British supermarket chain Waitrose is using a store in Oxford to try out some innovative concepts that could eventually get the stores rid of thousands of tons of plastic packaging. The big question is whether the shoppers will go along with it...
The test store is trying out the first 'pick & mix' concept for deep-frozen fruit without packaging. It also offers wine and beer on tap as well as refills of cleaning products (in collaboration with the Belgian company Ecover) and dispensers for pasta, rice, grain, legumes, dried fruit and seeds. Customers can take home freshly ground coffee in a reusable box. Most fresh vegetables and fruit were taken out of their plastic packaging, as were flowers and plants. Shoppers can 'borrow' reusable boxes in the store after a guarantee sum of five pounds.
"We help the growing number of customers who want to shop in a more sustainable way", sustainability manager Tor Harris said. "It will be fascinating to see which concepts our customers have an appetite for. We know we are not perfect and have more to do, but we believe this is an innovative way to achieve something different."
Because the retailer intends to find out whether shoppers are willing to change their shopping behaviour, customers will still have the option to choose packaged products in various departments. The experiment will continue until 18 August and is accompanied by a large-scale customer survey. Never before has a supermarket tested a packaging-free concept on such a large scale, claims the chain, which is launching the trial project under the name 'Waitrose Unpacked'. The ideas should eventually help to ban thousands of tons of plastic packaging from the stores.
Potential for quick progress
The project does fit into the zeitgeist perfectly: plastic waste is a major issue for consumers and for Europe, at least in theory. Quite a few retailers are taking measures: in the Benelux, Albert Heijn, Delhaize and& Carrefour are among those who have recently set up concrete projects to strongly reduce the amount of plastic packaging in the fruits and vegetables department.
Packaging manufacturer DS Smith has recently added to this push and released new research that shows how European supermarkets can avoid 70 billion plastic packagings (1.5 million tons of plastic) every year by choosing for renewable alternatives. The report also defines the five categories where quick progress is possible:
Shelf-ready plastic trays are often overlooked in the supermarket shelves because customers can't take them home, but cardboard alternatives are available.
In Europe, fresh products such as soft fruit are still often sold in plastic containers. Nevertheless, excellent alternatives do exist.
Almost all soft drink units are packaged in shrink film. Manufacturers are considering the switch to alternatives such as cardboard and glue.
Change is also at hand in the category of ready-made meals: the black plastic that is often used is almost impossible to recycle, but new cardboard alternatives are entering the market.
In meat, fish and cheese, synthetic trays and wraps can also be replaced by renewable or recyclable alternatives.