Waitrose puts Unpacked to youth forum, but will it come to Cambridge?
Could Waitrose’s Unpacked packaging-light retail model be on the way to its Trumpington store?
The possibility was discussed at ‘Promoting Sustainable Lifestyles through Preventing Plastic Waste’, the second eco-seminar organised by the Cambridge Schools Eco Activities Committee, with guest speakers including Waitrose environment manager Ben Thomas, and Emma Thomas, co-founder and director of Full Circle Zero Waste Retail.
The first speakers, Freya Tikva and Luana Fernandes Seixas, highlighted the monstrous volumes of plastic waste produced and how we are failing to dispose of it or fully recycle it.
“We have to get away from single use plastic containers and introduce return and reuse ones,” said Freya, 10, a child author and Voices of Future Generations gold laureate, and deputy chair of Cambridge Schools Eco-Council. “We need to persuade policy makers to introduce laws that ban plastic and support return systems. Another way is introducing a tax on plastic, making it more expensive... We all have to work together to stop plastic waste and save our planet.”
Luana Seixas, Cambridge Schools Eco-Council communications officer and student leader of Long Road Sixth Form Eco-Council, told the online audience: “We need to normalise zero waste shopping. We need people to not be afraid of food that is not in bags or plastics. We also need to normalise people bringing in their own containers... The more we educate people about zero waste shopping styles and creating incentives to do this type of shopping, the more the public will gravitate towards this idea.”
The first guest speaker, Emma Thomas, highlighted the successful sustainable business model achieved by Full Circle since opening on Cambridge Market just two years ago.
“The most powerful thing we do is talk to people,” she said. “We ask them what they need, ask where we can make the most impact in their lives and they talk to us. We hear about their eco-anxieties and all manors of things, and that’s really powerful. One of the strongest things our shop does is create community.”
Ben Thomas outlined the efforts Waitrose makes to deliver a sustainable offering to its customers, and outlined the next stage of this process – Unpacked.
Unpacked is an alternative way of in-store shopping that uses less packaging, with features including a refillable zone and frozen pick-and-mix. It has been tried with some success at Waitrose stores in Oxford, Cheltenham, Wallingford and Abington.
“Unpacked was launched a year ago,” Ben told the youth eco-activists. “There are 160 loose fruit and veg lines and Unpacked offers refills for wines and cleaning materials. If you want to do want to go down the refill or Unpacked road with us, you’re going to have to do your shopping in a different way. The trial has been very successful, so how do you then scale it up? How do we bring our suppliers along with us, especially on packaging, so we can get our loose lines into as many stores as possible?
“We’re only 5 per cent of the UK market, so one of the smaller food retailers, but we still place 3.5 billion items of single-use plastic packaging on the market every year. We’re making great year on year reductions but a big focus for us is reusables as an important way of driving change. The biggest dilemma is trying to ensure that we don’t also drive-up food waste unintentionally by removing packaging.”
The audience responded enthusiastically, and in the Q&A the immediate question was when Unpacked is coming to Cambridge, or at least Trumpington.
“Nothing has been determined at the moment,” Ben replied. “To have that seismic shift, we need to work even more with our suppliers.”
“We do hope that Waitrose will be able to quickly bring your zero waste trials to your Cambridge food store,” said Nico Roman,12, Eco-Council co-chair. “This spring, as part of our eco-challenge, Eco-Council students will audit and rank our local food stores for their waste and climate impact. The worst-ranked stores will publicly receive a plastic monster sculpture made from their own waste. There could be awards for good stores too.”