Asda was always something of an unlikely poster child for the war on plastic. That’s even more the case now as Mohsin Issa and co try to steer the retailer through some pretty choppy waters: Asda finds itself squeezed by the discounters and ultra-competitive supermarket rivals.

But there was a real buzz of excitement when it launched the first of four eco trial stores at Middleton near Leeds four years ago. Offering consumers a series of giant bays containing refill devices for dozens of staple products, this looked like it could be more than just a gimmick in the face of public outcry over the scourge of plastic pollution.

The fact that Asda had roped in support from a series of leading suppliers, including the likes of Persil, Kellogg’s and PG Tips, fuelled optimism that we could be on the verge of a seismic shift in consumer shopping habits.

However, this week all of this came crashing down to earth with an almighty bump after Asda pulled the plug on the trials. It branded the experiment as unsuitable for the national scale-up that was always going to be needed if it was to become a mainstream success.

Tesco wound up its re-use plans

Asda is not the first supermarket to pull the plug on its trials either. The Grocer also revealed two years ago that Tesco had quietly wound up its attempt at creating a re-use culture via its work with circularity company Loop. It too concluded that it was not commercially viable, even for a retailer with Tesco’s huge coffers, to provide the scale needed.

However, this week’s development is more grim news in the industry’s fight against plastic. And it should provide plenty of food for thought for the incoming Labour government if it is serious about the UK hitting its plastic pollution objectives.

In April, a report by the IGD warned that unless the industry found a way to scale up the use of refill technology, targets, such as that in the once-lauded UK Plastics Pact were pie in the sky.

Refill zones resembled downmarket holiday to Spain

While Asda says it will explore, along with suppliers, future opportunities, it seems highly unlikely that the sort of refill aisles that had been envisaged will be coming our way any time soon.

But before campaign groups queue up to attack Asda and supermarkets in general for their failure, it’s worth pointing out that ultimately it is the consumer that will have to change behaviour if refill technology is ever to take off.

The Grocer understands that sales at Asda’s trial stores were pitiful, even when Prices were pegged to those of everyday products sold in a traditional format.

For too many consumers, refill zones resemble a glorified downmarket holiday to Spain, without the sun. It is going to be a huge test for both ministers and the industry to reverse these attitudes, and it needs to go right towards the top of the agenda as the war on plastic cries out desperately for fresh thinking.A