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UK Refill Coalition launches plastic waste reduction program at Aldi stores

#UK Refill Coalition launches plastic waste reduction program at Aldi stores

Reusable vessels are located at a refill station next to a sign saying "Refill in a few steps".
A reusable bulk vessel has been developed to deliver refills for food staples and household products (Image credit: CHEP).

25 Oct 2023 — In a step forward in the fight against single-use plastic packaging waste, the UK Refill Coalition announced the launch of a pilot program at Aldi UK’s Solihull store. The initiative aims to refill key food staples and household products through reusable bulk vessels, eliminating the need for single-use plastic packaging.

“We’re delighted to be launching this new refill solution – initially into Aldi, followed by Ocado Retail’s online launch early next year– a system we’re proud to have worked on for over three years to bring to market,” the Refill Coalition says in a collective statement.

Comprising Aldi UK, Ocado Retail, and supply chain solutions company CHEP, the Refill Coalition, initiated by GoUnpackaged in 2020, has since fostered partnerships with manufacturing powerhouses like Berry Global, DIGI, Eden and Trade Fixtures. 

“We are pleased to have installed the in-store refill system. We are continuing our work to reduce single-use plastics and packaging, and making unpackaged product options more commonplace for our customers is a key part of this,” says Luke Emery of Aldi.

“Due to the optimized new system, Aldi is able to sell like-for-like products at 5% cheaper through the refill station, which is welcome news for shoppers in the current economic climate,” shares Catherine Conway, director at Gounpackaged, with Food Ingredients First:

Innovative refill solutions
The first solution is an in-store refill system introduced at Aldi UK. This system primarily addresses dry goods, including essentials like cereals and pasta. 

“The in-store refill process has been streamlined by Digi, meaning that customers who wish to shop with their own containers just need to get a container number when they tare (or zero off) their container, whereas previously they had to scan a barcode.” shares Conway.

The coalition has hinted at innovations within this module, such as integrating a tareless weighing system and a mechanism for the seamless dispensing of liquids, both anticipated to debut next year.

The in-store solution will introduce reusable vessels at refill stations, replacing existing bulk dispensers. Customers are encouraged to bring their containers and use an enhanced weighing system for refills. Each reusable vessel replaces 24 single-use plastic packs.

Another innovative way is a bulk home delivery refill solution, primed for a launch by Ocado Retail in the forthcoming year. Tailored for online shoppers, this system involves shipping products in a pre-filled consumer-sized vessel to the customers. 

A lady is filling products from the station.There is strong customer appetite for alternative choices when it comes to packaging (Image credit: Unpackaged).Once these vessels are emptied, customers can return them to their Ocado driver, eliminating the need for five single-use plastic packs for every vessel.

“Usually, the economic benefits mirror the environmental benefits,” explains Conway, “if you optimize the logistics of delivering a product, then it reduces costs and environmental impact.”

Consumer demand and regulatory shifts
Recent studies have underscored the demand among consumers for alternatives to traditional packaging. Research data indicates that between 67% to 85% of UK adults are inclined to try refilling if the option is available in mainstream supermarkets, a sentiment echoed by 73% of online shoppers.

The Netherlands was the largest destination of UK plastic waste last year, and problems, including incineration and re-export, have raised many international concerns.

As of October 2023, businesses in the UK have been prohibited from selling several single-use plastic items, including plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, and polystyrene cups.

As the calendar flips to 2024, following the Christmas season, industry insiders will have the opportunity to personally experience this trailblazing “behind the scenes” supply chain innovation, both for in-store and online platforms.

“We will be running a series of Open Days in early 2024 to invite interested brands and retailers from the UK and other markets down to come and see the system,” Conway explains.

By Sichong Wang

This feature is provided by Packaging Insights’s sister website, Food Ingredients First.

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