As a business, we have both the responsibility and opportunity to do the right thing by our people, our communities and the planet. It’s a responsibility that sits at heart of everything we do, and one that matters deeply to our 21,000 team members.
In June 2018, Countdown proudly joined a New Zealand Industry Packaging Pledge. As part of our 2025 Sustainability Strategy, we’ve also made a number of our own packaging commitments including:
- Making 100% of our Own Brand packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025
- Achieving an average of 60% recycled content in our Own Brand packaging by the end of 2025
- Providing more refillable and reusable packaging options for products in our operations
- Phasing out problematic and unnecessary materials, starting with our Own Brand by 2023
For more information on these and other sustainability commitments we have made, check out our 2025 Sustainability Plan here. To ensure we meet this commitment, we’re looking at ways to reduce plastic right across our business and introducing more refillable and reusable packaging options for products in our stores.
Action on plastic and packaging
We've got a long way to go, but we've already started removing and reducing as much unnecessary plastic and packaging across our business as we can. Along with phasing out single-use plastic carrier bags, in October 2018, we also removed all packs of single-use plastic straws from our shelves and began offering a range of more sustainable and reusable alternatives including bamboo, metal and paper straws.
We are systematically working through our own products and brands and making changes and working to ensure that we’re contributing to the circular economy where we can, rather than introducing new plastic - particularly single-use plastic.
In October 2018 we started using recycled plastic sourced from the NZ waste stream for our packaged in-store bakery goods. This means 177 tonnes less of virgin plastic coming into Aotearoa each year. Since then, we’ve also moved to recycled plastic (rPET) for a range of other products including our meat trays, water bottles and produce packaging.
We're making progress, but finding and developing recycled plastic products or plastic alternatives is a complex process and requires whole-of-industry and government solutions and packaging design innovation. We are absolutely committed to using 100 percent reusable and recyclable packaging in our own brands by 2025 or earlier and we're also working hard to encourage our suppliers to work with us and drive change in their own brands.
Countdown was the first supermarket in Aotearoa to become single-use plastic carrier bag free on 15 October 2018. This has removed over 29 million single-use plastic bags from circulation each month!
We've got a number of more sustainable reusable bag options in store. Our popular Countdown $1 Bag for Good black, reusable bag is a great option- when it wears out, we'll replace it in store for free and send your worn out bag for recycling.
Removing single-use plastic bags is a big step, but it’s just one part of our overall aim to reduce and remove as much unnecessary plastic across our business as we can. Since early 2018, we have removed 112 tonnes of unnecessary plastic packaging from our produce section.
We’ve trialled a number of different options for our online shopping service and believe that paper bags are the most workable, environmentally responsible option that we currently have available. For more info and FAQs on paper bags in our online shopping service, please click here.
Simply BYO your own clean, undamaged container to our service counters. To make sure we meet New Zealand’s food safety requirements, we'll give your container a quick spray clean with an eco-friendly dishwashing liquid (we use Ecostore). We wipe it, spray with fresh water and wipe it again so it's dry. We then tare and weigh the container before filling and adding the label.
Soft Plastics Recycling
The Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme has resumed collections at Countdown's across the Auckland, the Waikato, Wellington Christchurch, the Bay of Plenty and New Plymouth. The Scheme is working with processor, Future Post, which converts the soft plastics collected into fence posts and Second Life Plastics in Levin.
To make sure the amount collected matches with New Zealand’s local capacity to process soft plastics, the Scheme is being restarted in phases. While it may extend to other areas around the country in the future, for now the focus is on developing a successful collection and processing system on a smaller scale that makes full re-use of all the plastic collected.
For more information on which stores are involved, visit: https://www.recycling.kiwi.nz/solutions/soft-plastics.
- Our first preference is for you to bring your own from home - bring a bag, a bucket, box or wheelbarrow, we’re not fussy! We think this is the best option for our customers and for our planet.
- If you get caught out, Countdown’s $1 black Bag for GoodTM is your best option - when it wears out, we’ll replace it for free.
- We also have an FSC certified, recyclable paper bag available to purchase for 20c as well as a range of other reusable jute bags. All of our options are reusable and designed to be used again and again.
- Countdown’s popular reusable black bag is now a Bag for Good™. For $1, when it wears out, we’ll replace it for free, no matter when you bought it from us.
