Reduce, Reuse, Refill – A Refill that isn’t a Refill

The shelves in any store today show flexible packaging as a popular packaging technique. In addition to providing a different shape and feel for consumers, flexible packaging can also stand out visually, as it offers a wide range of possibilities for decorating the product. Nowhere else in printing will you see the brilliant graphics and the colour punch like you find in flexible packaging. Since consumers often make purchasing decisions based on a product’s looks, flexible packaging can be a strategic decision to increase sales, alongside cost-cutting and environmental considerations.

Promoting sustainability is a high priority for many manufacturers, not in the least because it opens a chance to reduce costs while promoting their brands as ‘better for the environment’. Alongside the more common HDPE or PET bottles (with or without a dispensing pump) used for personal care products, they have sought to accomplish sustainability initiatives through the introduction of lightweight packaging, which resulted in stand-up pouches used as refill packs.

If refillable packaging is designed carefully and applied to appropriate products, it has a great opportunity to reduce household waste, and also reduce the amount of natural resources needed to package and deliver goods to the consumer. However it is often uncertain how consumers are responding to the refill.

Albeit consumers recognise the great waste of resources, due to the high demand of one-time used plastic bottles with dispensing pump, they also appreciate the convenience of the bottle with dispenser. Offering a refill through a stand-up pouch the consumer faces the necessity to spill the liquid from the pouch into the bottle, consequently they reject the inconvenience of the flexible refill pouch and go for convenience buying a bottle with pump anew. As a result most plastic bottles with dispensing pump used in traditional personal care products, as shampoo and body soap, end up in landfills.

The alternative: a stand-up pouch complete with dispensing fitment, isn’t successful either. We know from market studies that of the consumers surveyed, only 26% had used self-dispense style refills, in other words, a stand-up pouch complete with self-dispensing fitment. Not a success really.

So what should be done to reduce the wastage while still ensuring the required convenience?
In short: For the consumer dispensing pumps are a must. Flexible (refill) pouches are an economically and environmentally sound idea, while consumers, have not shown the aversion to stand-up pouches that some manufacturers have been worrying about. However a self-dispensing stand-up pouch is apparently not a beloved packaging format for shampoos and body soaps.
So, what’s the answer?

Eco-pump Refill Dispenser
The Korean designers Bang Ki Ryoul and Junga Kim came up with a very basic and minimal solution, an elegantly curved arch, topped with a nozzle and pipe that fits directly over refill pouches. Simple and brilliant in its set-up, as the consumer doesn’t have to spill the refill pouch contents into a bottle, but can simply screw in another pouch when through with the previous refill.

The dispenser is made of a high-quality plastic, nicely finished with a brushed metal dispensing pump that looks great in any bathroom, shower or shelf. The top of the pump has tiny Braille engravings so that shampoo and soap can be differentiated.

To end this story a few words to marketing. The creativity of many a shampoo, body soap or other personal care products company doesn’t seem to go beyond the original plastic bottle with dispensing pump and the standard refill in a (stand-up) pouch with or without spout. The brands are apparently expecting the consumer to spill the refill pouch contents into the bottle so that he can reuse the pump.
Although the consumer is aware that a refill pouch uses up to 83% less plastic than a similar HDPE or PET bottle and in turn needs less energy to produce, he also likes to see a convenient and useable refillable packaging, which (identified by a market study) include: quick and easy-to-use; lighter and easily transported; creating less waste and is less bulky; delivered in a convenient way; and specifically suited to the purpose and nature of the product.

So here is the idea: Consumers purchase a starter kit — priced comparably to traditional shampoo/body soap products – that consists of two stand-up pouches with a simple spout, one of shampoo and one of body soap and as a premium an Eco-pump Refill Dispenser for each of the pouches.
Remember: Refills can generate high levels of consumer loyalty, as they can tie him to the system if designed correctly. Researchers also found that as long as the refill is delivered well, people do not mind whether or not they are given a choice to participate.


One response to “Reduce, Reuse, Refill – A Refill that isn’t a Refill

  1. I agree that dispensing pumps may be a way of accomplishing this. However, my experience has been the design of the pump itself has fallen considerably short of any advantages it may propose.

    My wife and I have bought refillable dispensing products that the pump itself never made it throught the first round, much less the 4 or 5 rounds minimum it need to make to achieve sustainability.

    My whole argument with all of this is simple. If we really want to reduce waste, then design packaging that does just that. Returnable bottles and cans worked well for many years and actually gave people a way to make money that did’t have jobs.

    There is a reason we put a certain amount of potatoe chips in a bag. That is to increase more waste and thereby create more pofits and hopefully a few more jobs.

    How much waste has been created because some nut put poison in a certain brand of product to get the stock prices to fall?

    We can’t have it both ways. But we can greatly redue the use of packaging. But we have to stop living in this dream world that is accomplishing the opposite of what it was designed to do in the first place.

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