Unpackaged unveils unique partnership with Planet Organic - Press Release, 12th February 2018

The ‘Godmother’ of sustainable shopping has created a unique way to  shop 100% packaging free.

Catherine Conway, the founder of sustainable shopping solution Unpackaged (and the inspiration for many identikit concepts across the world), has developed an exclusive retail offering with London high food giants Planet Organic that will set a precedent for the future of supermarket shopping.  Currently unique to Planet Organic, Catherine has created a series of refillable dispensers for shoppers keen to keep their shopping footprint low.  The scheme has been inspired by a more traditional way of shopping, where goods are measured and weighed and do not come in hard-to-recycle plastic packaging. 

Following a successful trial at Muswell Hill, Unpackaged is being rolled out to Torrington Place in central London this week, with a second opening w/c 19th Feb in Westbourne Grove. On offer is a vast array of cereals, pulses, pastas, rice, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate and various other raw foodstuffs.  The area is bright, well sign-posted and easy to use, with customers being invited to fill up their own containers and weigh it out themselves before taking it to the tills to pay.

Offering refills is different to ‘bulk’ shopping, which can be found around London and the UK but which does not deal with the issue of packaging waste.    Catherine says, “With bulk, the customer is offered alternative packaging – often more plastic bags, whereas refill shopping is all about enabling customers to bring their own containers.  To do this, we give them the ability to 'tare' and deduct the weight of any container they bring from the overall weight of the goods they are buying (a process we developed with our partners at Bizerba) so it's self-service, easy to use, and complies with all legislation on weights, measures and labelling.”

Catherine goes on to say, “This is the future of shopping.  Without getting sentimental, the ‘old’ way of shopping was much, much kinder to our environment.  Supply chain was a simpler affair, and bulk offerings allowed shoppers to choose how much they wanted, thus cutting down on packaging AND food waste.  I’m incredibly proud today.  It’s a massive step in the long journey towards a truly zero waste weekly shop.”

Catherine founded Unpackaged in 2006 at market stalls around east London before opening a small shop in central London selling over 700 products in bulk, offering a solution to the growing problem of packaging waste.    Sadly, due to rising rents the shop closed in 2012.  Since then, she has worked with countless entrepreneurs around the globe, helping them to set up similar shops in their own markets. Today, Unpackaged leads the way in retail and consultancy services tackling packaging at all stages of the supply chain.   She continues to speak, write and campaign on all things Zero Waste.

Peter Marsh, founder and CEO of Planet Organic, says of the partnership, “I’ve known Catherine for around ten years, and believe she created a totally unique proposition with her zero-waste retail concept.  Planet Organic customers are big-hearted, always striving to buy the best products they possibly can.  ‘Conscious’ shopping is very much the future, and we’re ready for it.”


w/c 12th February

Planet Organic Torrington Place

22 Torrington Place
020 7436 1929

w/c 19th February

Planet Organic Westbourne Grove

42 Westbourne Grove
W2 5SH
020 7727 2227

Planet Organic Muswell Hill

111/117 Muswell Hill Road
Muswell Hill
N10 3HS
0208 442 2910


For images, more information, or for a chat with Catherine, please contact Hannah at Nourish PR on 07881 805000 or hannah@nourishpr.com

Single-use Packaging, Who’s Tax Is It Anyway?

With … the Environment Secretary I will investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste,” 

So our Chancellor announced in the Autumn budget, followed by the Treasury saying that “..hopefully this is the beginning of the end for single-use plastic” – sending campaigners cheering, the packaging industry into a frenzy and lots of us in the middle scratching our heads as to what he actually means; how ambitious this investigation will be and how long this will all take – witness how long it took to introduce the 5p plastic bag tax… the wheels of government do not turn quickly!

Immediately questions arise as to what single-use even means - if you can’t reuse plastic cutlery, or a straw, is it still single-use? But if you can reuse or recycle a plastic water bottle, is it single-use? You can bet your bottom dollar industry associations and lobbying groups will all be fighting their corners to be exempt.

The fact is that something has to be done – of the 311million tonnes of plastics produced annually, 25% (78 million tonnes) goes into packaging. Only 14% of this is recycled and, of that, only 2% is actually ‘closed loop’ recycled. This shows a staggering loss of $80 - $120 billion worth of resources after a short single life cycle.

Suddenly, from the odd article in a specialist publication – plastic is now everywhere. Whether it’s the behind the scenes work that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has been doing with business and government through their New Plastics Economy Initiative; or the brilliant grassroots campaigns such as Plastic Free Aisle, #RefuseTheSTraw, 2 min Beach Clean; the turtle straw extraction video that went viral, or the visceral image of plastics in the oceans in Blue Planet II – plastic waste is everywhere, and the tide of consumer opinion is turning.

