Home refillable product
Home refilling systems let consumers buy a consumable product with packaging that can be refilled by themselves. Usually the original product comes in durable packaging, while the packaging (that contains the refill) consists of packaging materials that are easier to recycle or generate less waste. Another option is that the refill product is condensed into a smaller size, which can be expanded at home with water (for instance applicable to juices, cosmetics, paints or detergents).
Product design choices
|Refilling approach||A refill in a specific refill package is purchased by the consumer for refilling the original packaging. The original packaging can either be refilled by ordering a home delivery of the refilling package or by buying it in a retail outlet. The latter requires additional shelf space to market both the original packaging and the refill.|
|Refill education||Opting into home-refilling requires the consumer to make a conscious choice. They will need to choose to buy the specific refill packaging instead of buying another version of the original packaging with the desired product. It will be essential to inform and educate your customer about the benefits of the refilling, as in doing so, you increase the changes that home-refilling actually takes place.|
|Appearance and consumer appeal||Appearance and consumer appeal are important for capturing the consumers attention and fulfilling the promise of the product. Motivating consumers to home-refill the original packaging requires an inviting design that will activate the consumer. It will also give your product and packaging a higher perceived value, which enables the consumer to connect to it on a deeper level. The consumer is therefore less likely to negate on refilling the original packaging.|
|Hygienic and safety considerations||The material choice of your refillable packaging should be able to handle prolonged use safely. Preventing material leakage is the main consideration, which can reoccur over prolonged period of use and refilling. The extension of the use period of the packaging should not lead to any toxic substances leeching into the products that are stored in the refillable package. As the most likely application is storing consumables, it is also important to adhere to all other relevant health and safety related regulations.|
|Durability||Focussing on durability increases the longevity of the refillable packaging. It is better if your packaging last longer and suffers less damage overtime, and thus reducing the need for replacement.|
|Limit component amount||By limiting the numbers of components in the original packaging, the refillable system has less chance to break. It is also easier to recycle after it is no longer possible to repair the refillable packaging|
|Limit material types||Limiting the amount of materials helps to create refillable packaging that can be easier recycled at their end-of-life stage. This will make sure that the future waste streams will be more homogeneous and therefore more valuable for recyclers.|
|Reduce material use||Efficient material use can be achieved by considering an elemental part of the design requirements. It reduces raw material costs and makes the product lighter and consequently requires less energy for transportation.|
|Reduce energy use||Reduce the amount of energy used for manufacturing by implementing improvements in the production process. If possible, use renewable energy to reduce the overall environmental impact of your product and refillable packaging.|
|Connection selection||It is preferrable to reduce the amount of needed connections between components, but if this is not possible the aim should be to use the same materials as the each of the components that are included to make future recycling efforts easier. This is more relevant for home-refilling. Keep in mind that most the customers will not separate the different parts properly, and this requires a separation step is needed in recycling process before it can be recycled properly.|
|Structural design||With an increased emphasis on durability the structural design of the original packaging requires serious consideration. Structurally strong packaging is more likely to be durable and withstand more impact during use. Connection points and movable components will be quite challenging to make more structurally sound without losing the desired functionality of these components.|
|Renewable materials||Consider using of renewable materials for both the original packaging as well as the refill packaging. However, renewable material should only be chosen when its extraction rate is equal to or lower than its replenishment rate. Further, next to its properties, materials need to be selected based on their expected end-of-life treatment to avoid unintended consequences.|
|Recycled materials||When using recycled materials, it is important to be aware of the variance in quality that might occur between different batches. This can exceed the tolerances that are expected from virgin materials. Another aspect is understanding the composition of the recycled material as it can contain residual contamination of unknown origin.|
|Non-toxic and low impact materials||Aim to use non-toxic and low-impact materials. Toxic substances tend to accumulate in the biosphere and cause negative health effects for humans and other species. Design products with materials that are safe for the environment and that require less land, energy and water.|
|Technical characterization||The regular aspects of packaging design still apply when considering material selection for refillable packaging for consumables:
– What are the main technical properties of the material (e.g., its strength, fire resistance, etc.)?
