The first attempt went horribly wrong. Two years ago, with much fanfare, Migros announced that it would set up a Switzerland-wide system for plastic recycling. This heralds a “new era in the field of sustainability,” said the retailer proudly. Only a little later, Migros had to stop the project to collect plastic in its branches: the action had not been agreed with the authorities.
Now Migros in Zurich dares to try again. In cooperation with the city of Zurich, a pilot operation for plastic recycling is to be started in four branches in the summer: consumers can buy collection bags there, fill them with plastic waste such as yoghurt cups or meat packaging and take them back to the supermarket. So far there are only collection points in central Switzerland and in the regions of Friborg and Lausanne VD.
Migros going it alone
But what looks like a selfless commitment to the environment by the orange giant is causing a lot of trouble behind the scenes. In fact, the industry recently decided to work together to find a solution for a Switzerland-wide system for plastic recycling. Migros is part of this agreement called Collection 2025 – as are Coop, Aldi and Lidl.
The Swiss Retail Federation (SRF), which represents the interests of Aldi, Lidl and Volg, among others, is anything but happy about Migros going it alone. From the point of view of the association, it is “better and more important” to advance the Collection 2025 project, says Managing Director Dagmar Jenni. To be even clearer: “If local, opportunistic facts are created now, the introduction of a national system could have it much more difficult.” And: The joint efforts “should not be torpedoed now”.
Consumers fund recycling
Why is Migros going it alone met with criticism? As is so often the case, it’s about money – and the question of who will bear the costs. Because collecting and recycling packaging costs more money than burning it – which is harmful to the climate.
With its project, Migros is pushing for financing that is paid for by consumers. Other actors, on the other hand, advocate upstream financing, analogous to PET collection. In the case of PET, manufacturers and retailers charge a few centimes for each bottle, which is used to finance recycling. The consumer does not have to worry about recycling costs.
It is precisely for this reason that Johanna Gollnhofer (34), Professor of Marketing at the University of St. Gallen, considers the plastic collection bag to be problematic. “This shifts responsibility from companies to consumers,” she says.
The responsibility should lie with the manufacturers
If recycling is already included in the purchase price of the yoghurt pot, the consumer hardly notices it. “But if I have to decide in the store to spend money on a sack, fill it at home and then bring it back – then I think twice.” If you want to establish a new system, it is therefore crucial “that the hurdles are as low as possible”.
A system in which manufacturers take responsibility for their products also makes it easier to set incentives for ecological packaging. For example, by manufacturers and retailers paying a higher price for packaging that is hardly recyclable – and a lower price for packaging made from sustainable materials. As long as the responsibility for recycling lies with the consumer, there is no incentive for such industry solutions.
Migros would welcome an industry solution
The company does not directly answer the question of why Migros still chooses the collection bag for plastic recycling. Instead, it says on request: the company’s goal is to “close the plastic cycle”. We welcome the efforts for an industry solution. In addition, Migros can “gain important experience with the collection bag, which it is now also using in the design of a possible industry solution and a national system”.
Will Migros therefore advocate a consumer-financed solution at the political level? The retailer does not want to commit itself. “Should other options open up within the Collection 2025 project that lead to the same goal of consistent closure of the cycle, Migros is open to other solutions,” it says.
In other words, the struggle for funding is likely to continue.
668 million profit: Migros remains the clear market leader in retail(00:31)