But, whilst the images of plastics may be inescapable, plastic packaging is also inescapable. Apart from a few bulk shops like Unpackaged, there is very little option to purchase products in mainstream outlets without packaging. Alongside a potential tax on single-use packaging, the Government is also consulting on the re-introduction of new Deposit Return Schemes as another policy lever to effect change so it does feel like something is happening. 

On top of the problem of packaging in retail, the rise in ‘on-the-go’ convenience consumption has led to a massive increase in single-use packaging - try going into any high-street café for lunch and finding a reusable metal fork! The high turnover in these outlets means that speed is key; everything is disposable so it can be binned as washing would take too much time. Allegedly a lot of it is compostable or biodegradable but this means nothing unless the compostable materials are properly segregated in the waste stream – take a look in any of their bins and you can see that this is patently not happening. The reality? It is all being incinerated (with some benefit of ‘waste to energy’), but it’s a sticking plaster, not a solution, to this insane resource wastefullness.

The idea of a tax on single-use packaging, much like the 5p plastic bag charge in the supermarket, seems sensible to drastically cut down on usage. But who is realistically going to pay for it?

The principle of ‘polluter pays’ is sound – but the way single-use packaging moves through the supply chain and into our environment (when disposed of incorrectly) means that the tax will have to be applied fairly across the supply chain, not just to the consumer who has very little other option. Yes, we could, and should, all be bringing our own reusable cups, cutlery and containers to eat but realistically this is about 2% of the population. And even Pret aren’t going to start giving me a pre-made salad in my box – their business models aren’t set up to deal with it. The supply chain has a habit of ensuring the consumer ends up paying for increased costs. Apart from being grossly unfair, this is a pretty hard message to sell in a Brexit environment where food prices are already rising, and ‘shrinkflation’ leaves consumers feeling short-changed on their favourite products.

And where will the tax go? Whilst I understand that it suits supermarkets profiles to give the proceeds of the 5p plastic bag tax to good causes, I would much rather the money was invested in much needed improvements to the country’s recycling infrastructure. Where will the single-use packaging tax go – more good causes? Or cash-strapped local or national governments who, quite rightly, in this age of austerity have to take income wherever they can find it.

The packaging industry tend to see the negative externalities of their products as a consumer issue, a problem of littering that could be changed with a cultural shift. To a certain extent this is true, and the brilliant people at Keep Britain Tidy are doing a fantastic job creating partnerships to tackle this, but the way the system is set up means the sheer volume of single-use packaging is utterly overwhelming an infrastructure not designed to cope with it.  

And what end are we trying to achieve – replacing plastic with a ‘sustainable’ alternative and bolstering the growing biodegradable packaging sector (with all the questions that brings of whether it’s morally correct to grow crops to make into single-use packaging). Or do we want to tackle the heart of our ‘single-use’ culture, with all of the financial implications that brings for our economy? And even if we did go far enough in the UK, the problem is global - we need concerted action internationally to really make headway.

It is impossible for us to say at this stage what this tax will look like, and whether it will have any effect but what we do know is that we need a raft of changes – some legislative, some cultural. Some existing systems need reforming, to make them more effective and, in some cases, we need to shift to radical new reuse systems.

Only then will we have a hope in hell of turning the tide on plastic waste.








General Election 2017 - What The Manifestos Say about Reuse & The Circular Economy

It’s election time so I thought it might be interesting to have a look at what the main English parties are saying about packaging, waste & the circular economy. On the basis that very few of us have the time (or will) to read the entire manifestos of each party, I’ve pulled out the relevant info but feel free to click on the links if you want to read on. I make no apology for bias (or sarcasm) in my commentary but I promise the statements are unedited from each party’s manifesto!


The Greens are obviously first out of the blocks with their commitment to tackling plastic waste and promoting a culture of reusing and refilling:

“In the UK, 35 million plastic bottles are bought every day – that’s 200 per person every year – and 44% of these are not recycled. This means 16 million plastic bottles every day end up in our environment, whether sent to landfill, incinerated or simply dumped in the countryside, parks, streets or beaches. The Green Party would promote the culture of reusing and refilling, through: the introduction of a bottle deposit scheme; free public water dispensers and a community refill scheme; and an end to unnecessary single-use plastics. Tackling plastic waste sits alongside our long-standing commitment to creating a more circular economy - where recycling and reusing materials become central to our way of life”


Unexpectedly, the Lib Dems’ manifesto also makes explicit reference to the circular economy, (although I’m not sure why it’s the “so-called” circular economy?!) I’m reproducing it in full below because it’s very comprehensive:

