First refill station in Hội An strives to reduce plastic waste

March, 19/2021 - 08:07
Refillables Hoi An is located in Cẩm Thanh Commune, Hội An City and sells eco-friendly products without packaging by refilling containers.
Various types of nuts and seasoning are preserved in containers at Refillables Hoi An. Customers can have their bottles refilled with food or detergent liquid at the shop. — VNS Photo Khánh Dương

Khánh Dương and Bảo Hoa

HỘI AN — To stop people throwing away empty glass or liquid bottles, a shop in central Viet Nam is offering refills to help protect the environment and give containers a new cycle of life.

Refillables Hoi An is located in Cẩm Thanh Commune, Hội An City and sells eco-friendly products without packaging by refilling containers.

Hội An City in the central region of Việt Nam's Quang Nam Province, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hội An Ancient Town, is aiming to become a green destination for tourists by 2025 and to reduce the single-use plastic waste. Refill stations established by local businesses are contributing to that goal.

The concept of refill stations has become familiar in big cities like Hà Nội and HCM City in recent years but in the central region, Refillables Hoi An is the first of its kind.

Two years ago when Alison Batchelor, an expat in Hội An, opened the shop, the first products she introduced were chemical-free dish soap, hand soap and floor cleaners made from natural ingredients.

The soap containers lead to a lot of plastic waste as customers have to buy them over and over again, so Batchelor thought she could cut down on that waste.

She partnered with a company in Đà Nẵng which makes those soaps from fermented organic waste and stocked them in her shop.

Over the past two years, Refillables Hoi An has welcomed customers including local residents, both Vietnamese and expats, service providers and even schools to refill dish soap, floor cleaners and hand soap. More than 13,000 containers have been refilled so far.

Many hotels, restaurants and coffee shops such as Nourish Eatery, Urban Fresh, Market Bar and Mùa have borrowed containers from Refillables Hoi An, had them refilled with soap and returned them to Refillables Hoi An when the liquid runs out. Most of them continue to refill over and over again.

Lê Thị Ánh Dương, a waitress at the Nourish Eatery in Cẩm Thanh Commune, said: “Our coffee shop refills containers once every one and a half months because we order quite a lot each time. We often have dish soap, liquid detergent and vinegar refilled. We refill 10 litres of dishwashing liquid each time.”

“We chose Refillables Hoi An because of their good quality products. The dish soap made from natural ingredients does not harm our hands. Dishes cleaned with the soap are very clean.

“After using all detergent liquid in the refilled bottles, we return the bottles to the refill station and avoid throwing them to the environment. It’s pretty economically efficient and helps reduce costs for our shop.”

While a lot of companies, shops, coffee shops and restaurants in Hội An had to be closed during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region, Refillables Hoi An maintained its operation as a sustainable business, encouraging people to recycle under the motto of "refilled not landfill".

“It’s been really amazing as more people are finding the time to come here and bring their containers and recognise that they are not more expensive, in a lot of cases, are cheaper than what we’ve been paying.

"They can come, refill, help the environment and find products better for their health,” said Batchelor.

“Obviously at some point, those containers will get to the landfill whether they are broken or just at some point along the way, someone throws it away. But by refilling it, even one time, that’s saving one more container from going into the landfill,” she told Việt Nam News.

“The container that’s brought in to be refilled can be anything from a small-sized bottle of essential oil. It can also be up to a 30-litre container,” Batchelor said.

Alison Batchelor, owner of Refillables Hoi An, refills a glass bottle that a customer brings in with quinoa. — VNS Photo Khánh Dương

“We do prefer glass containers because glass containers tend to have a longer lifespan. But we do also encourage people to continue using plastic containers they have because they are still quality containers. By sending it prematurely or sending it before it’s broken, we are just adding more and more plastic unnecessarily to the landfill that is already overflowing. So just keep using it until it breaks.”

Return to the earth

Holding a handful of soapberry in her hand, Alison said the berry came from the lychee family and could be used as detergent.

“You can put them into a bowl of water and start seeing bubbles. Take 12 of them and put them in a mesh bag and then into a washing machine, they can clean your machine as detergent.

“Take 15 of them in five cups of water and boil in 45 minutes, you can get concentrate liquid used as detergent, simple surface spray or floor cleaner. With five cups of liquid, you can have 4-4.5 cups of concentrate, which costs about VNĐ15,000, simple and cheap,” she said.

“Squeeze it, if you still can see the bubbles coming out, it still has life. If not, put it into the garden, compost it, and make it return to the earth. Then you don’t cost any plastic waste or chemical waste to the community.”

“We are targeting the middle to lower financial demographic of the community, which means everybody can afford to come to refill.”

“If somebody can come in, I’m not saying a sachet costs from VNĐ3,000 to 5,000. They can come here with their container and they can use that VNĐ3,000-5,000 and they can get more product than they would in that sachet. So we can start helping the community by managing their money, better in getting more for their money,” she said.

Besides home and personal care products, Refillables Hoi An also refills dried food and seasoning like pepper, Himalayan pink salt, nuts, rice, organic cinnamon, ginger, turmeric powder as well as ingredients for eating clean like chia seeds, oats, quinoa.

During the pandemic, people have more time to explore do-it-yourself (DIY) products for their skin or hair. Many customers have come to refill baking soda, coconut oil and essential oil for their DIY products.

“It can be far more cost-effective than buying something at the shop,” Batchelor said.

As Batchelor's store is the first refill station in Hội An and there are few others in the central region, she said she wanted to promote community outreach and work with the community and Women's Union to try to create different products with them and distribute eco-friendly products to smaller refillable stations in the town and expand the refilling model in the region.

“As we’ve seen more refill stations opening up across Việt Nam, I think it can really have an incredible impact. We definitely feel refilling is one aspect that we can provide to the community and it’s only one aspect of the solution for Hội An to become a zero-waste city,” she said. — VNS

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