Tesco ends trials of refillable products through TerraCycle’s Loop platform

Image: Tesco

Shoppers on the supermarket’s website noticed last week that, when they tried to purchase products through Loop, they received a message stating that the products were no longer available – but that they would be able to return packaging in-store until the end of October.

Tesco’s responsible sourcing director Giles Bolton subsequently posted a blog providing more information on the end of the trial and potential next steps.

The blog states that “while the potential [of reusable packaging] is huge – and we should all be excited about a solution where packaging can be used and reused in a circular system – the implementation challenge is equally significant”, particularly amid events as disruptive as to supply chains and consumer habits Covid-19 lockdowns.

Giles revealed that customers purchased more than 80,000 Loop products through Tesco, with the system proving valuable for engaging a faction of customers. However, he noted that “work is needed to encourage a cultural and behavioural shift from customers” across a broader range of demographics. He argued that greater collaboration between policymakers and businesses will likely be needed to achieve this, particularly amid the cost-of-living crisis, given that consumers generally perceive refillable or packaging-free products to be more expensive.

After more than two years of collaboration, Giles confirmed that Tesco will now need to potentially fine-tune its approach to refillable packaging through Loop before confirming its next steps. He wrote that Tesco found the ‘pre-fill’ model, where customers do not fill containers in store but rather pick up already filled containers, most successful, for example.

TerraCycle, which operates the Loop platform, first confirmed Tesco as its first UK retailer partner back in early 2020. It was originally meant to launch online in March 2020 but was postponed until later in the year due to Covid-19. Loop products were then made available in stores in September 2021.

Loop enables shoppers to purchase refillable versions of food and drink, health and beauty and cleaning products from major named brands, including those owned by Heinz, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone and Nivea. Customers pay a deposit fee on each piece of packaging that is refunded to them when they return the containers. Returned containers are funnelled through a reverse logistics system operated by DPD, DHL and TerraCycle, ready for refill – or recycling at the end of their life.

edie has reached out to TerraCycle and Loop for a comment from this side of the partnership. As well as offering products through Tesco in the UK, Loop has been launched in markets including the US, France, Canada, Germany and Japan.

Refill: Challenges and opportunities

Loop isn’t the only pre-fill option on the market. Pre-fill is the approach that Tesco’s rival Asda is taking in collaboration with Unilever. Like Tesco, Asda has also posted challenges with overcoming consumer pre-conceptions and concerns about refill and has enlisted the support of WRAP and behavioural scientists to trial interventions. Other than increasing pre-fill, the retailer is trialling price promises, a loyalty reward system and communications in aisles.

In the beauty sector specifically, the ‘Re’ pre-fill model spearheaded by Glasgow-based SME Beauty Kitchen is gaining traction, receiving the support of brands such as Elemis, Chanel and Unilever.

Broader studies of the scaling of reuse have repeatedly revealed slow progress. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which runs the New Plastics Economy Commitment and has received the support of more than 60 corporates, has recorded that only 5% of the brands participating were using refill or return models in some capacity as of November 2021. In many cases, these models were trials or applied to only a small proportion of product lines.

This finding echoed that of a previous report from the Foundation, which found that just 2% of the products sold by the world’s biggest consumer goods firms during 2020 came in reusable packaging.

Dame Ellen MacArthur said: “We won’t recycle our way out of plastic pollution – eliminating single-use packaging is a vital part of the solution.

“Alarmingly, our report shows little investment in this. We need a much more urgent focus on upstream innovation to rethink how to deliver products without packaging or by using reusable packaging. This doesn’t just allow us to design out waste, it also means we can design out carbon emissions whilst creating new opportunities for business. Shifting just 20% of plastic packaging from single-use to reuse is an opportunity estimated to be worth $10bn.”

Single-use Plastics: The Circular Economy Blueprint for Business

edie readers can now access a new in-depth report outlining how businesses can make their operations, value chains and products and services more circular in a bid to cut back on single-use plastics and deliver a zero-waste world.

The free ‘Circular Economy Blueprint for Business’ report has been produced by edie in association with phs Group. It outlines  all the key steps that businesses should take to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics. As more nations and businesses commit to net-zero the report also acts as a timely reminder as to the role that phasing-out single-use plastics in favour of circular products and services can have in wider decarbonisation ambitions.

The report features best-practice case studies, actionable steps and a deep dive across key action areas of the value chain to highlight ways to ignite a shift towards a circular economyClick here to download your copy.

Comments (1)

  1. Roger Munford says:

    This is of course “too much effort” and the blame is apportioned to customers “work is needed to encourage a cultural and behavioural shift from customers”
    If this was compulsory as it is in Germany, there would be nationwide collection systems and standardised containers for milk, beer , joghurt water fruit juices etc so you don’t have to take your containers back to the place you bought them.
    If really is not hard. You buy your product as normal. If you want you can throw the container away or you can take your standardised bottle for example beer to any retailer and get your deposit back.
    In Germany a lot a people think it is worthwhile to pick up discarded drinks containers to get the deposit back. I have even seen signs saying put your bottles NEXT to the bin for others to collect NOT IN IT. In the UK after a fine day there are literally mountains of drinks containers which I estimate to be worth hundreds of pounds if they were in Germany. Instead we pay for them to be collected and we pay for them to be disposed of.
    It is not complicated. I did it as a child, previous generations did it.
    I get angry when I see the likes of Coca Cola taking part in trials. Coca cola are the worlds leading authority on deposit systems. This knowledge is used to further the company’s interest not the environment. they make money in Germany where they have to take back there containers and they make money in the UK where the public pays for the disposal or puts up with the public litter. If they are taking the yellow stuff not containers.

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