Mum's frustration over 'massive problem' leads to genius supermarket hack

Brooke Rolfe
·News Reporter
·3-min read

A revolutionary service has arrived in Melbourne, removing the need for consumers to continue buying wasteful plastic bottles from the supermarket.

In 25 locations across Melbourne, shoppers will find Unpackaged Eco refill stations where they can pump a variety of cleaning products straight into their own bottles or one of the company’s reusable glass bottles.

There currently are 12 IGA supermarkets with refill stations, as well as a host of other independent stores including a chemist, newsagency and several grocers.

Available to pump directly into a container are plant-based cleaners including laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, handwash, hand sanitiser and multi-purpose cleaning liquid.

Cleaning products by unpackaged eco in a refill station in Melbourne.
A variety of these plant-based cleaning products can be refilled in a host of stores across Melbourne. Source: Supplied

Shoppers can buy the product pre-filled initially, then return with the bottle and load it up for about half the price of a new, filled bottle.

Founder Irene Chen, 38, said the company hoped to soon add body care products like face and body wash to its refill stations as well.

The mum-of-one told Yahoo News Australia she launched the company about 18 months ago out of her own frustration at the lack of mainstream opportunities to reduce plastic waste.

“We have a massive plastic problem, and I was quite frustrated as a customer because there’s not much plastic-free packaging out there, and if you wanted to do zero waste, I felt there wasn’t a lot of choice,” Ms Chen said.

“I tried to go without plastic and I realised how difficult it really was. So it came out of frustration, and a bit of guilt maybe too.”

Since rolling out refill stations across Melbourne, the business owner said she had received a huge wave of positive feedback from customers.

Irene Chen who launched cleaning product refill stations in Melbourne.
Irene Chen foundered the company 18 months ago and intends to expand refill stations to NSW in the next six to nine months. Source: Supplied

“Customers are pretty happy that they have a choice now to actually buy something without plastic packaging. They can just bring their bottle back, so it’s convenient for them as well,” she said.

Within the next six to nine months, Ms Chen hopes to expand refill stations into stores in NSW, then to Queensland and eventually nationwide.

For shoppers outside of Melbourne wanting to acquire the glass bottles and cruelty-free, plant-based cleaning liquids, the business has also launched an online platform offering delivery of bundles.

“We’re trialling delivering refills in aluminium cans as an alternative, just to try and get these products to customers without the plastic,” Ms Chen said.

Another element in the works is a plan to transition the refill stations from manual pumps to automated machines.

“We’re working on automating this a bit more down the track. We’ll be looking at developing some automatic refill stations,” Ms Chen said.

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