High-street chains and retailers including LEON, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Waitrose and Morrisons join new innovative pilot to tackle single-use plastic

Plastic pollution campaigning organisation, City to Sea announces the launch of a new ambitious pilot with retailers, independents and high-street chains including LEON, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Pret, Costa, Morrisons, ASDA and Waitrose to champion refillable solutions in a bid to cut pollution caused by single-use packaging.

The pilot, launched this week, is the first of its kind and a natural step in the planned expansion of their award-winning Refill campaign, which already connects over 250,000 app users with 30,000 Refill Stations across the UK where they can fill up their reusable bottle, removing the need to buy bottled water.

The 3-month pilot will take place in Oxford and Bristol, where the Refill campaign started life in 2015. App users in these locations will be able to use the free Refill app to find out where to fill up not just their reusable water bottle, but also their coffee cup, lunchbox, groceries and even cleaning products and toiletries.

The expanded Refill campaign will, for the first time, connect conscious consumers that are looking to reduce their use of single-use plastic, with all the locations across the UK that are offering refillable options and will also highlight discounts that reward them for bringing their own container. For example, many already offer discounts for reusable coffee cups and this will be extended to food and even money off toiletries – all offers will be listed on the app.

Some retailers have already committed to filling up customers’ containers at meat, fish and deli counters and earlier this year, Waitrose (which is also involved in the pilot) was the first to trial refills of dried goods, frozen fruit, beer, wine and cleaning products in store. However, the food-to-go sector has to date been less ambitious in their plans to offer refill options.

Nearly 70 independent cafes and businesses have signed up to the pilot. In addition, there are several leading retailers and brands involved in both Bristol and Oxford. These are all already on the Refill app for water, but will be adding new Refill services:

  • LEON: hot drinks & some food options.
  • Neal’s Yard Remedies: toiletries
  • Waitrose: hot drinks, food & household goods
  • Pret: hot drinks
  • Morrisons: hot drinks & food
  • ASDA: hot drinks & food

The UK is a nation that loves to eat & drink on the go and consequently, packaging from the food-to-go sector is a huge cause of marine plastic pollution. Take-away food containers and cups are consistently in the top 10 most commonly found items on beaches and rivers in the UK and around the world.

A Mintel report from 2018 shows that 75% of consumers eat lunch on the go every day of the week.The IDG reported in July this year that the UK food-to-go market is forecast to be worth £23.4bn by 2024, up from £18.5bn in 2019, growing by 26.4%.

In 2018, over 1.13 trillion items of packaging – most of them plastic – were used for food and drinks in the EU alone. It is clear as this market grows that a solution to single use waste is needed to keep pace with growth.

Rebecca Di Mambro, Head of Marketing for LEON said: “Sustainability will be the defining issue of our time, and it’s our mission to be the first generation to leave the planet in a better state than we found it. That’s why we’re so excited to be partnering with City to Sea on their refillable pilot at LEON Oxford. We know our guests want the opportunity to make more sustainable choices – we’ve seen a 300% uptake since we launched our reusable coffee cup discount over 18 months ago – and trialling refillable containers is the next step in reducing the amount of single-use material across LEON.”

Rebecca Burgess, City to Sea CEO welcomes the level of commitment from so many independent businesses who have been pioneering refill options for some time and celebrates LEON’s involvement in the pilot, as the first major UK food-to-go chain to trial offering hot food in this way “It’s fantastic to see LEON blazing a trail in the sector and letting its customers try out bringing their own containers for selected food items, as well as hot drinks and water. We hope that their example will show other food-to-go chains that it’s infinitely possible to achieve this whilst ensuring food safety and customer satisfaction.”

Dom Winter, Sustainability Manager, Neal’s Yard Remedies said “We’re proud to continue our campaign to combat unnecessary plastic waste with our new product refill initiative. Encouraging our customers to refill will help us work towards a more sustainable future – a goal that we’re extremely passionate about”

Refill has, to date, been a pioneering campaign to prevent plastic pollution caused by single-use bottled water by connecting people with places they can fill up with tap water for free via a free location-based app. Over 300 communities across the UK have now set up Refill Schemes, with local volunteers signing up businesses who are happy to provide water refills.

Rebecca Burgess. CEO of City to Sea said: “We’re thrilled that the Refill app now has over 250,000 downloads and is on track to prevent more than 100 million plastic bottles from entering our waste stream. We now want to make it even easier for people to say goodbye to single-use packaging, by making it easier for them to find places which offer refillable options for food, drinks, groceries and even cosmetics.”

City to Sea are now looking for other forward-thinking businesses in the food-to-go or retail sector to participate in the Refill pilot. It is welcoming businesses who already allow customers to bring their own containers for hot drinks, food & household/toiletries or those wanting to trial a refill service for the first time.  

As well as encouraging diverse businesses to trial and expand the offer of reuse the three-month pilot is navigating issues around contamination, health and safety and time to serve customers.

They are working with large employers and offices to address the barrier that many people do not want to carry a reusable coffee cup or lunch box around with them. By working with employers to provide these items, uptake rises and this starts to have a knock-on effect on behaviour.

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