Supermarkets lead the way for a Zero-Waste future

Supermarkets lead the way for a Zero-Waste future

It is estimated that five million tonnes of plastic is used every year in the UK, nearly half of which is used in packaging. Plastic waste often does not decompose and can last centuries in landfill or in the natural environment, which in turn can pollute rivers and oceans, soils and harm the creatures that inhabit them. Most families throw away an estimated 40kg of plastic per year, which could otherwise be recycled. However, is recycling huge amounts of plastic the answer to saving our planet?

The UK Government had a strategic ambition to “…work towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable and compostable by 2025”. In Particular, they have an “ambition” of zero avoidable waste by 2050 and a “target” of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042.  Best get moving then.

Could there be an easier way to incorporate reducing plastic waste into our daily lives?

The latest innovation to our high streets are refill stations or dedicated refill stores. The concept behind this idea is to reduce waste and encourage reuse of plastic or glass containers to prolong their use and eliminate single use plastics.

The Co-operative

The latest supermarket to trial this concept is the Co-Operative. On 19th November 2020, The Co-op opened a brand new £3m eco-friendly concept store in Lichfield, near Birmingham. The Central England Co-op store features free water refills, eco-friendly fridges that reduce carbon footprint by 60%, and a zero-waste refill hub. The Zero-waste refill hub that is featured, will see them work with wholesale and DTC business Suma in a concept known as the Refillery.

The Refillery features large dispensers filled with Suma products that are 100% organic, vegan and Fairtrade and will allow customers to weight products into their own containers, in a bid to cut down on food packaging and waste. Other features include, free hot and cold water refills where customers can top up their own water bottles.

Asda’s Sustainability Store

Asda is another leading supermarket chain to trial a new sustainability store. The store is located in Middleton, Leeds and since opening it has unveiled their new plastic reduction strategy, with a promise that customers will not pay more for greener options.

They have partnered with some of the UK’s most popular household brands including Vimto, Kellogg’s, PG Tips, Randox and Persil to help shoppers reduce, reuse and recycle. This one store alone is set to save one million pieces of plastic per year!

Some of the new store features include:

  • 15 huge refill stations which include 30 household staples from coffee beans, oats, cordial, rice and even shampoo and detergents to name a few.
  • 53 fresh produce lines in total sold in a loose and unwrapped format.
  •  Asda’s first reverse vending machine for cans, plastic and glass drink bottles, and a hanger recycling facility which will be rolled out across all stores.
  • The store will also showcase sustainable fashion lines through George, including clothing made from recycled polyester and coat hanger-less denim. George will also feature a partnership with ‘Pre-Loved’, a vintage wholesaler who will be selling bespoke vintage clothing from well- known brands- A supermarket first!

Sainsburys & Ecover

Earlier this year Sainsburys teamed up with ecologically sound brand ‘Ecover’ to trial a cleaning refill station in a bid to cut back on plastic waste. A trial in one of their superstores in North London, allowed customers to fill up on washing up liquid and detergents or alternatively, purchase Ecover products and reuse the bottles up to 50 times.

This trial was part of Sainsburys plan to reduce, reuse or replace plastic across the business’s operations as well as reducing carbon emissions.

Tom Domen, Global Head of Long-Term Innovation at Ecover, said: “At Ecover we want to challenge the idea of single use packaging and our disposable culture. This partnership with Sainsbury’s is an important step in kickstarting a REFILLUTION® in the UK and realising our goal of making refills more accessible for everyone.”

M&S ‘Fill Your Own’

Earlier this year, M&S launched a new ‘Fill Your Own’ Isle into a store in Southampton and later extended it into stores in Manchester after a positive response.  They aim to address climate change challenges and encourage consumers to reduce and reuse with all products offering even better value per gram than the packaged alternatives.

After a few months trial M&S highlighted some key customer insights to the trial. Customers loved the idea as it brought an element of Family fun to shopping, portion flexibility and a chance to try new products that they normally wouldn’t purchase.

