Tesco ends trials of refillable products through TerraCycle’s Loop platform
Tesco has stopped selling products housed in reusable packaging managed by the Loop platform, after they were available to online shoppers for 12 months and in selected stores for nine months.
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.
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.
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