- Under the programme, simply bring in your worn out black reusable bag when you shop with us, and we’ll swap it at the checkout for a new one.
- Our Bag for Good™ is tested up to 150 uses. Once we receive a worn out bag back, these are sent to our support office in Auckland for collecting and recycling.
- Produce bags don’t fall under the government legislation however, we know we need to find an alternative option- especially one that won’t have a big cost impact for our customers. We also need to make sure our store systems can recognise the weight of whatever we introduce. This is something we’re working on at the moment.
- In the meantime, customers can either not use a bag at all and put their produce straight in their basket or trolley, purchase and use the reusable produce bags we have available in store (these have been made to meet our tare weight restrictions), or use an alternative reusable bag - you’ll just need to take out any product for weighing at the checkout.
- The plastic produce bags are also able to be recycled through the Soft Plastics Recycling bins we have available in a growing number of our stores. To find your nearest bin, visit: https://www.recycling.kiwi.nz/store-locator
- Fundamentally whether it’s compostable, biodegradable or corn starch bags, they are all still disposable. At Countdown we are trying to move away from the model where something is used once - or twice at best - and then it’s thrown away. The much better outcome is to use something over and over again, then recycle it to be used again.
- We’ve investigated a vast range of alternative bag options and have engaged with industry experts along the way. The advice we’ve received is that New Zealand’s waste infrastructure just isn’t prepared for compostables on mass just yet, and given this we don’t think we’d achieve a better environmental outcome using them.
- While home composting is gaining popularity, it’s not a mainstream solution for most New Zealanders. Few bag options available on the market right now can successfully be composted in home compost, and there are only a few areas in New Zealand that have the facilities for commercial composting. Compostable bags also can’t be recycled through the Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme because they contaminate the mix.
- ‘Biodegradable plastics’ (eg starch-based shopping bags, drink cup coatings and lids, PLA clear plastic containers) will not degrade easily in the home compost bin or the environment, and are contaminants in regular plastic recycling systems.
- ‘Degradable’ and ‘oxy-degradable’ plastics break down into tiny pieces of plastic which are not compostable in the natural environment.
- Given all of this, whether we can sustainably use biodegradable bags isn’t clear enough yet and we don’t want to promote the use of bags that just break down in landfills and/or into micro-plastics. We may look at these types of bags (or compostables) in the future as this area evolves; one of the exciting things is how fast things are changing and how many new alternatives are coming forward all the time.
- Countdown was the first supermarket in New Zealand to become single-use plastic carrier bag free on 15 October 2018.
- We were using 350 million of these bags for customers every year. Phasing them out was the right thing to do for the environment. We’ve all seen the pictures of marine life suffering thanks to plastic pollution and the impact on our ecosystems is unacceptable.
- This is just one of the actions we are taking to reduce plastic in New Zealand. We’re also looking at other plastic right across our business including in produce and our delis.
- We’ve phased-out single-use plastic carrier bags at the check-out and in online shopping. We know there are lots of other plastic bags in our stores, including in produce and in the deli, and we’re working on alternatives there too.
- Yes, Countdown joined the New Zealand industry pledge towards using 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in our own brands by 2025 or earlier. You can read more here.
- We’ve also made a number of other packaging commitments of our own, which you can find in our 2025 Sustainability Plan here: https://www.countdown.co.nz/media/1659431/countdown-nz-sustainability-2025-plan.pdf
- We’ve trialled a number of different options for our online shopping service and believe that paper bags are the most workable, environmentally responsible option that we currently have available.
- The Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme has resumed collections at a number of Countdown stores across Auckland, the Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, New Plymouth, Wellington and Christchurch. The Scheme is working with processors, Future Post in Waiuku, which converts the soft plastics collected into plastic fence posts and Second Life Plastics in Levin, .which converts it into garden edging and cable covers.
- To make sure the amount the Scheme collects matches with New Zealand’s local capacity to process soft plastics, the Scheme owners decided that could only restart in phases. While the scheme may extend to other areas around New Zealand in the future, for now their focus is on developing a successful collection and processing system on a smaller scale that makes full re-use of all the plastic collected.
- For more information on which stores are involved, visit: https://www.recycling.kiwi.nz/solutions/soft-plastics
If the Bag for Good™ programme is ever changed, we will let you know well in advance of that happening. If replaced with a new programme, we would endeavour to keep or improve on the concept behind the Bag for Good™ programme.