Asda to add plastic-free refill stations to more UK stores

Pictured: The first Asda refill stations

The supermarket opened its first ‘sustainability store’ pilot concept in Middleton, Leeds, late last year, featuring more than 30 packaging-free product lines in refill stations. The hope was to understand customer demand for the offering and to assess the practicalities in a real-world scenario.

Following high levels of demand from customers, Asda will now add refill fixtures to four more stores by the end of the year. The stores are in York, Milton Keynes, Glasgow and Rugby.

York will play host to the largest of the refill fixtures, with more than 70 products planned. It will offer dried pet food from Mars Petcare and will also offer larger ranges of snacks, desserts and baking supplies than the other locations.

At every refill store, products including tea, coffee, cereals, pasta and rice will be available alongside laundry and toiletry goods. Asda is offering both own-brand products and branded options, including cereal from Kellogg’s and Nestle, tea from Yorkshire Tea, rice from Tilda, pasta from Napolina and laundry and toiletry goods from Unilever. Anglo-Dutch FMCG giant Unilever announced last week that the Asda stores will play host to its first trials of a ‘return on the go’ system, whereby shoppers purchase pre-filled reusable bottles and then return them at a later date.

Asda’s director of commercial sustainability Susan Thomas said the supermarket’s executives know that reducing plastic packaging waste is seen as an important issue to consumers.

“Our ultimate goal is to make refill and reuse a part of every Asda shopping trip and to achieve this we have to make it easy, accessible and affordable for all our customers to shop this way,” Thomas said.

“Middleton was a great introduction to how customers engage with refill products and we are now looking to accelerate these learnings by trialling different refill options in more stores to understand which aspects can potentially be developed further.”

Other supermarkets to have successfully trialled and since expanded refill offerings include Waitrose & Partners and Marks & Spencer. Elsewhere, Aldi UK launched its first refill trial in April and Tesco has opted for a direct-to-consumer refill model by partnering with TerraCycle’s Loop scheme.

Milking it

In related news, Morrison’s is trialling reusable glass milk bottles in recognition of an increased appetite for plastic-free products.

The pints of milk cost 90p each and are being trialled at seven Kent stores and four Sheffield stores. They will be delivered directly to stores from local dairy farmers and, once used, customers will be encouraged to bring them back. They can then be sent back for sanitisation and refill.

Morrison’s estimates that, should the concept be scaled up nationwide, 40,000 plastic bottles could be removed from its stores annually. It has also touted shorter delivery routes as a sustainability benefit.

There are, however, concerns about the life-cycle carbon footprint of the glass bottles – particularly if customers fail to return them. A typical glass pint bottle weighs 15 times more than a plastic one, according to Dairy Crest, which increases carbon emitted in manufacturing as well as transport (provided that an electric vehicle is not used).  

There’s also the challenge of cost; Morrison’s usual one-pint bottles of milk are 50p. 

Sarah George

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