So which circular economy companies are paving the way with refills and striking the right balance between price and convenience? One trailblazer is London-based charrli, which describes itself as “the milkman for British eco-brands”. Using e-bikes, it delivers toiletries and cleaning products such as shampoo and soap in refillable glass bottles.
With subscription and one-off purchase options, charrli is a platform where a premium would work – because it’s also a great place to discover eco-brands you didn’t know about, which means they’re adding value beyond simply replacing like-for-like. They claim that their service could help customers “save up to 40kg of household plastic waste every year from going to landfill.”
Another newcomer to the refill scene is Spruce, which has just launched with two vegan, cruelty-free cleaning products made from safe ingredients and packaged in refillable bottles. Spruce refills weigh just 4 grams, which is 125% less than a typical cleaning bottle filled with liquid content and hugely reduces their carbon footprint compared to alternative solutions.
The idea is that customers buy a refillable bottle just once, diluting super-concentrated refills in tap water. The refill packs can then be composted at home and will turn into fertile biomass within weeks. This compares incredibly favorably with plastic packaging, which has an average usage span of under 5 minutes but lives on for 500 years in our ecosystem. Spruce has gained traction on Kickstarter, which is already showing customer validation and raising awareness of the subject.
And the list of refill pioneers grows longer all the time. PITT BALM is the UK’s first refillable deodorant, which comes in aluminum and recycled cardboard packaging and can be refilled at participating stores. Splosh let you order refills of their personal care and cleaning products online, with a subscription service that means customers will never run out. They invite customers to send back their refill packages, which they make into new products, ensuring true circularity.
And then there are the big players – the ones with serious backing. Even those unfamiliar with eco-friendly product ranges will have heard of Ecover, which was among the first to manufacture cleaning products that are kinder to the environment. They’re currently “waging war on single-use plastic” and aiming to use recycled plastic for all their bottles by 2020.
Meanwhile, Loop, a partner of Tesco, launched in the UK in July to extensive press and influencer coverage. This platform allows consumers to shop for their favorite brands in reusable packaging, but they currently only have a limited range. This means customers would need to split their shop in two, which doesn’t quite deliver on the convenience point I talked about earlier. What’s more, Loop’s high onboarding costs of £25,000 are prohibitive to all but the most established (or well funded) brands.