How an Asda store in Leeds was transformed into a sustainability hub - Susan Thomas

Just over a year ago we transformed our Middleton store in Leeds into a sustainability hub where we can test and learn new concepts to reduce, reuse and recycle products and packaging.

This involved the most extensive set of sustainability trials undertaken by any UK supermarket. These include 15 huge refill bays offering more than 70 products in refillable format, more than 50 fresh produce lines sold loose and unwrapped, a recycling hub for items which are difficult to recycle at the kerbside, as well as a partnership with Pre-Loved vintage to recycle unwanted clothing.

It’s been great to see customer enthusiasm for all the new elements in the store and listening to what matters to them. The recycling facilities at the store have proved to be very popular – especially for items that are difficult to recycle in kerbside collections such as crisp and biscuit packets, plastic toys, cosmetic containers and toothpaste tubes. In just over a year we’ve taken 1.8 tonnes of packaging that can’t be recycled at the kerbside including more than 120,000 crisp packets.

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The store also features a community zone for pop-ups and partnerships with charities, the first of which was with the Salvation Army, where customers could donate their unwanted clothing and bric-a-brac. This proved to be very popular with over 4,000 bags of clothing, toys, textiles and other goods donated.

Asda aims to lead the sector in its drive towards sustainability

However, there would be little point in providing the facilities, if the packaging we sell couldn’t be recycled and over the past year we have increased the percentage of Asda-brand products that can be recycled to 73 per cent and we’re working towards 100 per cent by 2025.

One of the more innovative offers we’re trialling at Middleton is the refill zone. Customers visiting the store can use their own containers or purchase one in store to buy a wide range of household staples in loose format including pasta, rice, tea, coffee and cereals. We’ve partnered with popular household brands to bring customers their favourite products in this format including Kellogg’s, Yorkshire Tea, Napolina and Unilever and crucially all loose products are sold at the same price or less (per kg) than the packaged equivalents to make sure price is not a barrier to purchase.

We consciously chose to offer core basket family favourites in the refill zone to attract as many customers as we could. Our best-selling loose lines have consistently included cereal and pasta – the sorts of products many households use in high volumes.

What is really encouraging is that a new process which involves weighing containers and dispensing product does not seem to have put customers off – they are willing to invest time and energy in a new shopping experience providing the price is right and their favourite products are stocked.

The feedback from customers on the refill zone has been overwhelmingly positive. They feel like they are doing their bit to reduce plastic and we have seen many shoppers visit from different parts of Leeds to use this facility.

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The invaluable learnings from Middleton are already making a difference, most notably at our York store, where we recently launched a dedicated refill zone with over 100 branded and own-label products.

There is much to come next year at this store as we continue to look at innovative ways to reduce, reuse and recycle our packaging.

By Susan Thomas - Asda’s Senior Director of Sustainability