Britain’s economy fails to make the most efficient use of natural resources. We aim to cut waste, increase recovery, reuse and recycling and move towards the so-called ‘circular economy’ in which resource use, waste and pollution are minimised and product lifetimes are extended. This will cut costs for consumers and businesses and create new jobs and enterprises, helping to grow Britain’s economy. We will:

  • Pass a Zero Waste Act, including legally-binding targets for reducing net consumption of key natural resources, and introducing incentives for businesses to improve resource efficiency.
  • Benefit consumers by promoting better product design to improve repairability, reuse and recycling.
  • Establish a statutory waste recycling target of 70% in England and extend separate food waste collections to at least 90% of homes by 2022.
  • Building on the success of our plastic bag charge, introduce a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups to reduce waste.
  • Establish a coherent tax and regulatory framework for landfill, incineration and waste collection, including reinstating the Landfill Tax escalator and extending it to the lower rate and consulting on the introduction of an Incineration Tax.
  • Work with local government to ensure these commitments are fully-funded.

To ensure the policies set out in this chapter are implemented, and to put the protection of the environment at the heart of policies across all areas of government, we will establish a Cabinet Committee on Sustainability, chaired by a cabinet minister, establish an Office for Environmental Responsibility to scrutinise the government’s efforts to meets its environmental targets, and place a responsibility on every government agency to account for its contribution towards meeting climate targets in everything it does.”


The Labour Party seem to be focusing a lot on agriculture, clean air and environmental legislation which is presumably a reference to ensuring we maintain similar levels of environmental protection when we leave the EU. There is a reference to “guiding targets” for plastic bottle deposit schemes but I’m not sure what that really means:

Labour will introduce a new Clean Air Act to deal with the Conservative legacy of illegal air quality. We will safeguard habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding our island. We will set guiding targets for plastic bottle deposit schemes, working with food manufacturers and retailers to reduce waste”


The Conservatives have taken a different approach, including their environmental policy within an overall focus on community. They do mention “supporting better packaging” but I find it hard to reconcile their lack of detail with this insistence that they’re going to be “the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it” – just because you repeat something often enough, it doesn’t make it true!

We have seen welcome growth and civic renewal in some major cities. Our towns and cities should be healthy, well-designed and well-tended places... We will do more to reduce litter, including by supporting comprehensive rubbish collection and recycling, supporting better packaging, taking new powers to force councils to remove roadside litter and prosecuting offenders. We will do more to improve the quality of road surfaces, filling potholes – especially in residential areas – and reducing road noise. Finally, we pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it. That is why we shall produce a comprehensive 25 Year Environment Plan that will chart how we will improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again”

And finally, I had the pleasure of reading UKIP’s 2017 manifesto, not holding out much hope but *shock horror* there it was - not only a reference to polling day falling on the same day as World Oceans Day but a pledge to investigate the introduction of a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles. Alas it’s not enough for me to balance out the extreme negativity/ racism of the rest of their pledges and for that reason I’m not quoting them or putting a link to their site. But I will applaud this small inclusion.

So, what have we learnt? The party most likely to win has the least amount of detail and thinks that “strong and stable” statements are enough – well they’re not… The Greens are taking it a level up and talking about a “culture” of refilling and reuse, which is certainly where our hearts lie… Labour need to pull their socks up and get with the Circular Economy programme. The Lib Dems have great ideas, backed up with proper detail for which they should be applauded. And even UKIP are in on the DRS act. In fact, that seems to be the main thing we’ve learnt. The focus is, by and large, on water bottles and whether a Deposit Return Scheme could be introduced to tackle the insane amount of single use plastics we throw away as a country, so industry beware, change is coming.


An Introduction to Zero Waste Shopping at Planet Organic, 25th May, 7pm

Particularly aimed at people who’ve always wanted to give Zero Waste/ refilling a go but are a bit unsure where to start!

The evening will start with a brief introduction to the philosophy and goals of the Zero Waste movement – why should we care about packaging? And what small lifestyle changes can we make to make a more positive environmental impact?

Catherine will then show you how to refill in-store – how the bulk dispensers work and how to “tare” your containers.

You’ll be a refilling pro in no time and, as an additional reward, enjoy 10% off your Unpackaged purchases on the night.

When you’ve secured your event ticket:
1. Click here to see the product list of everything we sell so you can have a think about what you want to purchase on the night.
2. Put together a bag of containers to bring on the night – these could be cloth bags, old takeaway containers or jars; as well as your empty Ecover household bottles. Just make sure you clean and dry your containers before you come.

If you have any questions before the event, please email info@beunpackaged.com and we’ll be pleased to help.

Why we should all welcome the 5p carrier bag tax..

... but is it the best way to achieve long-term behaviour change?

Today’s introduction of a compulsory 5p carrier bag levy is good news for environmentalists.

