Waste not, want lots

In response to increasing consumer pressure, a growing army of
UK retailers are beginning to wage a war on waste.

Waste not, want lots

In response to increasing consumer pressure, a growing army of UK retailers are beginning to wage a war on waste.

Here’s a scary statistic, all the plastic ever made still exists

It’s a fact that’s concentrating the mind of a growing number of shoppers. Retailers from the hip to the humdrum are being pressured to take a more environmentally responsible approach to their businesses.

Traditional, old school values are the new sexy. Greener-thinking consumers are looking to the retail industry to be at the forefront of this backlash against waste, whether that be for outlawing single-use plastic bottles, cutting out non-recyclable packaging, eliminating food waste and moving away from wear-it-and-chuck-it fashion.

From bring-a-bag, weigh-your-own local independent shops, through to retail giant Iceland’s revolutionary plastic bottle recycling vending machines and the achingly trendy Pass on Plastic in London’s Soho, retailers are trying to ditch the plastic to get fantastic.

Here’s a scary statistic,
all the plastic ever made still exists

It’s a fact that’s concentrating the mind of a growing number of shoppers. Retailers from the hip to the humdrum are being pressured to take a more environmentally responsible approach to their businesses.

Traditional, old school values are the new sexy. Greener-thinking consumers are looking to the retail industry to be at the forefront of this backlash against waste, whether that be for outlawing single-use plastic bottles, cutting out non-recyclable packaging, eliminating food waste and moving away from wear-it-and-chuck-it fashion.

From bring-a-bag, weigh-your-own local independent shops, through to retail giant Iceland’s revolutionary plastic bottle recycling vending machines and the achingly trendy Pass on Plastic in London’s Soho, retailers are trying to ditch the plastic to get fantastic.

In the UK, Wales is in the vanguard of this movement and has seen a sharp rise in packaging-free refill shops opening. Why Wales? Well, in 2013 the Welsh Government adopted a 70% target for recycling, reusing or composting waste by 2025. It also plans to be a ‘zero-waste’ nation by 2050, with all waste to be reused or recycled and no landfill.

Zero-waste shops, including Natural Weigh in Crickhowell, The Little Pantry in Tenby, Pembrokeshire and Ripple in Cardiff in 2018, welcome customers who bring their own containers from home - such as Kilner jars or paper bags and weigh the products they want to buy - minus the weight of the packaging.

Natural Weigh owner, Robin Masefield, reports: “We’ve had a good response, customers love it. Because we have no packaging costs, some foods – particularly dried goods- can be cheaper on average than even supermarkets. However, lifestyle products such as deodorants, will typically be more expensive because we always go for ethically sourced environmentally friendly products.


"One year in and we’re making a profit. We are not business people or retail experts but have a passion for our natural world and want to make a difference."


Outside Wales, London is leading the zero-waste revolution. The capital has a growing list of independent outlets, including: Unpackaged in Muswell Hill, Bulk Market in Dalston and the vegan haven Hetu near Clapham Junction Station.

And now mainstream retailers are joining the race to remove single-use plastic from supermarket aisles and the High Street. Last month Tesco launched a plastic-free vegetables trial while M&S and Waitrose having adopted high-profile waste reduction manifestos. IKEA has gone one step further with the opening in February of its first sustainable store in the UK. The BREEAM 'excellent' rated building opened its doors in Greenwich and incorporates solar panels, rainwater harvesting, renewable construction materials and geothermal heating systems.

Frozen food giant Iceland has taken a different tack, with the introduction of a revolutionary reverse vending machine trial – a UK-first, where customers ‘bank’ plastic bottles in return for vouchers which can be spent in-store. Between last June and this January, more than 310,000 bottles were recycled nationwide and the retailer expects to roll out the machines across its whole store portfolio by the end of this year.

With Greenpeace estimating that the UK uses an eye-popping 7.7bn plastic bottles of water each year, other retailers are following Iceland’s lead. Morrisons, Co-Op and Aldi are also backing a deposit return scheme for plastic drinks bottles, while sandwich shop Pret a Manger suggests consumers keep their bottles and reuse them courtesy of the water fountains it is installing in two-thirds of its stores.

The UK uses an eye-popping
7.7 billion plastic bottles a year

Eco-Aware celebrity Harry Kane

Landlords and estate managers are also looking at innovative ways to help their retail tenants move towards zero-waste targets. Shaftesbury recently teamed up with Pass on Plastic in London’s Soho. The Beak Street pop-up had a colourful immersive ocean waste theme from the Project 0 team with Sky Ocean Rescue which aimed to raise awareness of the plight of the ocean, showcasing limited edition products from eco-aware celebs including Rita Ora, Ronnie Wood, Sienna Miller and Harry Kane.

LandSec is trialling a new ‘spring clean, think green’ initiative at its Westgate shopping centre in Oxford which gives people the opportunity to donate clothes to an interactive recycling point at the centre. It has plans may roll out the initiative across its 14 other UK shopping destinations.

Samantha Sen, Head of Policy and Campaigns at retail property body, Revo, believes the retail property industry plays a positive role in facilitating the processes and management of spaces to help the move to zero-waste. She says: “This is an area where retailers and owners can look to collaborate further to meet the clearer desire that consumers are exhibiting on these issues. However, it is also a pertinent trend for those that manage property as these signs also could be construed as consumers craving a greater sense of community, creativity and positive impact on their surroundings.”

Real progress requires large-scale industry buy-in says Andrew Phipps, managing director of future focussed consultancy, Intelligent Horizons. He believes retailers need to do much more: “At the top of their ‘To Do’ list should be a resolution to get all of their supply chain to commit to a detailed contract around a recyclable/zero-waste initiative”.

Natural Weigh’s Masefield agrees, but comments: “It is going to take time to work with suppliers to bring about change. The industry has a supply chain that has been geared up to use throw away wrapping and packaging for the last few decades”.

He points out that despite his best efforts, his own business is not yet completely waste- free, but has reached 70% plastic-free, with only two bin bags going to landfill each year (mainly plastic tape removed from cardboard boxes).

Completely zero-waste is an unachievable goal at the moment. But it’s good to aim for the stars.

Different Magazine | Issue 13