Unilever Is Expanding Its Refill and Reuse Program to Reduce Plastic Waste

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Back in 2020, consumer goods company, Unilever, started its largest in-store refill trial in Europe. Following the trial’s success, the multinational corporation is expanding its refillable packaging trials across the U.K. The program will further include its first-ever ‘return on the go’ initiative to reduce its contribution to plastic pollution.

Unilever is set to expand its initial refill trial across U.K. and introduce new options to reduce consumers’ plastic consumption as the demand for refillable products keeps increasing.

2020 initial trial

The company launched its largest refill trial in the supermarket chain Asda’s Middleton store in Leeds. The pilot program saw seven brands across beauty, personal care and laundry categories, providing consumers the option to refill and reuse. Some of these brands included laundry detergent Persil, bath soap Alberto Balsam and tea brand Pukka.

Out of the three refill formats offered, one was a touch-free refill machine created by British sustainable beauty brand Beauty Kitchen. The machine dispenses liquids in reusable steel or aluminium bottles.

The Asda store trial exceeded expectations—weekly purchases of Persil from the refill area increased by triple compared to its equivalent single-use pack, for example.

The trial also revealed data points like 94% of UK consumers say they are more likely to buy refills than new products. And 89% say they will buy a product if it is in reusable packaging. More than a third said that they would use refill stations as they offer value for money.

Source: Unilever

Return on the go

“To tackle plastic pollution with the speed and urgency needed, we must create scalable solutions which make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices. We believe refills could be a game-changer in our ambitions to halve our use of virgin plastic by 2025; however, unlocking the full potential of the reuse economy requires a shift in mindset of how people shop,” EVP & general manager of Unilever UK & Ireland, Sebastian Munden said in a statement. “We are testing different refill models on a large scale in order to continue to build our understanding of how to enable this change most effectively.”

Expanding this trial nationwide, the initiative will see Unilever’s first first-ever ‘return on the go’ pilot. This is for those consumers who want a quicker grab-and-go purchase. Through this program, they can pick a pre-filled stainless steel bottle from the shelf and return it to the store after use. It will then be cleaned and refilled.

Personal care label Simple and bath soap Radox will also be available in this format. Consumers can expect this to kickstart in select Asda and Co-op stores by the end of 2021.

Refill on the go

Unilever will continue to test its ‘refill on the go’ program. Consumers opting for this format can purchase and refill reusable stainless steel bottles with a standalone refill machine.

The company’s test-and-learn trials will provide deep insights into consumer habits surrounding refillable and reusable packaging. Through this process, different refill models, store formats, in-store locations, and shopper experiences will be evaluated.

We believe refills could be a game-changer in our ambitions to halve our use of virgin plastic by 2025; however, unlocking the full potential of the reuse economy requires a shift in mindset of how people shop. We are testing different refill models on a large scale in order to continue to build our understanding of how to enable this change most effectively

Sebastian Munden, EVP & general manager of Unilever UK & Ireland
Source: Unilever

Worldwide refill stations

Apart from the U.K., Unilever has partnered with supermarket giant Coles in Australia to offer consumers its first-ever in-store laundry liquid refillery. Shoppers can refill old bottles of Omo and Surf with a survey showing that 100% of consumers will be shifting to the refillery from their present laundry brands.

In Mexico, it has set up refill stations in Walmart stores. Consumers can refill Sedal shampoo using reusable aluminium bottles. It has also launched a refill station at the Carrefour supermarket in Pakistan for consumers to fill up on Sunsilk shampoo.

In alignment with its sustainability goals, Unilever launched CO2 laundry capsules and paper-based laundry detergent bottles. It further unveiled recyclable plastic toothpaste tubes.

However, Unilever was also named in a list of companies that claim they have effective solutions to the plastic pollution crisis, but instead are accused of developing false solutions which do little to nothing to tackle this problem.


Lead image courtesy of Unilever.


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