Sustainability within the equestrian sport industry - Zero chance for "zero waste"?
The amount of plastic buckets, spray bottles, sacks and tins at riding stables is huge: Fly and mane sprays, hoof and feed oils, mineral supplements, muesli, hay cobs and bars - a lot of them come in individual packaging. Whereby the avoidance of emissions and waste is an important issue for the manufacturers, distributors and consumers. The equestrian sport is thus in a dilemma, especially in the segments feed, supplements and care products: The packaging has to survive all transport routes well, must be practical to store without being perceptible to pest infestation as well as being functional in usage, while at the same time withstanding the immense strains of everyday stable life. It is not easy to increase the sustainability here. However, there are approaches to get the piles of rubbish under control.
The filling station of Reitsport Schuldt. Photo: Reitsport Schuldt
It is not as if sustainability is merely a trend of the past years. Many companies have been occupying themselves for decades with producing and packing their goods as sustainably as possible. Josera, the first completely climate-neutral manufacturer of animal feed, which was recently selected as the most sustainable animal feed producer 20/21 by the American PetSustainabilityCoalition, is a pioneer in this field. The company has been saving thousands of truck journeys a year and compensating for the CO² footprint with its own rail connection. And the product range is constantly adapted too: "In the form of the new herb and beet hay cobs we are now introducing a new product that is quite close to our ideal," the Marketing Director, Benjamin Mangelkramer, explained. The raw materials for the new cobs originate from sustainable and regional cultivation, furthermore the horse feed is produced and dried in a completely CO²-neutral process – thanks to solar energy at the location and compensation projects such as the forest preservation project Ntakata Mountains in Tanzania. Since 2019, the company from Lower Franconia has also done away with all plastic packaging for all mueslis and was thus able to save over 30,000 kg CO² by doing so.
The small steps often bring a big impact. The feed specialist, Marstall, is for example exploiting the capacity of the euro pallets much more efficiently by switching over from round to square buckets and bulk packs in sacks are becoming more and more popular too. These are in some cases available as unprinted versions with a small sticker. Short routes are also a significant issue for Marstall: The animal feed brand is the only supplier that delivers silo goods directly to the trade and stable yards using its own fleet of trucks in Germany and Austria. Disposing of three production locations rather than just one, this is much more readily possible of course.
Sustainable packaging in equestrian sports
Less tins, bottles and buckets, which are in turn made from environmentally safe materials: that is the major goal. Hence the obvious approaches involve: larger filling quantities, refill packs and refilling stations in shops. "Filling stations" for solid materials such as treats and liquids such as mane spray or fly lotion - are meeting with very different reactions. Filling stations with liquid feed or care products are slightly trickier regarding their implementation in the overall everyday operations within the trade. The filling pipes have to be cleaned regularly, the floors can become soiled, the customers often turn up without their bottles. Displays for storing large canisters are obviously normally not offered by the manufacturer. "We support every distributor, who installs a filling station, but we have no ready-made solutions in our line-up because that is extremely expensive and difficult," explained Christian Klös from Leovet.
Instead the specialists from Wetzlar use 100% recycled plastic for the packaging of their spray bottles and are currently in the process of converting over all other packaging too. At the same time, they have increased filling volumes so that significantly less plastic is used overall. For its bulk packs, Zedan is relying on a "bag in box" solution with a tap, which saves around half the amount of plastic.
Every practice underlines the fact that one has to show perseverance and the customers have to be familiar with the offer. Reitsport Schuldt from Schenefeld is a positive example here, their highly sustainable clientele gladly bring their own containers along to be refilled. Andreas Schuldt gives those, who don't bring their own bucket with them, a bag made of bioplastic.
New ideas for transport protection: take-back & recycling
The other complex issue regarding this theme is the logistics: "The end users are not always rational as far as their requirements go. They all want things to be environmentally-friendly, complain about plastic padding in the dispatch box, but on the other hand accept a pile of advertising leaflets and catalogues printed on glossy cardboard or a bag of jelly beans as a thank you gift. What many people tend to overlook is the fact that heavy paper padding increases the fuel consumption. I can replace twelve pallets of paper by one pallet of plastic film," calculated Julian Becker from the online shop, EquiAmor. Andreas Schuldt sees this totally differently: The company from Schenefeld uses wood shavings for padding for instance for dispatching online orders and exclusively implements recycled cartons. "So many goods are delivered to us every day inside cartons - it would be mad not to reuse them. We label our recycling programme for the customer and they welcome this," said Schuldt. He calls for manufacturers to introduce a take-back system of transport boxes, similar to the cycle of plastic boxes at chemists. "The suppliers are still not doing enough here in my opinion. For me sustainability is definitely a decision criterion when ordering and my customers thank me for this resolute approach with their loyalty."
But what really is "sustainable"? The life cycle assessment of single source plastic can be better than that of coated paper and the weight of padding for dispatching goods is higher for wood shavings or cardboard than bubble wrap and thus incurs a higher fuel consumption. There are many small measures that the customer perhaps doesn't even perceive in the shop, but these do make an impact nevertheless.
Questioning the industry has indeed made one thing clear: the theme is extremely complex and simple, really sustainable solutions are not only difficult to find, but also difficult to communicate and market. The cooperation and understanding of the consumers is as equally important as the suppliers providing a more sustainable offer. "One has to introduce measures in many different areas in order achieve something everywhere," Sabine Krisam from Marstall summed up.