The John Lewis Partnership has selected four British startups which specialise in helping to reduce plastic waste, as part of the Waitrose-owner's 'always on' retail tech initiative – JLAB.
From a list of over 100 startup entries, JLAB managed to shortlist just four UK startups that submitted ideas designed to help both John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners reduce the impact of plastic waste.
The selected startups include CupClub, which launched in 2015 with a returnable packaging service to help retailers reduce single-use plastic packaging using trackable products and RFID technology, which will be trialled in London.
"If you look at CupClub, they're utilising our RFID in their proposition, so although it's not a new technology it's actually utilising technology in a different way and for us, that's really exciting," John Vary, futurologist at JLAB told Techworld.
"In this day and age, technology can do so much for us. I think what we're seeing here is, this is not technology coming to the forefront but these are real problems being solved from human-driven design or human-driven proposition development."
The other startups include Cuantec, which uses natural waste materials to obtain a natural biopolymer that can then be turned into antimicrobial food packaging, RePack, a reusable and returnable ecommerce mail packaging service and Replenish, creator of reusable and refillable bottles for liquid concentrates.
In the five years since JLAB's launch, this is the first time that an environmental issue like plastic waste had been a focus.
"In previous years and previous themes, JLAB has always been about solving real problems and real problems for the business," Vary. "Now, this one was not just a problem for the business but a problem for the whole planet."
Together with the work that the John Lewis Partnership is currently doing to tackle plastic waste, it hopes to make own-label packaging widely recycled, reusable or home compostable by 2025.
Alongside this, Waitrose & Partners, which was the first UK supermarket to sell paper-stem cotton buds, hopes to remove black plastic packaging from meat and poultry and replace loose plastic bags with a home compostable alternative by spring 2019.
As one of the largest innovation programmes in the UK, the JLAB plastic waste pitch day follows a pitch day focused on health and wellbeing in June 2018.
"For us, it was really interesting to understand how digital and new processes could actually help eliminate waste," Vary said. "From the different mediums of the startups, not one of the startups or established businesses was the same.
"So you had one business that created an edible capsule that you could actually put water inside – it was fascinating. Then we had another one that created a subscription for coffee cups that were reusable."
JLAB hopes to work with the selected startups to meet its target towards creating a sustainable future for the retail sector and the environment.
"From my point of view, this wasn't just about helping the retail sector at all; this was about helping the planet and helping to do the right thing," Vary added. "I don't think you can necessarily start from a consumer angle on this problem."