Refill Station

World-leading research will pave the way for mainstream re-use and refill shopping in UK supermarkets

16 December 2021

  • WRAP has forged a unique industry partnership with Asda and Unilever to help citizens adopt refill and re-use as part of their weekly shop  
  • The research will help combat plastic pollution and drive progress towards reducing plastic packaging; a key target of The UK Plastics Pact
  • WRAP’s newly published Plastics Tracker Report shows two in three (67%) UK citizens say plastic waste is an important issue to them personally but acting on it can be challenging when shopping

Global NGO WRAP is working with UK Plastics Pact members, Asda and Unilever, in a world-first research project to understand how to change the ingrained shopping habits which might be preventing customers from using refill stations and reusable packaging as part of their regular weekly shop.

The in-depth research, which is being co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency will involve closely following shoppers as they plan at home, engage in-store, and how they decant and store products once back at home. 

The aim is to gain a deeper understanding into the opportunities for refill and reuse, as well as the barriers which are holding citizens back. This research will be invaluable to supermarkets and businesses so they can adapt and grow their offering, driving the change needed to bring their customer along on the journey. Interventions could include making reusable packaging options more visible when shopping online or providing people with prompts and reminders through digital channels. It is a scientific approach which WRAP has used many times before to develop its own work in reducing household food waste and driving up recycling.

We know from other research undertaken by WRAP and released today as part of our Plastics Tracker Report that most citizens (two in three) remain concerned about plastic pollution, with many (67%) saying they are open to using refill options as part of their personal motivation to shop sustainably and tackle plastic pollution, but that it needs to be made easier. Many expressed reservations about the lack of widespread availability, trying something new, the time and effort in planning to shop this way, the ‘messiness factor’ and the perceived cost.

It reveals the scale of the challenge in reversing deeply ingrained shopping habits. But it is a shift which is an important part of reducing plastic packaging in shops and tackling plastic pollution as well as enabling citizens to shop sustainably. This new on-the-ground project will help pave the way to making that shift.

Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP, “We’ve seen Pact members introducing some successful small-scale trials of refills, but we know we need more evidence to understand how these can be rolled out on a wider-scale and become part of our daily shopping habits. No-one has looked at re-use and refill behaviours on this scale before, and I’m delighted that we are able to do this in partnership with two of our founding UK Plastics Pact members, Asda and Unilever. This way of shopping needs to become a habit if we are going to make serious headway in eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging and meet the targets of The UK Plastics Pact.

“This study holds the answers to developing re-use and refill systems that meet the needs of shoppers who want to protect their environment, but also in a cost-effective and convenient way.” 

Susan Thomas, Asda Senior Director, Sustainable Commercial Activities, “We know that customers want to do their bit to reduce their carbon footprint and we are always working with them and our partners such as Unilever on new ways to make refill as hassle free and also as cost effective as possible. Removing price as a barrier to purchase is essential to persuade shoppers to embrace refill and our Greener at Asda Price promise ensures that all loose products are sold at the same price or less per kg than packaged equivalents. We are really pleased with the enthusiasm customers have shown in our four refill stores and this WRAP research will help us shape our next steps as we persuade more customers to embrace this form of shopping when they have been used to the convenience and ease of buying sealed products.”

Yvette Edwards, Unilever UK & Ireland Communications and Corporate Affairs Director,We need to make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices every day. We believe reusable packaging could help reduce plastic waste at scale, but it is a totally new way of shopping requiring new behaviours at-home and in-store. To encourage and enable more people to trial our reusable products and to continue to buy them in the longer term, we are pleased to be working with our partners WRAP and Asda so we can test and learn together and gather insight on what will work most effectively”.

Notes to Editor

  • Plastics Tracker Report – here The report also covers - In-store refill of dry food, in-store refill of laundry/cleaning products, buying fruit and vegetables loose, buying refill packs/pouches for laundry and clearing products and using retailer take back or bring back recycling of bathroom/beauty products.

UKPP - Target 2 – 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

  • 2020 data show 70% of plastic packaging is reusable (5%) or recyclable (65%). Packaging design is significantly improving. We have seen a 70% drop in the number of packs with components that make them hard to recycle. While there have been positive developments in recycling of plastic bags and wrapping over the last twelve months, it is not yet at the scale required. A significant scaling up will be needed nationally if the Pact is to hit its targets. That means increasing the number of supermarket collection points and the use of them by citizens, investment from industry in the necessary sorting and recycling infrastructure and importantly, specifying recycled content in products and packaging derived from used consumer plastic bags and wrapping.
    • Target two in action: Heinz is to introduce a new cap for tomato ketchup which sees the removal of silicone valves which are a contaminant to the recycling system. The new caps will be rolled out in 2022. PepsiCo and Britvic have moved 7UP from green to clear plastic bottles. The move will significantly improve the value of the material and enable the bottles to be recycled back into new bottles. Asda, working in partnership with many partners including Unilever, has added more than 50 new product lines to its refill trial and extended the trial to more stores including in York and Glasgow, with Milton Keynes to follow. Tesco, Co-op, and Sainsbury’s now offer national collection points for flexible plastic collections. Aldi Stores Ltd, Asda, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Waitrose & Partners are all piloting similar collections, and the number of collection points are anticipated to reach more than 6,000 in January 2022.
  • Globally, replacing just 20% of single-use plastic packaging with reusable alternatives offers an opportunity worth at least USD 10 billion – EMF: Reuse
  • Over 75% of consumers are consciously trying to reduce the amount of plastic packaging they use, and 23% are actively seeking retailers that offer this service – research conducted by M&S and YouGov
  • 91% of citizens support plastic-free supermarket aisles – Yonder
  • The UK Plastics Pact is the first initiative in the world working to create a circular economy for plastics. It brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle plastic waste.
  • The UK Plastics Pact is the first such initiative in the world working to create a circular economy for plastics. It brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle plastic waste. Through joining The UK Plastics Pact, WRAP can support your business in embedding the Pact’s targets into your business strategies. WRAP welcomes new members all the time, from clothing retail to DIY and the built environment; come and join us and play your part in creating a circular economy for plastics.
  • Read The UK Plastics Pact 2020 Annual Report here
  • Watch The UK Plastics Pact Annual Report video here
  • WRAP is a global NGO based in the UK. It is one of the UK’s top 5 environmental charities and works with governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. It is the charity leading The UK Plastics Pact (a world first), Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 as well as the citizen campaigns Love Food Hate Waste, Love Your Clothes, Clear on Plastics and Recycle Now. WRAP works collaboratively and develops and delivers evidence-based, solutions to reduce the environmental cost of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the plastic packaging we use. Founded in 2000 in the UK, WRAP now works around the world and is a Global Alliance Partner of The Royal Foundation’s Earthshot Prize.