4 June 2019 by Caelia Quinault

Waitrose launches ‘packaging-free’ trial

Waitrose & Partners has today (June 4) launched the first large-scale ‘packaging-free’ trial of its kind at one of its stores.

In a bid to cut single-use plastic and packaging waste, the retailer has taken hundreds of items out of their packaging at its Botley Road shop in Oxford.

Customers at Waitrose’s Oxford branch can bring refillable containers to carry certain products, eliminating the need for single use packaging

The shop features the largest number of loose fruit and vegetable lines of any major supermarket, Waitrose says.

The retailer has also removed plastic wrap from flowers and plants and has launched refillable options for products including wine and beer to cereals, coffees and cleaning products as part of the trial.

This includes the UK’s first supermarket frozen ‘pick and mix’, the first borrow-a-box scheme and a dedicated refillable zone.


The ‘Waitrose Unpacked’ trial will run for a period of 11 weeks until 18 August and is intended to determine how customers might be prepared to shop differently in future, according to the retailer.

Packaged equivalents of the products will remain in their usual areas to see what customers pick, if given the choice. The supermarket will be seeking as much feedback as possible during the trial.

Tor Harris, head of CSR for Waitrose & Partners, said: “We are determined to build on the work we’ve already done to reduce packaging – and this test will take our efforts to a whole new level as we help the growing number of customers who want to shop in a more sustainable way.

“This test has huge potential to shape how people might shop with us in the future so it will be fascinating to see which concepts our customers have an appetite for. We know we’re not perfect and have more to do, but we believe this is an innovative way to achieve something different.”

The ‘Unpacked’ concepts include:

  • Produce unpacked – 160 loose fruit and vegetable products will be available at the store – the most loose fruit and vegetable lines offered by any national supermarket.
  • Frozen pick and mix – Frozen mango, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pineapple and raspberries are packaging free and will be available as pick and mix.
  • Plastic removed from flowers and plants – Plastic wrap has been removed from all flowers and indoor plants and replaced with recyclable and PEFC certified craft paper.
  • Detergent and washing up liquid refillables – Partnering with Ecover and provide an automatic detergent and washing up liquid dispenser where customers will be able to refill their reusable Ecover containers.
  • Wine and beer refillables – Four different wines and four different beers available on tap to take home in reusable bottles to cut down on the use of glass bottles.
  • Coffee refills – Customers can grind one of four coffees in store to take home in a reusable container to reduce glass and plastic packaging.
  • Essential refillables – 28 products including pasta, rice, grains, couscous, lentils, cereals, dried fruit and seeds have been taken out of packaging and will be available through dispensers.
  • Borrow-a-box scheme – In a UK first, shoppers can borrow-a-box from store to shop with and then take home before returning on their next visit.


Today’s announcement represents the latest initiative by Waitrose to cut down on packaging and plastics, in light of growing public concern over plastic pollution.

It comes as the government examines responses to its consultation on extended producer responsibility for packaging, which will see packaging producers and retailers paying more towards the cost of recycling the material (see letsrecycle.com story).

Other steps that Waitrose is taking to tackle the issue include making all own-brand packaging widely recycled, reusable or compostable by 2023 and removing all black plastic by the end of 2019.

The company recently launched home compostable ready meal packaging and has taken some black plastic out of its fresh fish and poultry and fruit and vegetable lines.

The announcement by Waitrose comes after packaging firm DS Smith called for supermarkets to switch more of their packaging from plastic to cardboard (see letsrecycle.com story).

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This is a clear opportunity for Waitrose to lead the way in terms of packaging. It is also an opportunity for the supermarket to live up to its much proclaimed “Tread lightly” claim.

Noted that its CSR lead is getting involved. There is a need for the business senior managers to climb out of their silos and collaborate across the piece – a key culture change in how communication and feedback flows through the ranks will be required.

And this culture change must come from within. The customers, who on the whole are not stupid will want to see that Waitrose lives up to the challenge. Tor Harris carries the CSR flag – this could be a good place to start. Build a solid team of talent.

I wish you all the best in this endeavour.

Posted by ray bennett on June 8, 2019

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