At Unpackaged, we really don’t mind admitting that we hate (yes, strong word) single use carrier bags and get pretty annoyed by the businesses that give them out without asking, but ultimately its great marketing for them so why would they stop? When the average use time for a plastic bag is about 20 minutes, but it takes 1,000 years to biodegrade, it’s simply financially and environmentally irresponsible to waste resources in this way.

It’s heartbreaking to see the great plastic soup in the Pacific, to know how many seabirds, fish and organisms in the sea are ingesting the broken down plastics; not even taking into account the fact that all this plastic is ultimately ending up in our food, with all the problems that poses for human health.

Today the English government has finally followed Wales (2011), Ireland (2013) & Scotland (2014) by introducing a levy in the hope of reducing the 8.5billion plastic bags used each year. Seriously – that’s about 23million a day in the UK – can you even imaging what that amounts to globally?

Businesses can decide what to do with the funds raised from the 5p levy – most are expected to donate monies to local or environmental charities. The levy is hoped to raise over 700 million pounds for good causes which, added to a potential 60m reduction in litter-picking costs and associated 13m carbon emissions savings, is good news all round. And especially good for the Government as the bags carry VAT meaning 1p for every bag goes to the Treasury.

Retailers will have to provide annual reports on the number of bags supplied, the monies raised and where the funds end up, so it will be fascinating to see how the big retailers stack up against each other in a year’s time – they’ll be simultaneously trying to show how few bags they gave out, but how much money they raised for good causes – because ultimately its designed to reflect well on them.

But, whereas the other nations introduced a blanket ban, our government seems to have made it insanely complicated. Various products are exempt, it only covers 0.007mm plastic bags (so not paper bags) and small retailers are exempt – which is crazy given that the Association of Convenience Stores and the Federation of Small Businesses show that their members want to be included – many of who will do the right thing and introduce it voluntarily. Our position is that it should have been all bags, all retailers. Wales and Scotland both report an average 80% reduction in disposable bag use since their taxes were implemented, but the complications and exemptions in England mean that the reduction is likely to be significantly less and play into the hands of those who oppose any government intervention.

We read a lot of packaging industry press and, unsurprisingly, the pro-plastic lobby are vociferous in their opposition to any ban, charge or government intervention. Typical arguments include the fact that thin plastic bags are resource efficient and have comparatively lower environmental impacts WHEN PROPERLY RE-USED AND RECYCLED but with the average house having a minimum of 40 bags stashed away, and only a fraction of supermarkets and local councils offering bag recycling, this argument just doesn’t stand up. And what do we want to do – put our efforts into educating consumers about recycling bags, or about reducing and re-using durable bags (i.e. the ultimate aim of the waste hierarchy)?

Whilst we recognize the reality that these are businesses that employ thousands of people who are trying to make a living, its time to move on. There is so much innovation to be had with sustainable design and materials – the packaging industry needs to lead on re-use solutions, inspired by circular economy thinking, for a resource-dwindling world, not try and maintain a status quo that no longer works.

The concept of a levy itself is interesting – plenty of studies have looked at ‘nudge’ economics and whether a ‘carrot/bonus’ or ‘stick/tax’ approach is most likely to yield results.  And this is what we really care about at Unpackaged – how to bring about long-term positive behaviour change.

A study by Tatiana Homonoff at Cornell University looked at retailers in Washington DC finding that a five-cent bag tax “significantly decreased plastic bag use, while a comparable policy offering five-cent bonuses for reusable bag use had negligible effects”. Traditional economics suggests shoppers should react, rationally, in the same way to a five-cent tax or bonus but behavioural economics shows that people “are affected more strongly by perceptions of loss than perceptions of gain” which is why a tax is more effective than a reward.

However, an interesting blog at The Conversative.com develops this argument suggesting that whilst “people modify their behaviour to avoid the stick…the underlying attitudes haven’t changed… fiscal disincentives for environmental issues… are inherently problematic as they do not address attitudes (the problem), they simply address behaviour (the symptom).”

The vision behind Unpackaged has always been to offer an alternative way to shop…

The reality is that refilling requires a different thought-process to convenience shopping, often for no immediate reward other than a knowledge of ‘doing the right thing’. Whilst shoppers save money by only buying the quantity they need, often the prices don’t work out cheaper compared to the supermarkets’ economies of scale (which is why our ultimate dream is to have an Unpackaged in every supermarket!) But, in behaviour change terms, it definitely works as we know that over 60% of our shoppers report shopping more sustainably in other shops because of their experience refilling with us and, with an average in-store refill rate of 80%, we know our shoppers really do want to refill, despite the challenges.

So we welcome England’s carrier bag tax, but we must remember it’s a very small step on a very long road to the real attitudinal change we need in the face of our global environmental challenges.