– What are the constraints/opportunities of the material?
– What are the most convenient manufacturing processes to form the material?
– What about other manufacturing processes? How does the material behave when subjected to other processes?
|Surface treatment||Surface treatment will increase overall durability and resistance to damage, but will also impact the ease of recycling at the end-of-life. It might be worthwhile to consider other options to increase durability. Keep in mind that surface treatment needs to be safe for consumer use (especially when used for food or cosmetic purposes).|
|Design for recycling||Through recycling, the loop between post-use and production is closed, resulting in a circular flow of resources. Design packaging that can be recycled, even if it is meant to be reused. Apart from exploring technical feasibility it is also relevant to check if the preferred end-of-life solutions can handle the expected waste volumes you will generate in the future. Find reliable partners that can help you during your expansion process and when you reach your desired market share. The design choice regarding recyclability should not compromise the packaging’s ability to ensure the product’s shelf life, safe use, etc. Avoid oxo-degradable and biodegradable plastics since these “contaminate” the other, main polymer types (PE, PP, PET) plastic streams that are earmarked for recycling.|
Supply chain impact
|Refilling volume||You can efficiently use transportation space by supplying product refills in the form of concentrates, tablets, etc. This also requires less material for the manufacturing the refilling packaging.|
|Distribution impact||The distance between your customer and your distribution centre impacts the environmental performance of your service. Finding the right balance between the need for product delivery to as many places as possible and reducing the travel distance is not easy. There limited options for long-haul freight, but more opportunities have started to emerge for environmentally friendly last mile freight. Furthermore, options for sharing cargo shipping space can be considered or try looking into environmentally friendly delivery companies.|
|Community model||You can opt for setting-up an (online) community model, through which consumers can benefit from a convenient shopping experience (automatic reordering), provide refills at lower cost or to provide other types of incentives for home-refilling. This helps building a direct relationship with the consumer and facilitates reoccurring purchases.|
|Personalisation||Users’ individual needs can be accommodated with refill systems that allow them to mix flavours or personalise the main packaging, which will help create differentiating experiences and build a stronger brand connection.|
|Regular transaction||The business model around home-refilling is best suited to regular transactional model, in which the consumer buys the original (refillable) packaging with the consumable product. Once the product has been consumed a specific refill package can be bought from a retail outlet or through an e-commerce platform.|
|Plastics recycling (if plastics are included)||When using plastics in your refillable package there a number of things you can do to increase the ease of recycling:
– Mono polymer design
– Prevent layering different polymers
– Avoid dark pigments and fillers
– Mark large plastic parts to facilitate sorting
– Avoid thermoset materials
– Avoid using coatings on plastic
– Avoid using composite materials
|Recycling processes||There a different types of material recycling that can be considered for your end-of-life. Consider the following processes for fit with the chosen material and environmental impact:
|Upcycling||Upcycling means recycling in which resources retain their high quality in a closed loop industrial cycle. When thinking of your end-of-life solution it is important to consider the possibility of upcycling. The idea is that your waste stream ends up creating a new product with new value added to it, that ideally goes beyond low value applications for recycled material.
rPET can for example be used for new bottles, food trays and food tubs.
rPE and rPP can for example become pipes, buckets or containers for non-food products.
|Splosh||Mail order refillable detergent with refill pouches and a recollection system|
|Replenish||Refillable spray bottle with cleaning products in concentrate format bought separately in pods. Attach the pod, add water and the cleaning product is ready to use. One refill pod replaces six bottles. Packaging system can be pooled across brands.|
|Ecover||Offers home refillable detergents and in store refill option in selected retail outlets.|
If you want to know more about design methodologies that can help make your design responsive to your customer’s needs, read our page about design thinking & user-centered design.
Developing a reusable product can lead to lower environmental impacts. Many of the aspects listed below will provide you with insights on what to consider to reduce your future impact. A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) can help you understand the environmental performance of your new product, which can support you in developing appropriate communication messaging. Here you can learn more about LCA.