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Supermarkets – we want more reusable packaging

Scrunched-up plastic bottles

Asda’s plan to dispense laundry detergent into reusable pouches is commendable, but it’s also long-overdue and only a small step in a long journey. So why aren’t more supermarkets offering refillable products?

Asda’s giving itself a big pat on the back this week with an announcement that it wants to start pumping laundry detergent into reusable packs from in-store machines.

The supermarket giant has already trialled the idea in five stores. Using 1,000 litre vats, it dispensed own-brand fabric conditioner into customers’ reusable pouches that can be refilled up to 10 times.

I think this is a great idea, and so did others – it won the Innovation of the Year award at the UK Packaging Awards. But my first reaction to this announcement was; why haven’t supermarkets been doing this for years?

Make more packaging reusable

When we asked ‘is excess packaging out of control?‘ back in September, you responded with a resounding ‘yes’, telling us there’s too much unnecessary packaging, like plastic and cardboard. I couldn’t agree more – who wouldn’t welcome more easy ways to reduce the amount we consume and throw away?

So why not extend this scheme to lots of other products? When I travelled around New Zealand I was impressed with the cereal dispensers in supermarkets, for example. It may take a while to get the right processes in place, but it would soon become second nature to manufacturers, supermarkets and consumers.

Richard Swannell, director of retail at Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), who funded Asda’s trial scheme says, ‘We are talking to others in the retail sector about the opportunities for reusable packaging in relation to products ranging from laundry products to paint to deliver further cost and environmental benefits.’

Good. Asda’s right of be proud of its award for this scheme, but the real achievement will be in creating a mind shift in the way everyone shops for a variety of refillable items.


Full marks to Asda on this.

When are there going to be many thousand more Ecover refill stations in place in supermarkets up and down the country? Ecover already operate a superb refill system but finding a shop that utilises it is very difficult.

Ecover’s system could also be used as a second model, alongside Asda’s, for others to work from in developing their own.

I’m surprised and a bit frustrated taht The Co-Op and Waitrose, both of whom are always shouting about their green and ethical credentials, are not already operating something like this: when will they catch up?

Ecover now do a 5 litre laundry detergent in a bag in box format. The box is 100% recyclable as is the bag. Given that is a 5 litre pack will also be more enviromentally friendly than Asda’s bulk solutuon.

I’m in favour in principle but wonder its practicality – I recycle Sainsbury’s plastic bags as I get a point for everyone reused but they only last a a few uses before splitting – I have to wonder if – when I go to refill a bottle and it splits – do I get credit for the spills??

Mark Williams says:
23 December 2010

It’s a start. Remember the mantra: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. Recycling is the last and least important of the three Rs but it is the one we hear most about. There should be much more emphasis on the first two.

The big stores must lead the way. It’s a myth that consumer choice can drive this since we buy what we can get and we have no influence on what the big supermarkets stock. Given the choice to buy essential products with too much packaging or nothing then we will all choose the former.