Introducing a groundbreaking partnership to tackle singleuse packaging

Why a collaborative approach is key to unlocking circular economies. 

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve joined forces with retailer M&S, household brand Ecover, and start-up innovator Reposit to provide a game-changing packaging solution that will help accelerate the transition from single-use to reuse in supermarkets.   

 Supported by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Fund, this is a groundbreaking collaboration where brands, retailers, charities, and start-ups innovators come together to unlock circular economy at scale. Consumers report being increasingly frustrated (31%),or feeling helpless (21%)** about the amount of packaging waste. 64%** think supermarkets and brands are not doing enough to address the issue of plastic pollution. It’s time for brands and retailers to step up and act for a systemic change, and City to Sea is on board to drive the behaviour change towards reuse. 

The project aims to demonstrate a commercially, operationally, and environmentally scalable reuse platform, with the ambition to roll out to up to 100 products and 200 stores across the UK.  

How does it work?

The innovative solution consists in a ‘buy anywhere, return anywhere’ reusable packaging platform that works for various products across brands, categories, and retailers. 

It provides a hassle-free experience for consumers to buy consumer goods (such as cleaning and beauty products, etc.) in returnable packaging in exchange for deposit. The customer takes the product to use at home and then returns once empty in registered drop-off points. The empty packaging is then collected, washed & sanitised, refilled, and put back in supermarkets for new consumers to use. 

After a successful pilot launched earlier this year in 6 M&S stores across 10 homecare products (which have seen rate of sales and return rates exceeding target, and in some cases even exceeding that of the single-use equivalent product!). The project is now ready to expand to more stores and more categories of products in the next 6 months!

Our customers are always pushing us to lead on issues they care about including reducing single-use plastic. The M&S Refilled Pilot has had a strong presence from customers since launch […], and we’re excited to join this UKRI-backed partnership to expand this reuse option further.

Lucinda Langton

Head of Sustainability, Marks & Spencer

Why is a collaborative approach needed to fight packaging waste

Because of the size of the issue: Supermarkets alone are estimated to use around a whopping 114 billion pieces yearly. We believe only a joint initiative involving all stakeholders can successfully tackle the impact of single-use plastic waste produced by brands, supermarkets, and retailers. 

Because we need to remove barriers for consumers: We know that the reuse market, while growing, remains small. Most of the reuse pilots are ‘self-refill’ or ‘refill-in-store’ model, requiring consumers to bring their own containers, which has so far been met with limited success for retailers. This returnable system aims at reducing those barriers whilst significantly reducing single-use packaging.   

Because we need to drive an accessible and global movement: The collaborative approach will enable to scale a returnable model up so that it can be widely accessible across the UK. With the appropriate accessible model the intention to buy is there: 69%* of UK respondents indicated they are likely or very likely to try products in returnable packaging if they are available where they shop.  

Because we need a viable solution: By developing a fully circular and collaborative model, the platform can benefit to all stakeholders, accounting for every aspect of the supply chain including packaging development, reverse logistics, washing and refilling, as well as the consumer behaviour change. That way, it can become a significant opportunity for all parties and help them avoid the growing financial and environmental impact of excess packaging, especially in the light of the Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging (EPR) policy. 

A transition to reuse requires stakeholder collaboration […] to creating a commercially, operationally and environmentally scalable reuse platform. We are calling on brands and retailers to get involved now so that we can collectively make the progress that consumers and the planet demand.

Stuart Chidley

Founder and Director, Reposit

What is City to Sea’s role in the project?  

As environmental campaigners who have been in the space for 9 years, we are acting as Behaviour Change Experts overseeing the consumer research, and leading creative campaigns communications in collaboration with brands and retailers to encourage the behaviour change towards reuse 

This is a game-changing moment in our collective battle against plastic pollution from packaging. Today we’re launching with our friends at Reposit, M&S, and Ecover a buy anywhere, return anywhere reuse system cross brands and retailers. This means that customers will be able to easily and accessibly pick up their favourite products in packaging that has already been refilled safe in the knowledge that it will be used again and again!

Jane Martin

Head of Development, City to Sea

Ready to Prefill?

Returnable packaging represents a unique opportunity for brands. Over half of our respondents (53%*) said they were more likely to buy from a brand that offered products in prefilled returnable packaging, rising to 84%* among those that had previously bought products in returnable packaging.  

Starting today, the ambition is to roll out to up to 100 products across various product categories in 200 stores. With brands involved like Ecover, M&S, Beauty Kitchen and more in conversation, we are encouraging more brands and retailers to reach out and get involved in this collaborative reusable system!

Are you a brand or retailer interested to learn more about this initiative? 

 Get in touch at [email protected]

*Ready to Prefill report, City to Sea – June 2023  


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