High-street chains sign up to refill pilot to reduce single-use plastic packaging

A host of high-street food and drink retailers, including LEON, Asda, Waitrose and Costa have joined a new pilot offering refillable options for commodities such as water, coffee, groceries and toiletries, in a bid to cut down on the amount of single-use plastic purchased by consumers.

Refill encourages a switch to reusable bottles by making free tap water refill facilities available in “on-the-go” scenarios

Refill encourages a switch to reusable bottles by making free tap water refill facilities available in “on-the-go” scenarios

The retailers join around 70 independent cafes and businesses that have signed up to a new three-month pilot that builds on the Refill scheme, an initiative launched in 2015 that has connected 250,000 consumers with 30,000 water refill stations across the UK.

The next step of the initiative, led and developed by City to Sea, is to enable consumers to find shops and locations where they can refill containers, ranging from water to hot food. Consumers that use these refillable options can also benefit from discounts.

City to Sea’s chief executive Rebecca Burgess said: “It’s fantastic to see LEON blazing a trail in the sector and letting its customers try out bringing their own containers for selected food items, as well as hot drinks and water. We hope that their example will show other food-to-go chains that it’s infinitely possible to achieve this whilst ensuring food safety and customer satisfaction.”

The three-month trial will take place in Oxford and Bristol. Waitrose will continue to trial refills of dried goods, frozen fruit, beer, wine and cleaning products in store.

Refill revolution

The trials aim to alleviate the amount of single-use plastic packaging that ends up as waste, and often seep into the natural environment as they aren’t collected or recycled. A Mintel report from 2018 shows that 75% of consumers eat lunch on the go every day of the week and the IDG reported that the UK food-to-go market is forecast to be worth £23.4bn by 2024, a 26% growth on today’s levels.

In 2018, more than 1.13 trillion items of packaging - most of them plastic - were used for food and drinks in the EU alone, while Market analyst Kantar found that sales of bottled water topped £558m between November 2017 and November 2018 – up 7% on the prior 12-month period.

LEON’s head of marketing Rebecca Di Mambro said: “Sustainability will be the defining issue of our time, and it’s our mission to be the first generation to leave the planet in a better state than we found it. That’s why we’re so excited to be partnering with City to Sea on their refillable pilot at LEON Oxford.

“We know our guests want the opportunity to make more sustainable choices – we’ve seen a 300% uptake since we launched our reusable coffee cup discount over 18 months ago – and trialling refillable containers is the next step in reducing the amount of single-use material across LEON.”

Refill encourages a switch to reusable bottles by making free tap water refill facilities available in “on-the-go” scenarios. This approach takes two forms – the installation of new water fountains and encouraging businesses to place Refill stickers in their branch windows to inform the public that they offer free tap water.

Network Rail installed its first fountain at London Charing Cross in February 2018 and has since added them to 18 of its other largest stations, including Bristol Temple Meads, Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly and London King’s Cross.

On a national level, the Welsh Government recently unveiled its plans to become the world’s first “refill nation”, where access to free drinking water in public places is universal. Since then, the number of refill stations available to the public has increased 100-fold.

Matt Mace



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