The future of refillable packaging for FMCG businesses. By Charles Haverfield

Plastic pollution has become a significant global concern, with single-use plastics and packaging waste identified as major contributors to this crisis. Currently, more than 171 trillion pieces of plastic litter our oceans and experts warn that this figure could triple by 2040 if no action is taken.

Refillable packaging has emerged as a promising avenue to combat plastic pollution. The UN estimates it could help reduce plastic waste by up to 80 percent.

With consumers becoming increasingly interested in such initiatives, I explore how the biggest brands in the FMCG market are adopting refillable packaging strategies.

Refill at home

To drive the widespread adoption of refillable packaging, some innovative brands are taking significant strides to make the process as effortless and convenient as possible for consumers. Home delivery refill models have been gaining popularity, presenting an enticing option for sustainability-conscious consumers to refill their favorite products from the comfort of their own homes.

A prime example of this approach is seen in the partnership between Milk & More and Coca-Cola, collecting, refilling, and reusing Coca-Cola Zero Sugar glass bottles directly to and from customers’ homes. This initiative not only drastically reduces the consumption of single-use plastic bottles but also promotes a more circular approach to packaging.

While home delivery refill models show great promise, they may pose challenges for smaller brands that lack robust supply chains and logistical capabilities. However, the success of this approach presents exciting potential for e-commerce retailers, as it aligns with the growing consumer demand for environmentally friendly options and offers a unique selling proposition in the competitive market.


Pre-filled products have emerged as a convenient and sustainable solution for consumers to purchase refills both in-store and online. By adopting pre-fill strategies, FMCG brands can make significant strides in minimizing single-use packaging and reducing the consumption of virgin plastic.

Concentrated refills represent a prime example of this sustainable approach, offering a host of benefits beyond environmental advantages. Notably, they can lead to lower production and transportation costs, especially for smaller products.

An additional advantage of concentrated refills is their contribution to a circular economy. By designing refills to be 100 percent recyclable, brands further extend their commitment to sustainability. This encourages a closed-loop system where the packaging can be repeatedly recycled and repurposed, reducing the overall environmental impact.

One example of a brand successfully implementing this strategy is Cif, which offers eco-refills with a 10x concentrated formula for its home cleaning products. The impact of such initiatives has been remarkable, as evidenced by the reduction of 1.5 million plastic bottles in UK supermarkets through Cif’s eco-refill program.

However, it is essential to recognize that while concentrated refills are suitable for certain products, they may not be feasible for all items. Each product’s unique characteristics, such as its composition, viscosity, and usage patterns, must be considered when evaluating refill options.

Introducing refill systems that differ from traditional single-use packaging can potentially confuse consumers. Therefore, clear, and effective communication is crucial. Brands should educate consumers about the refill options available, highlighting the environmental benefits, cost savings and ease of use. Transparent labelling and user-friendly instructions can also go a long way in encouraging consumers to embrace the refillable packaging model.

Refillable vending machines

The growing concern over plastic pollution has driven FMCG brands to explore innovative ‘no packaging’ alternatives, such as self-service refill vending machines. These initiatives aim to minimize single-use packaging and promote a circular economy by encouraging consumers to actively participate in the refill process.

The concept of reverse vending machines, in particular, has gained traction as a promising approach to reducing plastic waste. With reverse vending machines, consumers can purchase products in reusable containers with a small deposit, which is later refunded when the container is returned. This incentivizes consumers to adopt an eco-friendlier approach to their shopping habits, as they are financially motivated to participate in the recycling process.

While the concept of reverse vending machines is promising, some challenges remain. One significant challenge is effectively tracking the returned containers to facilitate the refund process. Without a reliable tracking system, it may be difficult for brands to manage and account for the returned containers, potentially leading to operational inefficiencies.

Moreover, the implementation of reverse vending machines goes beyond individual consumer behavior. Brands must collaborate with various stakeholders to ensure the success of these initiatives. Cooperation with recycling centers, waste management facilities and even local governments is crucial to establishing a well-functioning reverse vending ecosystem. This collaborative approach will not only streamline the recycling process but also create a more sustainable and circular system.

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.

Charles Haverfield

Charles Haverfield is CEO of US Packaging & Wrapping, a full-service, customer-driven packaging supply company. Headquartered in Central Arkansas with shipping warehouses on the east and west coast, the business strives for fast and affordable shipping.