5 minutes with Catherine Conway at Unpackaged
We chat to Catherine Conway, the Founder and Director at Unpackaged Innovation Ltd , about the potential of a refill revolution, how her own refill journey began and the affects COVID-19 may have on the uptake of reusable packaging.
Q1: Do you agree that the packaging industry has been too focused on recycling to tackle sustainability issues?
Yes – because it allowed everyone to continue with ‘business as normal’ as if the problem was being magically solved when we know it isn’t!
Q2: Where do you see the opportunities for refillable and re-usable packaging?
Everywhere! From food retail (food and non-food) to food service (high streets, visitor attractions, events etc.) there are a million and one opportunities for the right reusable packaging system whether it’s refill in-store, or return from home – it’s about the right system, at the right scale, for the right customer need.
Q3: With concerns around hygiene and now with the Corona Virus pandemic do you think this will affect public uptake of reusable solutions?
I think Coronavirus will radically reshape how we consume full stop – I am hoping it will lead to a new focus on sustainability and more resilient global systems to organise ourselves.
In the short term, I think there is an understandable nervousness around bulk and refill in shops in terms of potential virus transmission but that’s across all food stores – not just refilling.
But given the massive shift in the (previously tiny) percentage of UK shoppers who purchased groceries online to the overwhelming majority now doing so – it presents massive opportunities to deliver reusable products direct to consumers’ houses fulfilling both practical need as well as convenience so it’s all about adapting refill/ reuse to new markets.
Q4: What packaging innovations have you seen that excite you most?
I think it’s the new circular systems that excite me most e.g. Cup Club, MIWA, Loop, Bower Collective – all the businesses working on setting up viable return models as that’s the only way to achieve true circularity.
Q5: Sustainability has become a buzzword in the packaging industry, what does it mean to you?
In terms of targets – preserving resources for future generations and achieving net-zero carbon. In terms of how we do it – it means taking a holistic approach so making sure that solutions are financially, operationally and environmentally sustainable as that’s the best way to achieve long-term change.
Q6: How did you come to create Unpackaged?
Unpackaged was born because as a customer, I wanted to shop without packaging as I could see the problems we were creating putting everything in single-use packaging. In my 20’s, I was living in East London, trying to live a sustainable life. I used to refill my Ecover cleaning products at a local health food shop but I couldn’t understand why everything else I wanted to buy (rice, muesli etc.) wasn’t refillable. I had this idea for a shop where everything would be refillable without packaging and Unpackaged was born – first as a market stall, then our own shops and now with large retailers.
Q7: What is the purpose of Unpackaged?
To reduce unnecessary single-use packaging waste by helping businesses adopt refill and reuse solutions – we help everyone do zero waste better!
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