Supermarket chain Tesco is to trial its zero-waste shopping service at 10 stores in the East of England.
Customers will be able to purchase everyday household goods in reusable packaging that can be returned to the store and reused.
This follows a year-long online pilot in which customers could order products and return packaging from the comfort of their own homes.
The trial’s goal is to meet the growing demand for less single-use plastic packaging.
Tesco claims that if customers at the ten stores switched just three products in their weekly shop, such as tomato ketchup, a bottle of soft drink, and dishwashing liquid, the packaging would be used and reused more than 2.5 million times per year.
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Persil washing powder, Fever-Tree drinks and mixers, Carex handwash, Tetley Tea, and BrewDog beers will be among the 88 popular products available in reusable and durable packaging.
Tesco’s partnership with reusable packaging platform Loop enables the reusable packaging and zero-waste shopping experience.
However, regular versions of these products in single-use packaging, such as plastic, cardboard, glass, and Tetra Paks, will remain available in stores.
Tesco has also included 35 of its own-brand essential foodstuff products, such as pasta, rice, oil, and sugar, in the trial.
The stores taking part in the trial are:
- Milton Keynes Kingston
- Northampton South
- Cambridge Newmarket Road
- Milton Keynes Wolverton
- Leicester Hamilton
- Loughborough Rushes
How it works
Customers seeking a zero-waste shopping experience can go to the Loop section of an aisle, where zero-waste versions of popular products are pre-filled in special reusable containers and ready to pick up on shelves.
When customers bring their groceries to the checkout, they are charged an additional 20p for each reusable product, which is later refunded via an app when the packaging is returned.
Tesco claims that the products sold in Loop’s reusable packaging cost the same as the original versions, minus the fully-refundable deposit.
Customers return the packaging to a collection point in the store and claim their refund via an app once they have finished using the product.
This is not the same as the zero-waste shop movement, which is led by small, independent businesses.
This traditionally encourages shoppers to bring their own containers or to use paper bags or existing containers, such as glass jars, Tupperware boxes, or old metal biscuit tins, donated by the local community.
Waitrose, a competitor supermarket chain, began testing zero-waste shopping in 2019, offering large dispensers for foodstuffs and encouraging shoppers to bring their own packaging, similar to the zero-waste entrepreneurs.
Changing consumer demands
According to consumer expert Kate Hardcastle, the pandemic has increased people’s interest in going zero-waste, or at least reducing the amount of products they buy that contain single-use plastic.
She describes it as a “jolt in social consciousness,” because people had more time to consider their impact on the environment during the coronavirus lockdowns.
“Tesco, it’s about time,” she told the BBC.
“For many years, independent small businesses have led the way in reducing single-waste plastic, but we know that larger retailers can bring an economy of scale to the consumer, resulting in lower prices and greater access.”
According to the online community of zero-waste shop owners, there are now approximately 320 zero-waste shops in the UK, but this also includes community interest companies (CICs) and organic wholefood shops.
According to Ms Hardcastle, collecting official data is difficult because many businesses fail.
“What we don’t want to see is big supermarket chains bulldozing out small retailers,” Ms Hardcastle said.
“The best outcome for our environment is for small and large retailers alike to be able to trade successfully with far more ethical packaging and products on the market.”
Accessing local zero-waste shops and transporting containers can be challenging for people who do not drive and do not want to travel too far.
This could make supermarkets more appealing, similar to how large chains have impacted local butchers and greengrocers in the past.
“Most small zero-waste businesses are aware of this and will not be surprised,” she said. “However, they will be concerned about cost because they will not be able to buy on the same scale, but they will hope they have built up a loyal local customer base.”