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Inditex and Zalando Scrap Over Plastic Bags

The Zara owner’s push to phase out single-use plastic packaging in the supply chain is being tested by the German online fashion retailer’s refusal to remove the material in the final sale to consumers.
Zara-owner Inditex received a rare "sell" rating from a Deutsche Bank analyst.
Inditex's drive to tackle single-use plastic packaging in the supply chain is being tested as Zalando refuses a demand to remove the material during the final sale to consumers. (Shutterstock)

Inditex SA’s drive to tackle single-use plastic packaging in the supply chain is being put to the test as German online fashion retailer Zalando SE refuses a demand to remove the material during the final sale to consumers.

The owner of the Zara chain has requested that Zalando replace the plastic bags that clothes are delivered in with other packaging before sending to customers, but Europe’s largest e-commerce group has decided not to do so, according to people who asked not to be named because the matter is not public.

In a back-and-forth that spanned over a year, Zalando maintained it could not run its logistics operations without the plastic bags, the people said. The e-commerce company considers that replacing them with cardboard or paper alternatives won’t reduce the packaging’s impact, the people said.

Zalando sells many brands and it’s not feasible for the company to adjust its internal processes for each one, a spokesperson for Zalando told Bloomberg News.

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A spokesperson for Inditex said the firm was working internally and with its partners to meet a goal to eliminate single-use plastics to customers by the end of this financial year. They said the level of compliance with the target was 95 percent at group level.

Inditex is one of Zalando’s biggest partners as the e-commerce site sells clothes from its Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Bershka and Pull & Bear brands.

Four years ago, Arteixo-based Inditex committed to phasing out all single-use plastic to customers by 2023. That includes removing plastic hangers, stickers and perfume wrappers, as well as the clear plastic packaging used to protect orders, known in the industry as polybags.

Retailers worldwide rely on polybags to protect garments from humidity and stains as they flow through the supply chain from the factory to the store or customers’ homes. The fashion industry produces around 180 billion single-use plastic polybags each year to package garments, according to industry group Fashion For Good. While most are technically recyclable, the majority are sent to landfills or are incinerated.

Inditex, like many other apparel sellers, removes the factory-standard plastic bags in stores and warehouses, where it repacks the clothes in other materials, such as recycled cardboard or paper, before sending to customers.

An Inditex spokesman said the plastic bags are subsequently collected and made available for recycling and reuse.

But polybags are still present behind the scenes and alternative options are very limited. Most retailers keep using them because they figure that damaged clothing would have a bigger environmental impact than a thin plastic bag.

Zalando said it’s testing different options to solve the industry wide problem in the long-term, such as folding the clothes differently and reducing the thickness of plastic bags.

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Zalando said its approach revolves around developing solutions that prioritise longevity, minimising impacts from materials and waste. For that reason, the company is evaluating ways to reuse polybags.

By Clara Hernanz Lizarraga

Learn more:

Fashion’s Plastic Addiction Is Harder to Shake Than it Seems

Big brands from Adidas to Patagonia are on track to eliminate virgin polyester from their products. But the pivot to materials mostly made from recycled plastic bottles is an imperfect solution.

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