Is this what the future of grocery shopping looks like?

Will other leading supermarkets follow suit?

 I know what you are thinking, but when can we expect to see this concept in their Northern Irish Stores? Maybe 2021 is the year.

In the meantime, I have discovered a new refill store in Belfast, The ‘Refill Quarter’. Opened around a year ago, they offer an endless range of home staple refills to local yummy treats.  

Happy ‘Re-filling’!

Chanelle Quinn is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: LinkedIn.

A PR disaster for Oatly?

A PR disaster for Oatly?

The growing popularity of oat milk and dairy milk alternatives in the last few years is unquestionable. A third of U.K households (32%) now buy dairy free milk, according to a Swedish leading plant-based drink brand Oatly. Yes, I am one of those people! For around a year and a half now I have been buying dairy milk alternatives, with Oatly being if not, one of my favourite brands. I love everything about Oatly; The taste, the health benefits (most important for me) and of course, their sustainability.

 Speaking to leading food outlet, Speciality Food magazine, Oatly’s U.K general manager said that as a result of increased consumer awareness, they know they can have a direct impact on the health of the planet ‘through the products they choose to buy’. Before this he said that consumers mainly opted for dairy free alternatives for dietary or health reasons but now many choose them for sustainability.

So why have Oatly received backlash and are being ‘Cancelled’ by many consumers now?

Well, here is the run-down. Whether your vegan, vegetarian or a meat eater I am sure you are aware of some of the motives behind vegan brands; To be ethical, honest, totally transparent, and sustainable to name a few. Oatly have built its name around sustainable farming, low carbon, and ethical business principles.

“Our goal is to always deliver products that have maximum nutritional value and minimal environmental impact.” Their ‘Oatly Way’ reads.

However, they have recently been at the forefront of a PR disaster because of links involving their new choice of investor. The investment was part of a $400 million funding package in which half was secured through a green-deal bank loan which commits Oatly to ensure all its investors are in sustainable solutions.

The rest however, a 10% stake of $200 million came from private equity consortium Blackstone. In the past they have made headlines for its alleged involvement in the Amazon deforestation, and because, its founder Stephen Schqarzman has donated to Donald Trump and the republican party ( I think we are all familiar with Trumps views on climate change ) , and briefly served as chairman of Trumps strategic and policy forum in 2016. Yikes.

The start of the backlash

Of course, this decision did not go unnoticed by vegan activists all over the world. The epicentre of the turmoil however began on Twitter. A thread was created by activist and influencer Laura Young, also know as Less Waste Laura.

Here is what she had to say:  

This thread created a huge stir across social media, and lead many to boycott the brand and find a dairy free alternative.

Oatly’s response

Oatly released an open letter in response to their PR disaster and posted this photo across their social media platforms. The letter was aimed at any stakeholder of the company which they upset in their decision. It was rather a sympathetic letter in my opinion, to win back the hearts of those consumers who turned their back on the company and to plead with them to understand.  They explained, “Getting a company like Blackstone to invest in us is something we have been working on to create maximum change to benefit the planet”  

They knew that they would not be able to please everyone in their decision, but they placed great emphasis on how Blackstone’s investment will bring them larger returns ( for example, more than the meat and dairy industry) by pushing the oat based sustainability movement across the globe. In turn, this may influence other private equity firms to make sustainable investments.

 Oatly also discussed that with the help of Blackstone’s capital base and expertise in the global market it would help them achieve their goals. These goals would see us having a chance of reaching the global climate goals of cutting the greenhouse gas emissions by 50% before 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Could this PR disaster see a decrease in their market share if consumers turn to alternative brands?

Will I turn to an alternative brand?

At first, I had considered it but after reading their letter I understand and accept the overall goals they are trying to achieve.  And, if you have every tried Oatly (barista version, if you know, you know) in your tea or coffee I am sure you will agree it would be a difficult product to depart with.  

You can read their full letter here:

Chanelle Quinn is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: LinkedIn.