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Person pouring Persil out of the new Loop stainless steel bottle

Reuse. Refill. Rethink. Growing our insight into reusable packaging.

As part of our efforts to make all our plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, we’re working on ways that shoppers can buy one container and refill it over and over again. This week, several Unilever brands launched in Tesco’s new reuse trial in the UK. Sebastian Munden, General Manager of Unilever UK & Ireland, explains our role in the trial and the challenges we’re working to overcome as we test the feasibility of getting shoppers across the UK to use reusable products.

I’m delighted that several products are launching in Tesco’s reuse trial this week, including Persil laundry detergent, Simple hand wash, Alberto Balsam Shampoo and Conditioner and Radox shower gel, are available in reusable stainless-steel bottles.

We are all sadly too familiar with the environmental crisis the world is facing now.The facts are stark, and we all need to play our role in wasting less and helping to lower global carbon emissions.

Most importantly, it’s something many of our shoppers care about and is why they are looking for ways to make more sustainable choices every day.

Plastic pollution is a big issue for our industry. At Unilever we have set ourselves ambitious targets to help create a waste-free future.We know that to tackle plastic pollution with the speed and urgency needed, we must continue to challenge existing business models and re-think our approach to packaging, including a shift from ‘use and dispose’ to ‘use, refill, and reuse’.

Whilst the idea of returnable and reusable packaging is not new, delivering this to shoppers in many more categories as part of their everyday shop, at scale, and with the brands they already know and use, is a massive challenge, not just for retailers and manufacturers but also for shoppers. We will all have to change what we do and adopt new behaviours.

But the idea, executed right, also has the potential to be positively game-changing. It is a vision that Tesco shares with us, and one we are very excited to be working on together.

When choosing what products to include in our reuse trials, we looked at the role Unilever brands could play in growing the proposition with more categories.

We know that shoppers are interested in trying household products in refillable packaging, and believe that using an iconic brand like Persil, bought by millions of people in the UK, will help encourage new shoppers to try reusable products at the scale that we really need to test the model.

And we know that to be successful, reuse models at scale will need to deliver product breadth and choice.

So we’ve also included three of our other well-known brands, Radox, Simple and Alberto Balsam in our trials, to gain further insight into the response and repeat rates across more product categories.

Developing reusable packaging which delivers an equal, if not superior, user experience, whilst also being able to withstand multiple washes – industrial washes - has also been a great design challenge, and an area of close collaboration with LOOP as we’ve created new circular supply chains.

Of course, there have been challenges – but these help us to prepare for the future.

We’ve already learnt that to grow refill and reuse, widening the choice will become increasingly important.

Encouraging shoppers to keep coming back will be an important focus area as we work with Tesco. Identifying and removing barriers and keeping the shopper-experience as simple as possible, will be key.

It’s early days. We are adopting a ‘test, learn and refine’ approach. Trials like these will give us invaluable insights into the potential scale of future shopper habits and of future packaging technology, and working with Tesco and LOOP, we’re pooling knowledge and insight so we can adapt and improve as we go.

We can all see that embracing and growing the circular economy could shift the dial on single use plastic. Every time our bottles are re-used more plastic and carbon emissions are saved and the value of the circular economy is realised.

But what is also clear is that to support the growth of these reuse models, we need to collaborate – manufacturers, retailers, and our partners, the waste management industry and government. To drive the positive change at the scale our planet needs, we must all work together.

Read more here about the progress we’re making, globally, towards a packaging revolution: https://www.unilever.com/reuse-refill-rethink-plastic.html