Waitrose is to introduce an in-store “refillable zone” in which staples such as rice and cereal will be sold loose helping to prevent “thousands of tonnes” of packaging and plastic waste from entering shoppers’ homes.

The scheme, which will make frozen fruit available as “pick and mix”, allowing customers to scoop out the produce they want and take it home in their own containers, has been hailed by the environmental charity Greenpeace as a “genuinely bold” move, and could reshape the way British people do their supermarket shops.

Multiple trials are being conducted at one of the grocer’s Oxford branches under the scheme, named Waitrose Unpacked.

Pasta, beer and flowers

More than two dozen store-cupboard ingredients, including rice, pasta, lentils and couscous will be sold loose in dispensers for customers to transfer into reusable containers available in-store or brought from home, alongside 160 varieties of loose fruit and vegetables, a bigger offering than at any other national supermarket.

Plastic wrap has been removed from all flowers and indoor plants and replaced with recyclable craft paper, and several wines and beers are available on tap to decant into reusable bottles. Customers can even grind their own coffee in store to take home in their own jar or bag, eliminating the need to bring more glassware and plastic into their households.

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And Waitrose has also partnered with the eco brand Ecover, which has set up an automatic detergent and washing-up liquid dispenser where customers can refill their reusable containers.

Changing consumer habits

The scheme has the potential to save thousands of tonnes of unnecessary plastic and packaging, Waitrose said.

If the trials prove successful the concepts could be introduced to stores nationwide, with other supermarkets likely to replicate the programme, transforming the way British people shop for food.

The announcement comes hot on the heels of Morrisons rolling out its “buy bagless” drive to many of its stores, whereby more than 100 varieties of fruit and veg are available to purchase loose.

Environmentalists have praised Waitrose for taking this greengrocer-type approach a step further and believe it could mark a pivotal moment in UK consumer habits.

Ushering in a ‘refill culture’?

“This is a genuinely bold step from Waitrose,” said Ariana Densham, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK.

“Lots of supermarkets are starting to sell loose fruit and vegetables, which is good, but…this kind of innovation could spark a refill culture that’s so desperately needed to cut plastics in mainstream shops.

“The top 10 UK supermarkets produce 810,000 tonnes of throwaway packaging each year, so we need to see other major retailers taking plastic reduction seriously and following Waitrose’s lead.”

Sian Sutherland, co-founder of the campaigning group A Plastic Planet, praised Waitrose for “not just reducing plastic but reducing packaging itself”.

Ms Sutherland said: “The bonus of this is that we shoppers can buy exactly what we need, no more, no less. This should result in less food waste at home too – a double whammy win for the purse and the planet.”

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