Service of Refills: Do Consumers Have the Time & Money?

January 28th, 2019

Categories: Environment, Packaging, Plastic, Pollution, Recycling, Retail


I found fault with the hullabaloo over the so called huge benefits to the environment when businesses announced they were banning  plastic straws in the post “Service of the Last Straw,”—literally too little in the plastic litter wars.

I perked up reading Saabira Chaudhuri’s article “The World’s Biggest Brands Want You to Refill Your Orange Juice and Deodorant–P&G, Nestlé and others try to curb plastic waste; Tropicana in glass bottles, Tide in metal cans.”

Chaudhuri reported: “Refillables once dominated industries such as beer and soft drinks but lost out to convenient, affordable single-use containers. In 1947, refillables made up 100% of soft-drink containers by volume and 86% of beer containers, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit. By 1998 those figures dropped to 0.4% and 3.3%, respectively.”

She added that the refill business exists but is niche, done by some grocery stores and entrepreneurs largely

Statewide Refillable Bottles Photo:

in shampoo and detergent businesses.

The trial will include PepsiCo’s Tropicana OJ in a glass bottle and Quaker Chocolate Cruesli cereal in stainless steel. Some of P&G’s 10 participating brands include Pantene shampoo in aluminum and Tide in stainless-steel.

In addition, Chaudhuri wrote: “Shoppers who the companies select for the trial will be able to order hundreds of products—including Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs ice cream and Clorox Co.’s wet wipes—from a website for home delivery. Products arrive in a reusable tote with no extra packaging. Once finished, users schedule a pickup for empty containers to be cleaned and refilled. They can sign up for a subscription-based service that replenishes products once empty containers are returned. TerraCycle will handle delivery, returns and cleaning.


“The products will cost roughly the same as the versions in single-use containers, but users will also have to pay a deposit of $1-$10 per container. Shipping charges start at roughly $20, decreasing with every item added.

“Susan Collins, head of the Container Recycling Institute, said high deposit fees could be a barrier to entry for many consumers. ‘It sounds like it’s only meant to attract the most green, virtuous shoppers,’ she said.

I’d add that customers who look for sales are also out of the loop.

“TerraCycle hopes to bring big retailers on board so that customers eventually buy and return most of the products in store or online via retailers, lowering the project’s costs and expanding its reach,” Chaudhuri concluded.

If shoppers don’t have a doorman or house staff or if they aren’t retired, who will accept the packages and what about ice cream sales shipped in summer? Will the shipping and container costs impact the success of these initiatives? Can we go home again, to the middle of last century, when refills in certain product categories were standard? Will a sufficient number of customers, spoiled by taking three seconds to toss out a bottle or container, make the time to wash out each container and prepare the package to ship it back?


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4 Responses to “Service of Refills: Do Consumers Have the Time & Money?”

  1. ASK Said:

    This sounds convoluted and expensive…Why don’t package products in glass or metal as was done back in the Stone Age. All the consumer would have to do is return the glass or metal package, for a few pennies per package, to the store for recycling. What am I missing here?

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The containers of many refillable products in days of yore were picked up outside a person’s door–milk and seltzer for two examples.

    The company that cleans the containers, TerraCycle, is trying to arrange deals with supermarkets. They have one with the supermarket Carrefour in France. It’s a big one. The results may impact the growth of the simpler alternative. Still, while I look to save in all ways, I am too lazy to bring my bottles and cans back to the supermarket right now. Not sure I’d do so for a refill.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Refilling would prevent tons of waste. Recycling, which appears to have replaced the refill in a number of ways, is also desirable. (Leaving it to pundits to argue this one out!)

    I don’t use straws, so I recuse myself. Just an aside: what’s wrong with paper straws?

  4. jmbyington Said:


    Paper straws fall apart. The amount of plastic in a straw is tiny compared to bottles and containers. Yet i don’t see many people paying for the new refill initiative much less going through the steps to comply. ASK asks why the procedure can’t be
    simple. Good question for the marketing great minds associated with these major brands.

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