What if you could get refills for all of the products that you buy that come in containers?
We’ve become accustomed to the notion that every product must come in its own packaging, that this is “obvious” and that it’s the only way things can be done.
Every day I use a variety of container-based products (CBPs for short): shampoo, face-wash, toothpaste, liquid soap, orange juice, etc. etc. The list of CBPs goes on. This causes a huge strain on the environment. Companies use giant factories across the world to manufacture hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions of CBPs. For each CBP resources and energy are used to create the container, then all of these little containers are shipped all over the world in an inefficient manner.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of most of them? I think such a world is possible.
This brings up several questions: Could this cause difficulties for brands to compete? After all, you recognize that this particular brand of sugar-water belongs to Pepsi because it comes in a CBP that has the Pepsi logo on it. And how are you to know what’s in your shampoo if it doesn’t have a container to list the ingredients?
Imagine the following:
A Different World
A consumer walks into a local grocery store in search of body wash. He grabs a sleek bottle of Product 5eX promising to make him more attractive to the opposite sex. Except, this isn’t a CBP, in fact, while the store’s isles are packed with various bottled products much as they are today, there’s not a single CBP to be found, what our gullible protagonist holds in his hands is actually an RBP—a refill-based-product.
After weeks of usage and several unsuccessful attempts at attracting a mate, our friend runs out of Product 5eX and decides that perhaps he hasn’t used it long enough and so drives back to the grocery store in search of more. However, instead of going back to the isle where he originally found it, he places the empty container, along with empty containers of toothpaste, face-wash, and 9-liter bottle of cola on a conveyor belt at the front of the store while swiping his credit card. After shopping around for various food products inside he’s ready to checkout, and so are his RBPs.
In such a world there are many possibilities. Perhaps you could use a generic container and simply use the product’s unique ID number to refill it. There could be a huge online database that matches product IDs with detailed information about each product such as nutrition facts, ingredients, etc. All with the latest information on each ingredient and links to further information.
Not So Different
In fact the concept of an RBP is not so foreign. Recently my local OfficeMax began offering refills for all ink cartridges. Refills have existed at restaurants as long as I’ve known.
While many of today’s containers are recyclable, recycling is not nearly as good as reusing and reducing. Recycling takes energy, and many of the things that you put into your recycling bin don’t actually get recycled for one reason or another. It does not really tackle the core issue.
Instead of creating and shipping millions of little bottles, companies could send entire vats of refillable goop all over the world. The RBP model is not just a giant win for the planet, it’s a boon for consumers and producers alike, as it would drive down the cost of production and therefore the cost of products.
There are certainly many questions that need to be addressed for such a world to become a reality. For example, the question of sanitation. How can you guarantee that a refilled product will be as fresh as a brand new one if the container has been opened? I’m sure that through various techniques and technologies such challenges can be overcome. Perhaps each major reseller can have its own mini-sanitizing doo-hickey that cleans the insides of containers. Like all engineering problems, the solutions are out there as long as someone is willing to put in the effort.
Think it’s a good idea? Pass it on. 🙂