Would you go to the trouble of a refill?

If you could, would you go to the shop for refills of your favourite brands, whether for shampoo, washing up liquid or the whole spectrum of store cupboard goods?

While it’s all very well sourcing shampoo bars, making your own toiletries or restricting any purchases to those few that come in paper or glass packaging, the fact is that – currently – a plastic-free lifestyle requires so much change that it can be extremely difficult for people to stick at it.

Many retailers and producers have committed to using more sustainable packaging or developing biodegradable alternatives in the future. This is fantastic news, but if we’re actually going to try and limit our waste altogether, having the opportunity to fill up our own continuers locally could be a game-changer. There are already some wonderful plastic-free shops, wholefood and market stalls where you can do this, but the options are few and far between.

I remember in my teens being so impressed that The Body Shop offered refills on certain products. The retailer stopped running the service in 2002 reporting that only 1% of customers used it.  There wasn’t the same awareness about the extent of plastic waste and its catastrophic impact on the environment as there is now. In other words, it seems that the company was ahead of its time.

Perhaps The Body Shop has since considered reintroducing its refill service? I love many of its products and, even more so, its ethical foundations. So I tweeted the company asking this very question and received a prompt reply, which included the statement:

“…Over the years, customer interest in refilling has increasingly declined which has led to all of our markets ceasing to offer the service at all.”

I said I disagreed; that I believed there had never been so much awareness and interest in reducing plastic waste as there is now.

But then I thought again. Perhaps I was wrong; the decision isn’t always that simple. Awareness might be high, but people also have increasingly busy lives and I know that – living rurally – I certainly find it hard to get out to the shops. So I ran a poll on Twitter asking if people would be more or less likely to take the trouble to go to the shop for refills than they were 5 years ago.

I’ve got to be honest here – it’s hardly a robust poll. I am fairly new to all this, I have a small follower base and most of those are people with an interest in the environment. So I tried to balance this by encouraging others to share the poll with their networks and promoted the blog to non-followers through my personal Facebook page.

The poll ran for 3 days and 93 people responded, with the end result that 96% of people saying they would be more likely to take the trouble to go for refills.

Beyond the poll, I also had some insightful messages from people talking about the challenges of going out to get refills while juggling work and small children, and that’s certainly something I can relate to.

So I’m not saying that all these people would actually go to the troubling of taking their bottles, jam jars and boxes to purchase refills on a regular basis, but simply that I believe there is greater appetite for it than in years gone by, so long as refills were more readily available.

Consumer demand is a powerful thing – or at least it can be – if we communicate our views to retailers and manufacturers either by changing our buying habits or engaging with them. So, I’ll share the results of my very low key poll and if you’d like to comment on whether you think there’s a market for refills or that it would make your attempts to minimise plastic that little bit easier, please do post your views below.


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