REFILLCo and un_rap: a perfect TeviMatch!
Many people will already be familiar with Falmouth’s plastic-free shop and Tevi business un_rap, and we previously posted our film featuring owner and founder Hannah Pearce. On a recent visit to un_rap we were delighted to see an exciting and complimentary relationship with a newly-formed Cornish business that Tevi are also supporting: introducing REFILLCo, The Refill Machine Company.
REFILLCo founders Chris Worboys and Mike Chapman have been hard at work on a machine that they hope will be a vital tool in the zero waste retail revolution. Previously liquid refills in zero waste shops, like un_rap and The Refill Store in Truro (another Tevi business), have relied on time-consuming manual measurement or restricting refills to empty bottles of standardised sizes. These limitations make it difficult to scale up, an obvious barrier to growth in the plastic-free retail sector.
REFILLCo take a different approach. Focussing initially on non-perishable liquids, such as household cleaning products, Chris and Mike have developed a self-service liquid dispensing machine. The process for the customer is simple:
- The customer collects an RFID card from the checkout.
- They place a container on to the dispensing platform and swipe the card.
- Much like a petrol pump, they dispense the product using the lever and watch a real-time pounds and pence display of how much they will pay.
- When finished, they swipe the card again.
See the system in action in the video below.
The customer can repeat the process for other products and the RFID card will track the total spend. The cashier only has to scan the card on a terminal at the checkout and take payment for the total amount, significantly reducing their workload.
The liquids are themselves are stored in refillable kegs (giving further potential to reduce waste packaging) and dispensed using compressed air. The dispensing platform is effectively a weighing scales, zeroed before dispensing begins. Price by mass, or price by volume and the liquid density, is programmed into each unit to give accurate cost in real-time.
Since the scales are zeroed initially, the container used doesn’t matter and could even be brought from home partially full and topped up. Measuring the liquid mass also makes a lot of sense, as it is quicker and generally more accurate than measuring volume or flow rates. From the customer’s point of view it also has the benefit that they do not pay for any foamy ‘head’ formed while pouring, as you would when buying a pint of beer.
When the REFILLCo team were introduced to Hannah Pearce from un_rap at Tevi’s Circular Economy Summit, both businesses saw a great opportunity. Four of the dispensing machines are now getting their first in-store trial in Falmouth, and their attractive wooden design certainly doesn’t look out of place at un_rap. In addition to the practical benefits, there is a novelty factor to the system that will certainly appeal to both adults and (appropriately supervised) children. Tevi’s own Steve Lowe gave the system a try and commented:
The dispenser is simple and even fun to use. I was also impressed by the real-time pricing – a great feature.
Tevi certainly can’t take credit for the hard work of these two forward-thinking and innovative businesses, but we are delighted to have played a role in bringing them together. Connecting businesses for their mutual benefit and growth, through our extensive business networks and free events, is a key part of the TeviMatch service that we offer businesses. We are also always keen to support projects with potential to reduce waste and benefit Cornwall’s beautiful environment!
Chris, from REFILLCo is a keen surfer and perhaps his inspiration for the machine was that every refill is potentially a single-use plastic bottle saved that might otherwise have ended up in the oceans or on a Cornish beach. Chris and Mike hope to expand their trials to other stores in the near future. Personally I would love to see the system progressing to beer dispensing before too long. It would be invaluable in reducing arguments over head size, and would give the flexibility to pour a Cornish half (three quarters of a pint to those across the border) when you’re short of time.
We look forward to hearing an update in the near future from REFILLCo and un_rap about how the trial goes. And if you get a chance to stop by un_rap and give the machine a try we would love to hear about it!