The Re programme received €3.6m (£3m) in funds last week from non-departmental government funding agency UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) under its Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) challenge – the largest ever UK government investment in sustainable plastics research and innovation, set to release €72.3m (£60m) in funds between 2020 and 2025.
Developed as a business unit within indie brand Beauty Kitchen, the Re programme offered beauty and personal care brands and retailers standardised refillable bottles and refill stations in a bid to support scalable, sustainable change. The smart bottles in the programme were designed using steel, glass and next-generation washable plastics and were marked with trackable assets to follow each packaging cycle. The refill and return stations offered interactive spaces where consumers could either refill bottles with a product of their choice or return bottles for washing.
Unilever, PZ Cussons, Elemis, Asda, Co-op, M&S and Sainsbury’s were just some of the larger brands involved in the programme already.
‘You can’t just ask people to use less plastic’
Jo Chidley, founder of Beauty Kitchen and Re, said the latest UKRI funding would be used to scale up the Re model across the UK, enabling the programme to spearhead national efforts in fulfilling the UK Plastics Pact and the goal towards a circular economy for plastics.
“This funding is exactly what Re needs to help refine and share the model with more brands, retailers and consumers,” Chidley said. “We are very pleased with the UKRI’s decision and look forward to seeing the impact of this grant funding right away.”
Environmental organisation City to Sea had also partnered with Re to study consumer behaviour and track changes to the shopper journey associated with the refill and reuse model. City to Sea would also identify all UK Re refill stations via its app as the programme upscaled.
Natalie Fée, founder and CEO of City to Sea, said: “You can’t talk seriously about tackling plastic pollution without scaling up refill and reuse packaging solutions (…) We’re so excited to see Re’s innovative ‘pay once, reuse forever’ messaging combined with easy-to-use packaging and refill machines (…) scaled up. You can’t just ask people to use less plastic, you have to inspire them and make it easy for them.”
Consumers, brands and retailers all ‘buying into it’
Chidley said the Re programme had already proven successful in the UK, with a trial across 19 supermarkets saving more than four million bottles from landfill to date, though the wider goal was to save over 100 million from landfill within the next three years.
Importantly, she said all three “key elements” of the circular economy had jumped aboard with the concept – consumers, brands and retailers. “This is how you make change and reduce waste. This is the future; a collaborative, circular economy that works for all parties.”
And Beauty Kitchen planned to share its technology and model with other brands, retailers and corporations moving forward, to “accelerate an inclusive, scalable and repeatable circular packaging solution”, she said.
Chidley previously told CosmeticsDesign-Europe Re was about driving meaningful and non-competitive change.
“Having anything that’s a circular business model is tricky, because if you have a circular business model you have to truly collaborate. You’re not creating something that is ultimately competitive advantage just for your business; you are creating advantage for everyone, and that doesn’t sit well with linear businesses.”
The Re programme offered zero exclusivity, for example, working with all manner of beauty businesses and retailers of all sizes to offer the same smart refillable bottles and refill stations – crucial in creating a mindset shift amongst consumers, she said.
The programme offered a “vehicle” for brands, Chidley said. “…All we’re doing is helping consumers, brands and retailers make that switch into ‘product as a service’, rather than just single-use packaging.”