We often come across customers asking us about refillables and more often then not, they are surprised that we do not do them. The simple answer is that we do not believe in refillables.
Offering refillables is nothing new. This is how many products were bought and sold for centuries. My grandfather used to run a village grocery store and customers would come with their own bags to get flour, potatoes or beans. My grandfather would fill these bags and containers, weight them and charge a price accordingly. Nowadays, the concept of refillables extends to all liquid products be it shampoos, soaps, cleaning products and many others. And we really struggle with refillable concept as a practical and sustainable solution to the plastic problem. Controversial? Definitely. Here is why.
In our previous life as working professionals we used to spend weekdays at work, from morning till evening. Saturdays and Sundays would be spent recovering, tidying home, shopping and spending time with family or engaging in other enjoyable activities. I guess this is true for many working people. You can call us lazy but somehow driving to a market in the nearby town to get a plastic bottle filled with a shampoo did not sound particularly attractive. Taking a bus even less so. Sleep and rest were more in demand. Hence refillables sold usually at local weekend markets did not really offer us a convenient enough alternative to make it an attractive proposition. Provided you are the lucky one who lives next door to a zero-waste store or a local market, you need to consider how to get there and back with or without heavy bags. Walking, cycling or taking a bus are the best options, however, from experience I know many people choose to drive especially if they have kids. But then this is the least environmentally friendly mode of transport, offsetting some, if not all, of the benefits of getting the refillables in the first place.
Unless refillables are offered in the main shopping centers, supermarkets or other places frequently visited by customers as part of their daily or weekly routine, then refillables sold during weekend local markets or in shops stacked away from the main commercial arteries do not feel to us like a real alternative appealing to mass customers. And this is who you need to convince to use that option to make a real difference.
Refillables of cleaning and personal hygiene products are offered as one of the solutions to reduce the usage of single use plastic. And I would love that idea if not for one issue. A major one. My heart breaks when someone tells me that these heaps of plastic used to supply the liquids, sell the liquids and refill with the liquids are there to help reduce the use of plastic and its environmental impact. How more plastic can be a solution to plastic waste?
Plastic bottles which come with your shampoos and cleaning products have not been designed to last for years. Quite the opposite. They are meant for single use. Guess what happens when you refill them again and again. They start breaking. Then you need to buy new ones and after a few months or a year, the same happens. Those bottles break and you need to buy new. Do you see the cycle of buying more and more plastic just less frequently? We do.
Also, all the liquids for refilling come in big plastic bottles. None of them has been designed to last 20 years. They go through the same cycle as the bottles customers use. They are used, they break and when it happens they are replaced with new ones.
I will give it to some of the companies supplying refills, that they use rPET which is post consumer recycled plastic. They use old plastic to make new plastic, which is a good thing. But is it that good? There are numerous issues with recycling plastic but we will not go into all that here. But only think about the resources which are being used to convert the old plastic bottles into new ones. Energy? Water? Clean air? These are some of the things which make me doubt about the eco-friendly credentials of refills. How much of these resources is being used to make rPET? Over and over again. Another issue is that plastic can be recycled only a limited number of times before it eventually ends up as a waste anyway.
And this is not the end of the story. As a customer before you head off to get your next refill, you wash and sanitise the bottles with hot water. You do it every time you get a refill to ensure that the products do not cross contaminate. The same is done with the bottles in which refills are supplied to reseller. Think about the amount of energy and clean water being. Again and again.
We applaud all efforts to reduce single use plastic which pollutes our oceans and the planet. But whatever is the solution, to convince mass customers, it needs to offer convenience, be sustainable in long term and minimise use of non-renewable resources. Refills do not tick those boxes.
While from an operational perspective offering refillables is relatively easily achievable, in its current format, we do not believe it offers a real alternative to working population nor we believe it is a long term sustainable eco-friendly option to single use plastic.
Let us know what are your thoughts on refillables?