recyclability of our packaging.
To achieve this goal we took different approaches to switch from plastic to paper packaging. In most of our markets, paper has a much higher recyclability rate than plastic, ensuring that invested resources are not wasted but can be recycled and repurposed at a later point.
In the US, we are working with machinery and paper film vendors to advance a new solution for paper packaging for grocery items. The first test phase, for pasta and grains, began in Q4 of 2022 and will continue into 2023. We also expanded our use of the recyclable Ecomailer cool pouch which is now available in the UK and Ireland during winter, in the Nordics during all seasons, in Germany, Austria & Switzerland during winter and partially on city routes and in Italy on routes with chilled delivery. Developed in 2021, the Ecomailer uses a special glue, that is almost printed onto the paper, and then fed through a heat tunnel, causing it to expand and develop an insulating function. The product is fully recyclable in the paper waste stream, as the glue content is small enough to allow for it to be easily filtered out in the repulping process of typical paper recycling facilities.
To support our customers in recycling correctly we have also introduced simplified language and symbols on our packaging to make it easier for customers to understand how to reuse, recycle or dispose of the packaging.
In addition to switching to paper packaging we are currently working on a circular packaging system which will allow us to significantly reduce our use of cardboard in our deliveries while also reducing the associated CO2 emissions: In 2022 we ran three small-scale pilots in the Benelux region, delivering to our customers in reusable crates to gather operational and customer feedback to develop the project further.
Finding new solutions for a lower waste cool chain
Food safety has always been HelloFresh’s top priority and we take this topic very seriously. Every step of a meal kit's journey involves the need for an incredibly attentive focus on temperature control.
Keeping the cool chain intact is essential to ensuring that quality, freshness and food safety is maintained and is therefore one of our top priorities. To ensure that our customers receive high-quality ingredients, we have developed a complex in-box cooling system, which ensures that temperature-sensitive ingredients maintain a refrigerated state during the transit of the box. The cooling system is made up of insulation liners and ice packs which make up a significant part of our secondary packaging.
Over the past few years, we have been in the process of phasing out gel-based ice packs across our International segment and replacing them with water-based packs, thereby reducing landfill waste and returning water into the system at the end of life. By expanding our in-house ice pack production across more markets in 2022 we have been reducing reliance on suppliers and minimizing transport, which helps to avoid associated carbon emissions and transport packaging waste.
We also continued our work with Fraunhofer FEP Institute in developing a mono-material foil for our ice packs which will enable us to include more recycled material contents in our ice packs.
We will continue to develop innovative packaging solutions and projects
As a result of our newly implemented measures and our ambitious team efforts in 2022, we achieved a 12% reduction in packaging per meal (in weight) compared with 2020 in our meal kit business. Our use of plastic packaging per meal fell by 34% in the same period, and our use of paper packaging by 3.3%.
For 2023 we plan to further leverage our innovation skills and knowledge to develop new packaging solutions, use more sustainable materials in our packaging and continue our work with partner organizations to improve our packaging as much as possible. One of our most important partners is Plastic Bank®, we maintain an ongoing partnership (started in 2021) with them to prevent ocean-bound plastic waste from entering the ocean. This contribution to recycling efforts on a wider scale sponsors three plastic collection centers in Indonesia which help to prevent the equivalent of 37.5 million plastic bottles from entering the ocean over three years. Along with reducing plastic waste, the project also supports local communities: In exchange for recovering plastic waste, members of the local communities receive a premium which helps them pay for basic necessities like food, cooking fuel, health care and education for their families.