We’ve all heard stories about the milk men of earlier times who would make their rounds and leave bottles of milk on doorsteps.
Proctor&Gamble, Nestle, and Unilever are all hoping that they can convince customers to embrace a similar process whereby they buy refillable cartons that are made of glass, steel and other products. These containers are designed to be returned to the store, cleaned and refilled. Yes, I’m not making this up – that is a marketing solution to the plastics problem that they hope to launch by the coming summer. The logistics of this enterprise boggles the mind – for example, who does the “cleaning” of the containers in the stores where they are being returned for a refill – ? In the earlier glass milk bottle example, the bottles were rinsed out and left for the milk man to pick up when he next visited. They were then taken back to the plant, sanitized and refilled. Regardless of the downsides that can be immediately envisioned, the makers of shampoo, detergent and packaged food have in mind that you, the customer, will be willing to buy the refillable cartons (at an additional price, I’d guess), finish using the product inside, and, then, when empty, return the cartons to the store for refill. That would mean, at the very least, waiting in interminable lines while this refilling process takes place. I rarely visit the delicatessen section in a store because there is always a patron or two that I have to wait to be finished before I can be served. Thus, I eschew the practice – it’s too time consuming. Trying to imagine the queuing up to refill product containers is daunting – and it’s something that I simply would not do. To begin the new marketing process, Proctor&Gamble will sell ten brands as part of the initiative including Pantene shampoo in an aluminum bottle, Tide laundry detergent in a stainless steel container, and an Oral-B toothbrush with a replaceable head (that product already exists, by the way). Part of the marketing design is to develop brand loyalty. For example, a spokesman has said, “It’s really about a new delivery system and making sure once people are hooked into this they stay with the product.” Proponents of the refillables, of course, say that the practice can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste and energy use. So, the gist of it comes down to this: the consumer will pay more for their product initially (those refillables won’t come cheap), and will be stuck with the additional expenditure of their time to get them returned to the store and refilled. Sounds like a lose-lose to me – certainly to the customer, but ultimately to the companies who are putting resources into this idea.