Reusable packaging trials could spark major change to retail supply chain

Posted by Isobel Drake on 13th July 2009

A series of industry trials exploring the benefits of reusable packaging could signal a step-change in the retail environment as we know it, according to UK-based WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme).

Working in collaboration with British retail and supply chain partners such as supermarket operator Asda, WRAP plans to explore how reusable and refillable systems have the potential to help the retail supply chain significantly reduce packaging and product damage, save on costs and increase consumer loyalty. The activity will include a major international review of existing studies comparing the environmental impacts of single use and reusable packaging – the findings from which could help companies to make more informed choices.

Innovative self-dispensing technology will go on trial in a number of Asda supermarket stores across the UK later this year, enabling consumers to purchase concentrated fabric conditioner in reusable pouches that can be refilled up to 10 times at state-of-the-art automated machines. The product will be transported in bulk and held ‘back of store’ then piped to the aisle. Customers can bring the pouch back for refilling at no extra cost to purchasing a standard bottle, but at a reduced pack weight which benefits the environment.

“Reusable packaging and its associated technical innovations offer us an opportunity to fundamentally re-think the retail experience,” WRAP’s Retail Programme Manager for Home Improvement, Mike Robey, said. “For example, it allows us to capitalise on a growing consumer consciousness regarding re-use, which we have seen evidenced most recently in relation to carrier bags.”

“Results will be shared with industry throughout 2009 and 2010 and support a number of objectives in the Government’s new packaging strategy.”

“This work could, when combined with growing consumer trends, spark a ‘reusables revolution’ in consumer packaging – building on the growing recognition of the contribution reusable packaging can play in the supply chain,” he proclaimed.

WRAP will also be researching the use of in-store self-dispensing systems for alcohol and soft drinks within the retail sector.