Refill for good: 10 things you can switch into a refillable version today

While celebrating the World Refill Day this year, the world’s seas are still “welcoming” a truckload of trash into its waters every minute. Tackling this worldwide waste problem is something we need to do in collaboration: as conscious consumers and mindful manufacturers.

“As a global movement, we have the power to create a wave of change.”
World Refill Day, 16 June 2021

Globally, less than 2% of packaging is reusable. The best way to create that wave of change is not just becoming aware of WHAT we are buying, but even more importantly, HOW. We don’t need to say no to all things we need or love in our lives. The key is to produce and replace only the part of the product that is actually being used. You wouldn’t discard a perfectly good car just because it ran out of fuel! We can take it to the gas station or the charging point to be filled up again. The same concept can be applied to many more things we own and use daily.

Let’s change “more trash” to “more refills”

In the old days there were milkmen who went round, collecting empty bottles and replacing them with freshly filled ones. In the modern day, when the global markets are open and we are consuming products from all over the world, this idea of refilling and replacing has also widened and you can find brands that offer refillable products in almost every industry and area. And increasingly, the refills are the less expensive path to take than buying the whole thing over and over again, and creating more waste in the process.

Here are 10 products that you can switch into refillable or reusable versions in your home right now, some familiar, some perhaps unexpected.

1. Conventional Toothpaste -> refillable toothpaste tablets

In the US alone, an estimated 400 million toothpaste tubes are thrown away each year. The toothpaste tablets are formulated without water, so they’re easier to transport. Also, many brands offer refill subscriptions, so you only buy the container once and regularly receive a new pouch to fill it up again. Not looking forward to that last-painful-squeeze-moment at the end of every tube’s lifecycle? You never have to go through that again with the tablet-version. We love our local Münt.

2. Scented Candles -> powdered or “naked” candles

If you experience cold and dark winter months for half a year like us, you probably love candles. But even when you choose plant-based waxes or beeswax over traditional paraffin, there’s still a question: what to do with the empty container? In comes powdered candle that can be poured into any heat-proof vessel of your choice. You can reuse all your old teacups and light up the whole room.

Estonian company Vivin is pioneering the scented powdered candles. Or you can try Sister & Co who invites buyers to re-use their old candle jar over and over again by ordering a “naked” version of their favourite candle that slots perfectly into the existing candle jar.

3. New perfume bottles -> refilled scents

A lot of work has gone into designing luxurious perfume bottles. Viktor & Rolf launched a refill program for their hit scent Flowerbomb with in-store fountain dispensers already a decade ago. “The idea of being able to keep this beautiful bottle as the jewel it is and being able to reuse it—it makes so much sense,” the pair recently expressed in an interview. They admit, however, that the organization and execution are logistically “an enormous operation.”

With smaller brands, the unique refill-concepts are built in from the get-go, which diminishes the need for new bottles and brings loyal customers as their favourite fragrances are topped up with reduced cost. France as the seat of traditional perfumery is also the place where new players emerge. Sillage Paris perfume house has many ateliers around Paris, and innovative “noses” who help to create fully personalised scents that can be refilled for good.

4. Roll of kitchen paper – > Unpaper towels

Wipe and throw – sounds like an easy solution to clean up any big and small messes in the kitchen. What about throwing your soiled towels into a washing machine instead of the bin? And then pile up your stack with DIY cotton cloths if you’re feeling crafty, or find them online.

There is a variety of choices everywhere in the world, we like Marley’s Monsters, but there are many local makers you can find too.

5. Shop-bought smoothies -> organic flash-frozen instant smoothies

We’ve mentioned our office favourite before – kencko, the Portugese brand who ships sachets of organic fruit and vegetables all over the world. You’ll get a special reusable shaker bottle that cuts out one-off containers. And the instant smoothie powder is packaged in compostable sachets that can be used anywhere where water is available.

Next to cutting out unnecessary packaging, they also tackle the food waste problem as almost half of the world’s fresh fruits and vegetables are thrown away uneaten. Kencko’s flash-freeze, slow-dry process puts the produce on standby until enjoyed.

6. Packaged food from Supermarkets -> zero waste groceries & farmers markets

Majority of supermarket products are packaged in unnecessary amounts of plastic, foil and cardboard. However sustainable and eco-friendly we are trying to be, the place we shop might just not have the best options available. Although bulk and zero waste stores started to get popular in the 70s with the environmental activism, they also disappeared in the 80s when the economy and industrialism boomed and branding became a driver for sales. Luckily, these places are now returning everywhere, together with more and more farmers markets where you can buy directly from the growers. Just invest in some cotton bags and refillable containers, and see how taking the bin out becomes a less frequent exercise.

7. Disposable pens -> refillable fountain pens

Do you miss the act of writing? With the real pen and paper rather than tapping on plastic buttons? Some of us have a daily journaling practice, we write shopping lists, notes on napkins, and some of us hopefully still send cards or letters, or even create novels on paper. We can definitely lure ourselves to writing more with some nice stationery and pens that look like a family heirloom. And truly, some of them are to be used forever.

Onoto is a quintessentially British fountain pen maker that created the first ever self-filling fountain pen in 1905. The company estimates that there are thousands, maybe millions, of vintage Onoto pens still in existence, many still used on a daily basis and the pens are covered with a lifetime guarantee. They might even inspire you to write a novel yourself…

8. Conventional deodorant -> plant-powered plastic-neutral refill pods

We like brands who are openly pro-planet! Deodorants are something we use on a daily basis, so switching those items into refillable ones has a massive environmental impact. Myro is a certified plastic neutral brand with a pro-you, pro-planet system that helps cut down on single use plastic. They’re aim is to keep the refillable case out in your bathroom, not out in the landfills. Once you have the case, you can get on a flexible subscription program that allows you to change, swap and skip everything from frequency to scents any time you like.

9. New lipstick – > bio-based lipstick refills

Makeup containers are usually not made for just one-time use; but still, they are used just once and then end up in landfills. Buying only a stick of lipstick and using a case you already have is something not many of us have probably even heard about yet. Luckily we can also start making greener choices here. Many makeup brands are looking into turning zero waste and the Finnish HAVU creates bio-based lip products that you can stick into any old lipstick case without even having to get a special container first. In Finnish, the word HAVU stands for a sprig or a needle of an evergreen tree and the mission to be one with nature without harming it. Well done!

10. Plastic bottles -> refillable water bottles

We just couldn’t let you go without tapping into the tap water topic. One of the easiest ways we can all create less plastic waste is using a refillable water bottle. We are lucky to have clean and pretty tasty tap water here in Estonia, but if you live in the area where the water in your home or office doesn’t taste that great, there are many options for filtering and purification that can be integrated in your kitchen or bathroom.

Ocean Bottle has a fascinating concept as they work with the people on the front lines of the ocean plastic crisis. With the sale of every bottle, they fund the collection of 11.4 kg ocean bound plastic, equivalent to 1000 plastic bottles. Through the partnership with Plastic Bank, the local collectors can exchange the plastic they’ve gathered for money or credit via blockchain technology. The plastic is then recycled into new products. By 2025 they aim to collect 80 million kgs of plastic, equivalent to 7 billion plastic bottles. True pioneers of “refill & reduce”.