Woolworths trials major in-store plastics change: 'Huge impact'

Woolworths has unveiled a new in-store BYO initiative as part of their company-wide operation to reduce plastic waste.

The plastic-saving hack invites customers to bring their own reusable container in-store, to be filled up at the deli, meat, and seafood counters.

Customers can have any meat, deli, or seafood item filled in their own container, provided it is sold by weight. Foods sold by volume, such as salads, are not eligible for BYO containers.

The initiative is currently in operation on a trial basis at all Tasmanian stores, as well as the West End store in Queensland, following a successful trial at the Crows Nest store in New South Wales.

Empty reusable container in front of deli counter. Source: Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths
Trials are also scheduled to roll out further across New South Wales and Victoria stores in 2022. Source: Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths

To take advantage of the plastic-saving initiative, customers can approach the meat, deli, or seafood counters and let the Woolworths team member know that they have brought their own container.

Team members will adjust the tare weight of the scales, fill their container, and provide a printed barcode sticker to scan at the checkout.

In accordance with food and operational safety standards, BYO containers must have a sealable lid, and be in good, clean condition.

The new BYO rollout is part of a larger operation run by the supermarket giant to reduce plastic waste and increase the sustainability of products.

Since 2018, Woolworths has made packaging improvements on over 550 of its own brand products, including the reduction of plastic waste for milk, meat, produce, and bakery products and wrappings.

Deli worker hands tupperware container with deli olives in it to a customer. Source: Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths
Single use and glass containers are not a part of the BYO initiative at this stage. Source: Dallas Kilponen/Woolworths

Woolworths predicts ‘huge’ impact of container scheme

Woolworths Group Chief Sustainability Officer, Alex Holt has predicted a huge impact of the small in-store change.

“The potential impact of a small change like this is huge. If every customer brought their own deli container, an average store could save up to 10,000 plastic containers a year,” she said.

“We’re always looking for new ways to grow greener and the option to bring your own containers to the deli is something our customers have been asking for.

“Across the community, we’re increasingly adding reusable packaging to our regular routines - whether it be reusable cups for our morning coffee or bringing our own bags to the supermarket.

Shopper at Woolworths interior next to sign that says 'we are a plastic bag free store'. Source: Jill Gralow/Reuters
Woolworths has also used their TikTok platform to encourage customers to shop sustainably in-store. Source: Jill Gralow/Reuters

“We hope our new BYO container program will be no different, and that together with our customers we can help reduce the amount of single use plastic in their grocery shop.”

Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, Trevor Evans MP said that he is pleased to see the change in Woolworths stores.

“Practical industry-led initiatives like this BYO container program by Woolworths increase public confidence in waste reduction and are vital in achieving Australia’s goal of phasing out unnecessary plastics by 2025,” he said.

“Australian consumers are increasingly looking for opportunities to take responsibility for their waste, and they want to take actions that see better outcomes for the environment.”

Woolworths reveals ‘infinite recycling’ initiative

Woolworths has also announced a new company-wide initiative, where, by backing Australian recycling start-up Samsara, they plan to create "infinite recycling" opportunities with plastic waste.

The initiative, which was created in partnership with researchers at the Australian National University, and CSIRO-founded Main Sequence, utilises enzyme technology which breaks down used plastics and allows them to be recycled and reused.

Woolworths has committed to turn the first 5,000 tonnes of recycled Samsara plastic into packaging for its own brand products - such as mini tomatoes - in a move which will save tonnes of plastic waste.

Woolworths Group CEO, Brad Banducci said: “We want to be part of the solution and to use Australian innovation to make our products better for the planet".

"We’ll also be helping other retailers and our supplier brands to do the same," Mr Banducci said.

“We’ll continue to work hard to reduce plastic packaging, but where we can’t cut it out altogether, we can use Samsara to make products plastic neutral - 100 per cent recycled, and 100 per cent recyclable.”

Samsara CEO Paul Riley said: “Samsara is a major breakthrough because we’re able to make plastic infinitely recyclable.”

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