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Retailers move toward refillables as an eco-friendly and cost-effective option

Last updated: 09-12-2020

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Retailers move toward refillables as an eco-friendly and cost-effective option

When refillable products first hit market shelves, they were labeled as more economical options and marketed at savvy shoppers.     If refillable products were preferred for economic reasons in the past, now they are considered eco-friendly alternatives that produce less plastic waste.   With an increasing number of companies producing refillable products as a way to tackle the plastic waste issue in recent years, more options are on offer compared to the past when only a few products such as dish soaps and detergents were available in refillable forms.   At a newly opened Orga Whole Foods, a grocery store located in Bangyi-dong, Songpa District, western Seoul, the franchise grocery chain is furnished with a refill station where customers can fill up their empty containers after using up their detergent or fabric softener.   The retail food store agreed on a business deal with the Ministry of Environment, which saw the entire store designed to produce less plastic and vinyl waste.   All customers need to do is bring their own containers and refill them. The total amount of product is calculated with a scale next to the refill station and the weight of the containers is deducted.   The Body Shop, a London-based cosmetics company, recently added a refill bar to its Gangnam-daero branch in southern Seoul. Six popular shower gels are available at the bar.   According to The Body Shop, it is the third store equipped with the refill bar across the world.   Well known for its green-minded philosophies, The Body Shop’s refill bar is part of the company’s endeavors to decrease plastic waste.  When using the refill bar, customers first need to purchase an empty, reusable bottle made with aluminum. The bottle is capable of holding up to 250 millilters (8.4 ounces) of fluid and is priced at 4,000 won ($3.40).   Customers then push down on the lever of their chosen body wash and fill up their containers. Near the refill bar, there is a huge sign that reads “One pump is never enough.”   The refillable shower gel is 20 percent cheaper than the original products.   Local cosmetics brand Innisfree also jumped on the bandwagon and launched a series of refillable products named “Re-Stay” in late June.   A wide scope of beauty products including hand soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are sold in refillable pouches. They can be used as they are or decanted into dispensers.   The dispensers may look like they are made of plastic, and they partly are, but they use 30 percent less plastic compared to other typical containers as they are partially made with coconut bark.   In order to make it easy for customers to refill the containers, the dispensers are ergonomically designed, with wider openings suitable for cleaning and refilling. Simple designs and colors go well with any style bathroom, too.   Launched in 2004, another local beauty brand Aromatica has been increasing its number of refillable products since 2016. The campaign first started with two types of shampoos and one cleanser, but now nine types of products come out with refillable options.   Since the company has been launching varied refillable products, it was able to devise ways to use less plastic for its refillable packages.  In the early days, the pouches were made with layers of different plastic materials such as polyethylene terephthalate — also known as PET — and linear low-density polyethylene, but now the company’s refillable pouches are made with simpler materials. The company plans to replace all of its plastic pouches with recyclable paper starting in October.   Apart from the refillable line, Aromatica’s original products are packaged in recycled plastic containers.   The company says about 70 percent of its customers used to purchase original products while the rest bought refillable ones in the early days, but the ratio has risen to 50-50 in recent years.   Some perfume makers encourage customers to reuse perfume bottles by providing refill services.   New York-based Le Labo Fragrances is one of them. Every perfume from the brand, whether they are 50 milliliters or 100 milliliters, is refillable — but, there is one string attached. Only perfumes purchased from the company’s boutique branches located in Itaewon, central Seoul, and Garosugil, southern Seoul, are refillable. When empty bottles are filled up, the perfume shop replaces the spray part and the label. Refillable perfume is 20 percent cheaper than the original product.   BY YOO JI-YOEN   [kjdculture@joongang.co.kr]

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