Plastics out at Waitrose

medium_laurel2015.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Waitrose is one of the UK’s posher supermarkets and it has joined the growing list of retailers trialing new approaches to packaging. Part of the commitment is that by 2023 all Waitrose own brand packaging will be reusable, home compostable or recyclable. And there will be no more black plastic packaging trays for meat and fish by the end of 2019. The initiative is a bit of a reversion to past practise, in that it is based on customers reusing their own bags. Except that this idea extends to customer supplied containers for goods that would otherwise be packaged in plastic.

Waitrose calls its initiative Waitrose Unpacked and the trial will run for about three months over the summer. The company is treating it rather like a training session to encourage customers to understand alternatives to plastic packaging which at some point might get banned altogether.

The initiative is being trialed in the city of Oxford,UK, with a dedicated refill zone for dry goods, the opportunity to borrow boxes and the possibility to select loose fruit, vegetables and frozen goods. Flowers and plants will also be offered without plastic films. Wine and beer can be purchased on tap to take home in reusable bottles. And Ecover, an ecologically sound provider of soaps and cleaning fluids, is working with Waitrose to provide automatic detergent and dish washing liquid dispensers.

Waitrose is not alone in this initiative. Another large chain, Morrison, provides fruit and vegetables with no plastic packaging at all, and Marks and Spencer and Tesco also have schemes in place to cut plastic waste. All provide opportunities for printers to offer new services. Sign and display providers are the obvious beneficiaries, but there are also packaging opportunities especially bespoke paper packages digitally printed for individuals and interests.

There are many reasons why this trial might fail, primarily that it adds a layer of inconvenience people may not be willing to accept and support. The thing with the environment is that we all need to make a choice to adapt our behaviours and expectations, or be prepared to risk climate armageddon. Given the general selfishness of most people it’s by no means clear that we’ll make the best decisions for the planet at the cost of the best decision for the individual. But at least ideas such as Waitrose Unpacked make a start towards providing choices and opportunities for new approaches to packaging that cut environmental impact. Whether people go with it, is another question.

– Laurel Brunner

This article was produced by the Verdigris Project, an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. This weekly commentary helps printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa Graphics, EFI, Fespa, HP, Kodak, Kornit, Ricoh, Spindrift, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

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