Packaging Solution : Morrisons offers customers free water refills

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In an effort to curb plastic waste, the UK retailer intends to offer costumers free refills for their water bottles across all its stores and petrol stations.

The eco-friendly free service will be available nationwide in-store as well as across 338 of its petrol forecourt kiosks.

Morrisons rolled out said initiative after a 12-week trial period that took place in August 2020, which led to an 18% dive in sales volume for water bottles.

The motivational spur for the programme was founded on research stating that 63% of Britons are keen on reducing plastic waste yet have been unable to do so due to a lack in consumer options.

Annually, 215 billion flexible packaging products such as confectionary wrappers, bread bags, baby food pouches and crisp packets are sent to landfill or utilised for energy recovery (options that have a negative environmental impact either through methane emissions or the use of fossil fuels) rather than being recycled.

Of the mentioned number of single-use plastics, 7,7 billion are comprised of plastic bottles. On a daily basis, London alone goes through 2 million plastic water bottles. Most of these bottles are purchased at work or on the go, research reveals.

Morrisons took action on said front by following customer metrics, which prove that people are more liable to pick up a bottle of water when paying for petrol, the free refill intended as a way to put a lid on further single-use occasioned plastic pollution.

Customers will be able to hand their own bottles to attendants, who will then proceed to sanitise and fill them up with water before returning them.

The supermarket chain has already installed 300 water fountains in the Food-To-Go sections of individual branches. Morrisons initially began to offer refills in its in-store cafés as far back as 2018.

It’s the first UK supermarket to switch out plastic carrier bags for paper ones as well as to forego unnecessary flexible plastics such as cucumber wrap or black plastic.

According to international ocean conservation advocacy agency Oceana, the factor ‘reuse’ in the common mantra ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ is the one less often engaged with. With flexible plastics such as food trays, confectionary wrappers, jars and bottles not being commonly collected, recycling is less of a feasible option that commonly assumed-according to Unilever, in 2019, single-use plastics made up 22% of all UK consumer plastic packaging but only 6% of it was recycled.

In fact, in May 2021, Greenpeace revealed how plastic packaging waste sourced from several major UK supermarkets was incinerated and left to contaminate rivers in Turkey, instead of being recycled.

In many cases, recycling, even when successfully orchestrated, is somewhat of a last resort option as the process can still have a negative ecological impact. Biodegradable bioplastics, touted as the solution to the plastic crisis, such as in the case of Polylactic acid (PLA) are often not recycled due to fears that the material could contaminate the regular plastic recycling stream.

In some cases, there are also concerns about the environmental pollution generated by the recycling process (ex. for electronic products) itself.

According to Oceana, a 10% increase of soft drinks sold in refillable bottles could reduce marine plastic pollution by 22%. The pandemic occasioned an international increase in refillables, the group reports. Yet for the measure to take, more than supermarket adoption is needed, with legislation enabling and encouraging the selling and receiving of one-way plastic bottles being called for.