Unpackaged refills

The new initiative will also let shoppers refill their own containers during home deliveries

A group of UK supermarkets have launched an industry-wide refill trial to tackle single-use plastic packaging.

Members of the Refill Coalition – comprising M&S, MorrisonsOcado  and Waitrose, in addition to supply chain solutions company CHEP – have joined forces to design a refill solution that could “play a key role” in reducing the amount of single-use plastic packaging sold every year in the UK while giving shoppers access to refillable groceries.

Some of the trial’s efforts will include rolling out refill stations for products including pasta, grains, and personal care items across stores and online, as well as a bulk home delivery service that’s being hailed as an industry first.

Some UK retailers, including M&S and Morrisons, have already introduced refill stations in many of their stores. The new initiative will also let shoppers refill their own containers during home deliveries.

The Refill Coalition was convened in 2020 by retail refill experts Unpackaged. If the trial – which is to fully be tested live in stores and online later this year – is successful, members have pledged to roll out the solution to all stores across the country.

“It’s absolutely brilliant that The Refill Coalition has come together to help create an industry-wide solution,” said Unpackaged founder Catherine Conway.

“Working together to create a universal system gives us the best chance of scaling refills so they become accessible to every shopper in the UK, as we know consumers want less single-use plastic packaging on the items they purchase.

“An industry-wide approach will lead to a refill system that works for everyone in the supply chain and will make refilling easier for shoppers.”

The move comes after supermarkets have agreed to scrap the vast majority of fresh fruit & veg plastic packaging within three years. Wrap predicts the changes will save over 21,500 tonnes of plastic waste per year. Additionally, the UK government’s single-use plastic tax is coming into force on 1 April.

Wrap director insights and innovation, Claire Shrewsbury, said the organisation welcomed the Refill Coalition’s initiative as it would help make refill and reuse “a regular feature of the nation’s shopping habits”.

“This will support making serious headway in eliminating single-use plastic packaging; one of the targets of The UK Plastics Pact.

“We know shoppers are ready to embrace this way of shopping, but lack of availability, in-store and online, has been a major barrier,” Shrewsbury said, adding the initiative could be a “game-changer”.

M&S, Morrisons, Ocado, Waitrose and CHEP said in a joint statement: “We’re delighted to be joining forces with the mutual objective of reducing single-use plastic packaging.

“The universal end-to-end solution being developed by The Refill Coalition presents a landmark opportunity for us to make a step change in the commercialisation of refills which we know can play a significant role in the reduction of single-use plastic packaging.”