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For years, the UK’s zero-waste movement has been growing apace, with manufacturers introducing new sustainable packaging and retailers on the hunt for new ways to cut plastic use. Since the first zero-waste shop opened in 2017, an estimated 200 have now sprung up across the UK.
All this growth was called into question when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. Overnight, newly health-conscious consumers became wary of loose fruit and veg and supermarket bakeries, while some cafés began refusing reusable cups.
However, in June, more than 100 scientists from 18 countries published a statement to reassure consumers that reusable containers do not increase the chance of transmission of Covid-19. Charlotte Williams, a professor of chemistry at Oxford University and one of the signatories of the statement, told The Guardian: “In terms of the general public’s response to the Covid crisis, we should make every attempt to avoid over-consumption of single-use plastics, particularly in applications like packaging.”
In fact, frozen food specialist field fare found that footfall at the zero-waste shops in the UK that it supplies had increased in lockdown, suggesting that customers are still keen to cut their plastic use. In the last three months, field fare has installed 14 zero-waste shops with a further 38 in the immediate pipeline.
“This is great news for field fare, opening up a hungry, exciting, new independent retail sector that chimes entirely with our ‘Scoop & Serve’ range of loose, packaging-free fruit, veg, bakery, patisserie, pastry and fish lines. And with the sustainability philosophy that has driven our ongoing ‘BYO Container’ campaign for the last three years, across all our 380 stockists,” says Karen Deans, managing director of field fare.
Elsewhere, fine food distributor Cotswold Fayre has teamed up with zero-waste specialist Unpackaged to offer farm shops and food halls with a one-stop solution to help reduce plastic packaging in store: UnpackagedAT.
Unpackaged specialises in retail refill systems that reduce packaging and waste. Oliver Stubbins, general manager at Welbeck Farm Shop has been operating an UnpackagedAT unit for two-and-a-half years. “Reducing the use of plastic in the farm shop is very important to us,” says Oliver. “The display has enabled us to swap previously packaged goods into a loose format, saving shelf space, waste and of course packaging.
“We have seen volume sales of all products increase as customers buy more frequently, choosing whatever weight they require rather than risk wastage at home with a pre-determined pack.”
Cotswold Fayre will be offering retailers more than 40 different bulk buy products, including nuts, pulses, dried fruits, pulses, grains and sweet treats such as yoghurt covered raisins and chocolates. By consolidating product deliveries from one source, this will also help retailers’ carbon footprint and save time.
Further evidence that the zero-waste trend is going mainstream can be found in a new partnership between Tesco and zero-waste company Loop. Through Loop, consumers can have products from brands such as Heinz, Coca-Cola and Nivea delivered straight to their doors in reusable packaging. Once used, shoppers can request a free pick-up of the packaging.
As the sector continues to grow, Karen sees zero-waste offerings expanding further to include a more diverse array of products. “Initially, zero waste shops tended to stock dry and ambient goods and washing products, but, as they have become more established, their expanding customer base more demanding, and their businesses better placed to invest - in freezers, for example - they are branching into other interesting loose serve sectors.
“We are genuinely thrilled to be playing a small part in the zero-waste revolution and to be welcoming a new demographic to field fare’s valued customers,” Karen says.
Image credit: The Farm Stratford