Circular approach for World Refill Day

Ben Richardson, Director of Procurement at Valpak, a Reconomy Group company, talks to Dan Dicker, Managing Director at Circular & Co, to find out how refills and reusables could be improved.

Dan Dicker

Today (16 June 2022) marks World Refill Day. Of course, packing a refillable bottle or cup should be second nature – as much a habit as picking up your keys or phone before leaving the house. But research shows that even though many people own a refillable product, half of those are likely to leave it at home.


Ben Richardson, Director of Procurement at Valpak, a Reconomy Group company, talks to Dan Dicker, Managing Director at Circular & Co, to find out how refills and reusables could be improved.

So Dan, why is refilling important?

On one level, refilling is undoubtedly a good news story. Refills cut waste, preserve valuable resources and also do away with the carbon emissions associated with the manufacture of new products. Refilling in recycled bottles and cups demonstrate that recycling is real; and people who refill feel positive about their contribution and encourage others. But we could, and should, be doing much more.


What could we do to make the system better?

While we’re focusing on refills, it’s important to consider the design, make-up and sustainability of the reusable products we take to the shops. While reusable items such as cups and bottles are used many, many times, they are still ‘single life’ items designed to become a waste when they eventually fail.


Single life is an interesting concept. Why aren’t reusables more available?

Most commonly, end of life reusables are non-recyclable purely because designers are unaware of the systems and processes involved in recycling. A steel water bottle, for example, is technically recyclable, yet once it has been powder-coated, current recycling systems are unable to process it, and it will end up in landfill.


How can we address this issue?

Overcoming this mismatch calls for a collaborative effort involving designers, waste management companies and government. It is not an exact science. Designers need to consider recycling equipment as well as material availability – and try to predict what the market will look like in 10 years’ time.

Our refillable bottle is a good example of the challenges we face. We spent two years researching innovative techniques to enable us to mould our bottles from PET. We have designed a bottle that is tough, durable and will last 10 years. But with more readily available food grade recycled polymers such as rPP coming onto the market we will immediately be able to increase our recycled content across many more products.


What needs to change to create a greater appetite for genuinely reusable products?

Legislation is key. We have Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging Waste and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. EPR for products would introduce a whole new criteria to product design.


What other models might result in a transformation in our relationship with products?

At Circular & Co, we’re exploring the potential for a rental model. Rental brings a really interesting change in the dynamic between a business and its customers – it encourages the business to use the best possible materials, to keep products operating for as long as possible, and it also builds a relationship of trust.


How easy is it to design products that will last a long time?

That depends on the product, but longevity is less common than it should be. It has taken a great deal of research and testing to produce a refillable bottle designed to last 10 years which can be recycled in a kerbside system. We work towards three pillars – we aim for products to be 100% recycled, to last for 10 years, and to be 100% recyclable. It’s important to note that we don’t always achieve this because it’s still very challenging but critically we are trying. We test our products around the clock to search for signs of weakness.


What impact can reusable products have on the waste industry?

I think it’s a symbiotic relationship. If more products are made from waste material, that helps to increase the value of waste. At the same time, the nuts and bolts of reprocessing are critical to successful circular design. It has the potential to be a circular success story!