Unpackaged: Aldi opens “green” supermarket with focus on refills and reusables

Image source: Aldi UK

Discount giant Aldi has opened a “green” supermarket in the UK that aims to reduce the average CO2 emissions of a typical supermarket by two-thirds. Aldi is tackling the building’s energy consumption – and its packaging. It offers collection bins for a range of different types of packaging. But the focus is primarily on the topic of unpackaged, which the discounter is addressing through the use of refill stations and corresponding reusable packaging. And that is precisely the point. Even if it is currently still difficult and not entirely successful, reusable and refill stand for the future.


Aldi’s “pilot green supermarket” is located in Royal Leamington Spa in the United Kingdom, near the discounter’s headquarters. According to the company, the store’s carbon footprint is two-thirds smaller than conventional supermarkets. To achieve this, the store was designed to use 57 percent less energy. It has wood-fiber insulation and a partially green roof. However, the decisive factor is the interior. Here, Aldi uses the packaging as a climate lever.


Refill stations

For “waste-free shopping,” Aldi offers its customers refill stations for nuts and coffee. Here, they rely on a solution from the Czech company Miwa.

  • The refill stations have capsules for various products. Customers can first weigh their empty containers or bags before filling one of the products and weighing the filled package again. A price label is then issued.
  • The Miwa refill stations’ standardized reusable capsules are coded and can circulate between stores, the service center and manufacturers. The company refers to this as “maximizing the use of smart data.”
  • Over its life cycle, one capsule saves nearly 2,000 disposable packages, according to Miwa.


Recycling stations

Also part of the “green supermarket” are separate recycling stations for soft plastics, medicine packs, batteries, coffee capsules and cosmetics packaging. This is a special offer in the UK, where packaging is not yet collected via a standardized household waste disposal system.


From refill pilot to wide-scale?

For the time being, the “unpackaged offers” in Aldi’s green supermarket are a pilot. The word from Miwa is that Aldi is now waiting to see how customers react and how convenient and efficient the system proves to be for store employees. That Aldi chose the UK for its pilot is no coincidence. On the one hand, the British market is somewhat more advanced than other European markets when it comes to reusable packaging. At the same time, especially in the UK, retailers are driving the sustainability revolution in packaging.


Reusable packaging as a climate lever

Refill and returnable packaging is a complex issue and it brings a whole new set of efforts and challenges. So far, the concept is often still difficult in reality and not entirely successful – even if it already works for some products. In principle, however, and looking to the future, many roads lead to reusable and few lead past it.


  • Among regulators, we see clear signs of reusable preference, and the EU Commission’s proposal for the new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation has also addressed the issue.
  • Among consumers, the topic of unpackaged or waste-free shopping will remain a high priority. The decline we have currently seen in unpackaged stores, for example, due to the Corona pandemic, is not a fundamental trend reversal.
  • For brands and retailers, refill and reuse have the potential to become powerful levers in terms of achieving their climate goals. After all, packaging represents a relevant share of the eco-footprint.

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