Less plastic, more reuse

Less plastic, more reuse

VodafoneZiggo: step by step towards a better environment

Recycling raw materials, using products longer or giving them a second life. These activities are high on VodafoneZiggo's agenda in order to save the environment. An overview of the most important steps being taken by the company to combat environmental pollution.

VodafoneZiggo wants to contribute to the transition towards a circular economy, where as many materials as possible are reused. Harald Flach, Manager Supply Chain Control explains: "First of all, we want to use as little plastic as possible. In addition, we want to recycle the raw materials we do use as much as possible." Compared to 2020, VodafoneZiggo is aiming to reduce its environmental impact by half by 2025.

Free returns
The recycling of products is already going pretty well, in Flach's opinion. VodafoneZiggo is encouraging customers to hand in obsolete or non-functioning devices. Ziggo customers receive a box which they can use to return such devices free of charge. "On average, 80% of these devices are returned to us. For media boxes that can't be reused, we encourage customers to dispose of these themselves at recycling centres. This significantly cuts down on PostNL runs."

Vodafone customers are also free to hand in their older equipment at any time. "We even offer them a financial incentive to sell their old smartphones back to us," says Harald Rulo, Manager Aftersales at VodafoneZiggo. "We give these trade-in deals plenty of attention through our marketing channels, where our message is to give each of our customer's phones 'a second life'. By doing so, we want to contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions. In this way, we are also reducing the consumption of scarce raw materials that are required for the production of new phones."

1.3 million media boxes
"In 2020, 1.3 million media boxes, modems, routers and WiFi boosters were returned to us," says Harald Flach. "We gave these media boxes a makeover and use them again, provided they can be repaired. For example, we delete old data, replace parts, install new software and subject them to a comprehensive test. If everything works correctly, the box can then be passed on to a new customer."

Unnecessary plastic
This refurbishing process, successful though it was, turned out to have room for considerable improvement in another way. "We are currently investigating all possibilities to reduce the use of plastic in our work processes," according to Flach. "We discovered that the partner company performing this operation for us was using a lot of unnecessary plastic. That amounted to ten thousand kilograms of plastic a year. For instance, plastic around the adapter, the remote control or the media box.

Force of habit
The main objective of the 'refurbishers' was to return the boxes to the same state they were in when we first bought them new. However, they were also using exactly the same packaging method as our supplier for the new media boxes. "In this way, we were perpetuating a process that had come about through habit, but which was not thought through in an environmentally-conscious way. This has now changed. We have been able to replace most of the plastic in the 'refurb' batch by packaging items more effectively. However, this is more difficult for the supplier, because they transport by boat. You run a greater risk of damage therein if appliances become damp. Plastic serves as protection in that case."

Surprised customers
Incidentally, it wasn't only the company that had to get used to not using plastic. "We were also getting complaints from customers," Flach explains. "Many people were thinking: If there is no plastic around it, there must be something wrong with it'. This only goes to show how much plastic is ingrained in our way of thinking. To avoid such reactions from customers, we have since added a card explaining why we use cardboard instead of plastic. We are now getting positive responses about this from customers."

Exit return bag
"We have also said goodbye to the plastic return bag that we sent to Ziggo customers that were cancelling their subscription or opting for a different media box. "In such cases, the customer is required to return their media box to us. To make that easier, we send you out a cardboard box. Until recently, this contained a plastic bag that was supposed to serve as extra protection when shipping the device. We did some additional research on the effects of sending boxes without this bag, to see if this really caused more damage. This turned out not to be the case. By leaving out this bag, we immediately save thousands of bags, or one and a half thousand kilos of plastic.

Air pillows
For the coming years, Flach already has an idea where the ‘sustainable gain’ can be achieved. Air pillows. You know the ones. Those plastic bags with some air in them, intended to keep appliances in place in the box during transport. Although they are made from recycled plastic, they are not biodegradable, so they still create a mess (and plastic soup) if people don't recycle them properly.

Less free space in boxes
"We use these pillows when there is empty space in boxes we send our Ziggo items in. So, let's investigate how much smaller we can make the boxes exactly in the coming years. Also with cardboard edge protectors in boxes, you can often prevent the product from sliding or bouncing around during transport. We would like to experiment with these in the coming period."

Two sizes fit all
In the meantime, Vodafone has now won the battle against the air pillow. Harald Rulo: "Since April 2021, our packaging for new Vodafone and hollandsnieuwe devices has been plastic-free. We have indeed changed the design of the boxes. This is how we came up with two standard packages: 'two sizes fit all'. There are now practical cardboard edges in the box that you can fold over, so that they can hold any size of phones in place. So there is no more sliding around in the box, and those plastic pillows have therefore become surplus to requirement."

30 per cent less space needed in postal vehicles
The savings are enormous, calculates Rulo: "This saves 1.5 million plastic bags every year. A nice side effect of this is that packaging has also become much smaller. We save about 30 per cent in space, or 400 roll containers of parcels a year. This means that more parcels can fit in the postal vehicle, meaning fewer lorries need to be on the road. And for customers, too, this makes removing their phones from the box a much more pleasant experience, with less hassle."

Tighter packaging
Vodafone is also restricting the use of plastic in its shops. Rulo: "For example, we have agreed with our suppliers that they will no longer use single-use plastic in transport. This means no more air pillows and no more extra plastic to protect against scratches during transport. Wherever possible, boxes are now packed so tightly that no padding or protection is needed. Should this still be necessary, we use recycled cardboard or paper. Even the tape used to seal the box is now made of paper instead of plastic.

Case packs halved
Finally, Vodafone is making the packaging for phone cases as small as possible. "This will save almost half of the weight, a huge saving in the use of cardboard, therefore, but we also need less space in PostNL vans. In the course of 2022, all this packaging will be made of 100% recycled and recyclable cardboard."
Logic and effectiveness
"As you can see, small adjustments bring huge environmental savings," says Harald Flach. "Sometimes the solution for such savings is very obvious, but our perspective is not critical enough. This has to do with habit, for example because we have been going through certain processes like this for years." His namesake Harald Rulo adds: "So ask yourself with everything: is what we are doing really logical? And can we not organise it differently, so that we can be more effective with the resources and materials we have? And when you have found something, stick with it and investigate how you can organise it – there is often much more possible than you think."

Read more about VodafoneZiggo's People Planet Progress strategy.