Waitrose to extend plastic-busting refill scheme

Waitrose & Partners is set to extend its 'Unpacked' offering of packaging-free, refillable products, following a successful trial of the concept at its Botley Road store in Oxford.

Waitrose to extend plastic-busting refill scheme

Refillable containers will be showcased alongside products at the participating stores. Image: Waitrose & Partners

First launched nine weeks ago, the new offering saw the supermarket take more than 200 products out of their packaging – from fruit and vegetables, to grains, beer and wine.

Also included in the original trial were a ‘pick and mix’ counter for packaging-free frozen fruit and refill options for laundry detergent and washing-up liquid, as part of a partnership with Ecover. To complement these features, Waitrose & Partners began allowing shoppers to borrow a box in which to carry their groceries home, in a bid to discourage plastic bag use.

Waitrose & Partners has today (1 August) revealed that more than 7,000 customers have commented on the trial, called ‘Groceries Unpacked’, through its in-store feedback walls, website and social media.

Given that the majority of these comments were positive, the retailer has confirmed that it will begin offering ‘Unpacked’ products at its Cheltenham store in September, at its Abingdon and Wallingford branches in November. This is despite the fact that the initial trial still has a fortnight to run.

The feedback has additionally enabled Waitrose & Partners to refine the concept ahead of the wider roll-out. All of the stores taking part in the extended scheme will be fitted with dispensers for dried products, frozen ‘pick and mix’, coffee, wine and beer refills, as well as Ecover detergent and washing up liquid. However, the borrow-a-box concept will be scrapped due to low uptake rates.

According to Waitrose & Partners’ head of CSR Tor Harris, the three new ‘Unpacked’ aisles will be key in helping her company decide whether a wider roll-out is viable.

“The reaction to Waitrose Unpacked has been incredible with the invaluable feedback from thousands of customers giving us the confidence that they are prepared to change how they shop with us,” Tor Harris said.

“We are keen to take the Unpacked concept forward and these additional tests will help us achieve this as well as understand its commercial viability. Through working with our customers and suppliers we will continue to learn and develop ideas which have the potential to be rolled out more widely.”

I’ve had my fill

Given that only 9% of all plastic ever made has been recycled – and with 82% of UK shoppers now stating that the amount of plastic packaging produced by companies needs to be “drastically reduced” – Waitrose & Partners has, broadly, received much praise for its ‘Unpacked’ offering.

Commenting on the expansion of the scheme. Friends of the Earth’s lead plastics campaigner Julian Kirby said the retailer is “doing some genuinely game-changing work” while other supermarkets “are stuck in a recycling rut”.

“Customer enthusiasm for less packaging is fabulous news – supermarkets across the UK must take note and do far more to cut down on pointless plastic and packaging in their stores,” Kirby said.
“New legislation is needed to ensure that every business plays it part in cutting waste and phasing out the unnecessary single-use plastic packaging and products that blight our environment.”

Kirby’s comments come at a time when more than 24 companies have just started selling products through TerraCycle’s new “Loop” platform, whereby businesses provide product refills while retaining ownership of their reusable packaging. Supporters of the platform’s initial launch in New York and Paris include Unilever, Procter & Gamble (P&G) and PepsiCo, with Tesco set to spearhead a UK launch this autumn. 

They also come as the UK Government is consulting on its Resources and Waste Strategy – the first major update to policy in this area in more than a decade. The Strategy posits a huge overhaul of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system, which would see companies producing single-use plastic items forced to pay full net-costs of disposal of packaging they place on the market – up from just 10% at present.

Sarah George

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