Shoppers' green fatigue hits refill revolution

Environmentalists' hopes dashed as latest trial to encourage supermarket customers to keep containers ends in failure

A A A

Green fatigue among shoppers has set back Britain's long-awaited refillable bottle revolution, with the latest attempts to persuade supermarket customers to reuse containers ending in failure.

Twelve years after one supermarket chain first began testing ways to encourage shoppers to refill detergent bottles rather than buy new ones, the group is no nearer to launching a national scheme across its stores.

Julian Walker-Palin, Asda's head of corporate sustainability, called its latest trial – which ran in five stores across the UK and offered customers the chance to save money while cutting their carbon footprint, by reusing specially designed fabric conditioner pouches – "disappointing".

A new report published this month by Wrap, the Government's recycling body which worked on the trial with the supermarket, said the self-dispensing machines were a "disruptive technology" that would take consumers time to come to terms with. But it also claimed that the technology, supplied by the manufacturing company Eziserv, could be a "viable option" for wider use.

Asda admitted this weekend that sales of the two own-brand fabric conditioners used in the trial barely hit half of its projections with the exception of the first two weeks the machines were installed. While a "good sample" of customers refilled the pouch twice, only a "limited number" refilled it more than twice, although the pouch was designed to withstand being refilled 10 times, Mr Walker-Palin said. It has no immediate plans to reintroduce the self-dispensing machines, although it may run another trial at some point.

Environmentalists had hoped other retailers would embark on similar schemes but that now looks unlikely. Sainsbury's has already admitted it does not see much merit in store-based refill systems, leaving few shops outside the niche health-food sector offering shoppers the chance to reuse containers.

One exception is Whole Foods, the US grocery chain that is expanding in the UK, although the popularity of its scheme is unclear. The Body Shop used to offer a shampoo refill service, but stopped in 2002 because only 1 per cent of its customers used it.

That left Ecover, the Belgian green pioneer. It provides refill stations in around 600 UK health-food shops but has said it is "unfeasible" to offer something similar in supermarkets. "You need to clean up after customers, plus we don't have the volume to invest in big refills," Tom Domen, its marketing manager, said.

On the supplier front, Dairy Crest has cut down on its packaging by selling some of its milk in pouches; Sainsbury's and Waitrose sell its Jugit milk jug. And Kenco, which is owned by Kraft, has sold coffee refills since 2009.

Richard Garnett, Eziserv's managing director, said supply-chain problems had partly scuppered the trial. He pointed out that three previous trials, including one with Carrefour in China, had seen sales increase by as much as three and half times. He added: "I don't get the impression that people are going off the green message; just the opposite, in fact."

Although Asda's customers were told that refilling their fabric conditioner pouches 10 times would save them £3.70 in total, strong promotions from rival brands meant that shoppers could find bigger savings elsewhere. A survey by the market research group Mintel found that only 33 per cent of consumers would be prepared to pay more for environmentally friendly products in 2009 compared with 39 per cent in 2005.

So far, the biggest factors deterring customers from refills are "inconvenience, mess and cost", according to research by Vicky Lofthouse, lecturer in sustainable design at Loughborough University. But Ms Lofthouse said people were "happy to use refills if they... liked the product", adding: "Refills are a really valuable area... and we run the risk of dismissing them too early."

Ever since Britain called time on its refillable drinks industry, the country has struggled to cut the amount of waste sent to landfill: more plastic bottles are thrown away per year than are recycled two decades after the Government first tried to get us recycling.

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said Asda's experience "goes to show the challenge we have in reducing packaging". But he added: "This may not have been as successful as people may have liked, but that doesn't mean the journey is not continuing."

All the major retailers have pledged to cut the carbon impact of packaging by 10 per cent, and packaging waste in the supply chain by 5 per cent by next year, in line with a Government-based campaign. Some, however, have refused to sign up to the so-called Courtauld Commitment, including Aldi and Lidl, as well as suppliers such as Kellogg's and PepsiCo.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn