Waitrose’s Unpacked refill zones are being rolled out to even more stores

As the war on plastic rages on, Waitrose has become the first major supermarket to make a huge change to the way its sells hundreds of everyday essentials, launching refill zones which enable customers to bring their own reusable containers and packaging.

The scheme was first announced in June, when Waitrose explained that it was launching ‘a dedicated refillable zone, the UK’s first supermarket frozen “pick and mix” [fruit] and first borrow-a-box scheme,’ in a move ‘which has the potential to save thousands of tonnes of unnecessary plastic and packaging.’

Waitrose refillable zones
Instagram/Waitrose & Partners PR

A pilot of the installation arrived in Oxford, and has now been so successful that the concept will be rolled out to stores in Cheltenham, Abingdon and Wallingford this year. While the original 11-week test in Oxford has not finished, the findings so far give the supermarket confidence that the concept can be a success elsewhere, with more than 7,000 customers sharing their feedback with the store.

In the Unpacked refill zones, customers can shop everything from bulk goods like pasta, rice and cereal to refillable wine, beer and coffee, as well as household products like Ecover detergent and washing up liquid. The store has also removed plastic from its plants and flowers offering, and are about double the usual amount of fruit and vegetables that are package-free.

In a statement, Tor Harris, from Waitrose & Partners, said: ‘The reaction to Waitrose Unpacked has been incredible with the invaluable feedback from thousands of customers giving us the confidence that they are prepared to change how they shop with us.

‘We are keen to take the Unpacked concept forward and these additional tests will help us achieve this as well as understand its commercial viability. Through working with our customers and suppliers we will continue to learn and develop ideas which have the potential to be rolled out more widely.’

Waitrose refillable zones
Instagram/Waitrose & Partners PR

‘This is a genuinely bold step from Waitrose to trial food dispensers so customers can use refillable tubs and jars,’ Ariana Densham, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, noted when the test began.

‘Lots of supermarkets are starting to sell loose fruit and vegetables, which is good, but more importantly this kind of innovation could spark a refill culture that’s so desperately needed to cut plastics in mainstream shops.

‘The top 10 UK supermarkets produce 810,000 tonnes of throwaway packaging each year, so we need to see other major retailers taking plastic reduction seriously and following Waitrose’s lead.’