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Britain's Tesco joins refillable revolution with in-store trial
A woman pushes a shopping cart at a Tesco supermarket in Hatfield, Britain. - Reuters File
A woman pushes a shopping cart at a Tesco supermarket in Hatfield, Britain. - Reuters File

LONDON: Britain’s biggest supermarket group Tesco launched a trial on Monday that allows customers to buy food, drink, household and beauty products in reusable packaging, part of its strategy to cut plastic waste.

Britons have become increasingly aware of the amount of plastic they use in recent years, with television documentaries such as naturalist David Attenborough's "Blue Planet II" particularly highlighting the dangers of plastic pollution to marine life.

In response, supermarket chains and consumer goods groups are increasingly testing refills in a drive to cut single-use plastics.

Through a partnership with Loop, the global reusable packaging platform, customers in 10 Tesco stores in eastern England will be able to buy products in reusable packaging that can be returned to stores when finished so it can be cleaned, refilled and used again.

A range of 88 products will be offered, including brands such as Unilever’s Persil laundry detergent and Radox shower gel, PZ Cussons’ Carex handwash, Fevertree drinks, Heinz ketchup, Coca Cola, Tetley Tea and Brewdog beer, as well as 35 Tesco own-brand essentials, such as pasta, rice, sugar and oil.

In June, Asda, Britain's third-biggest grocer, extended its trial of a refill scheme after sales of several products in an initial pilot store outsold packaged alternatives.

Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Waitrose have also been trailing concepts. Tesco said it will add more products to its scheme throughout the year and the trial would be scaled-up if it proved successful.

"We are determined to tackle plastic waste and one of the ways we can help is by improving reuse options available to customers,” said Tesco Chief Executive Ken Murphy.

"We’ll learn as much as we can from this to inform our future packaging plans,” he said. The Loop platform was launched in 2019 in Paris and New York.

The launch of Loop in Tesco stores followed a year long online pilot that began in July 2020.

Tesco said prices for the contents of each item are comparable to the original. A fully refundable deposit starting at 50 pence (70 US cents) is paid on each reusable product at the store checkout, refunded via an app when the customer returns the packaging to a collection point in store.

Meanwhile, according to recent estimates, the UK currently faces a shortage of about 100,000 lorry drivers.

"We had already decided to reduce our stock because of Covid... but now we're finding it hard to get some products as well because they're just not available," Patel said.

At a supermarket near his store, the soft drinks aisle was a little short of bottles and cans but other shelves were full. But 22-year-old sales assistant Toma said the situation was grim.

"We don't have stock, we have nothing in our warehouse," said Toma, who declined to give her last name. "We have gaps everywhere," she said. "Sometimes we receive only a certain amount (of some products). We don't even have water."

The shortages began when the pandemic hit and got worse after Brexit came into force on January 1, Toma said.

Some customers complain to supermarket staff and "say it's us to blame", she added.

At another major supermarket in southeast London, water bottles were sparse and milk was missing from shelves.

Frozen-food group Iceland and retail giant Tesco have warned of Christmas shortages.

Iceland head Richard Walker said the company has reduced deliveries as it has 100 fewer drivers than it needs.

"Every day we are missing around 10 percent of the stock we have ordered into our depots," he wrote in a blog, adding that "when things were at their worst" its sole bread supplier was unable to deliver to as many as 130 stores per day. - Reuters

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