The UK supermarket chain Waitrose & Partners is trialling refill stations for dry groceries such as pasta and rice, and also beer, wine, eco detergent and washing up liquid. Customers can choose from a range of 48 products to fill up their own containers. The supermarket also offers a "borrow-a-box" scheme for a £5 deposit for those who don't bring their own. Furthermore, plastic packaging has been removed from 160 products across the vegetable and fruit range. To encourage the choice of unpackaged products, the refill items will be up to 15% cheaper than the packaged items. The test will run for 11 weeks in Oxford and will be extended to the rest of the UK if deemed successful.
The awareness of plastic waste causing major environmental problems is on the rise but still, 10 supermarket chains produce over 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastics in only a year. So far the focus has widely been on recycling rather than reusing - most UK retailers had committed themselves to eliminate non-recyclable plastic packaging by 2025.
With this test run, Waitrose & Partners is joining others in nudging consumers towards more sustainable behaviour. The retailer is now one of a few supermarkets in the UK offering the option to refill reusable containers in the store - with many more in the US and elsewhere. According to Tor Harris, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility of the retailer, the aim is to "help the growing number of customers who want to shop in a more sustainable way".
The most common excuse for customers to still buy groceries wrapped in plastic packaging are either availability of non-packaged products or price. Just four supermarket-chains offer the option to refill your own containers, in most cases to a higher price. Could the retailer's choice to offer their non-packaged product range attract more consumers to give up on plastic packaging?