Unilever unveils new UK refillable packaging trials

Unilever is expanding trials of refillable packaging across the UK, including its first 'return on the go' scheme, in a bid to cut back on unnecessary plastics packaging.

The trials feature Unilever’s first ‘return on the go’ system, where shoppers can purchase pre-filled reusable bottles from stores

The trials feature Unilever’s first ‘return on the go’ system, where shoppers can purchase pre-filled reusable bottles from stores

Unilever is launching new trials of refillable and reusable products, where shoppers can select pre-filled returnable and reusable stainless steel bottles to house well-known brands including Persil, Simple, Radox and Alberto Balsam.

The refill options build on its largest European trials at Asda’s “sustainability store” in Leeds. Feedback from the trials found that 94% of consumers in the UK are more likely to invest in refills compared to buying new products, while 89% would purchase a product if the packaging could be reused. Additionally, 18% of shoppers wanted a sealed option and a quarter would be interested in a loyalty or reward scheme.

The trials feature Unilever’s first ‘return on the go’ system, where shoppers can purchase pre-filled reusable bottles from stores and then return them at a later date. The expanded trials will take place at Asda and Co-op stores in Glasgow, York, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Leeds.

Unilever’s UK & Ireland general manager and executive vice-president Sebastian Munden said: “To tackle plastic pollution with the speed and urgency needed, we are committed to creating scalable solutions which make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices.

“Using our well-known and trusted brands and working closely with retailers, we are testing different refill models on a large scale in order to continue to build our understanding of how to bring about a significant change most effectively.”

Plastics change

In 2019, Unilever, which owns iconic brands such as Dove, Cif and Magnum, set a target to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025 by reducing plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes, increasing the amount of recycled plastics it uses and collecting and processing more plastic packaging than it sells.

As well as reducing the overall use of plastic packaging, Unilever will also help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually as part of a bid to recover and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

The company recently announced that it would launch its first paper-based bottles for laundry detergent in Brazil next year, with an ambition in place to introduce the packaging across Europe thereafter.

The bottles have been developed through the Pulpex consortium. Last year, drinks manufacturers Diageo and PepsiCo joined Unilever in the formation of Pulpex, with venture management firm Pilot Lite. The Pulpex consortium was set up to produce a variety of plastic-free, single-mould bottles that will be used across the major FMCG companies.

Commenting on the new refill trials, A Plastic Planet’s co-founder Sian Sutherland said: “Imagine a world where we don't throw plastic packaging away, useful for moments but existing on our planet for centuries.  

“When huge self-confessed polluters like Unilever try to change the system, not just hiding behind recycled plastic as a half-hearted answer, we need to applaud and support them. One day, our bathroom and kitchen cupboards will be filled with permanent refillable packaging and we will look back in wonderment at why we took so long to realise it is the only way forward.” 

Matt Mace



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