Everything you need to know about buying refillable handwash, dishwashing liquid, and shower gel, including whether or not refills will save you money and whether or not their claims about being environmentally friendly are accurate.

In the world of personal care and household goods, refillables are becoming increasingly popular; however, the environmental benefits that these products claim to provide are often called into question. The idea behind refillables is straightforward: you make a single purchase of the initial bottle, which you then keep and fill from a second container that is friendlier to the environment. In most cases, the refill makes use of a combination of less plastic, less wasted space in the lorry, and occasionally even less water than the original. However, how much of an improvement for the environment do refillables make? And how much will you be able to save by using them? We have investigated the various kinds that are offered, looking at the cost and the packaging as well as the science that lies behind the eco-friendly assertions made by the companies.

What factors contribute to the eco-friendliness of refillables?



Imagine a bottle of hand soap that looks like any other. Because of its awkward shape, which is comprised of heavy and rigid plastic, a significant amount of space is wasted on the trucks that transport it. Recycling is a complete nightmare at the pump. In addition to that, it has a component whose primary constituent is water. When you put some thought into it, it doesn’t seem to make much sense at all. Because refillable products are still in their infancy, there is a wide range of sizes, shapes, and packaging options available for consumers to choose from. It is a challenging conundrum to figure out whether or not their environmental claims are true. Although consumers may initially believe that the environmental benefits are straightforward, this is not always the case, and businesses are rarely transparent about the thinking that went into developing these benefits. When we looked at a variety of examples, almost all of the products used environmental claims that were centred on the elimination of plastic use. But reducing the amount of plastic we buy is just one piece of a much more complicated puzzle. The use of less plastic is very important. But so is its ability to be recycled. Additionally, the product’s overall weight, dimensions, and shape are important factors to consider because they all have a significant bearing on the amount of carbon emissions produced when it is transported.

There is more to the story than just the ability to recycle.

Many refills are packaged in pouches made of flexible plastic, which cannot be recycled in household recycling programmes. You shouldn’t be discouraged by the fact that this may appear to be counterproductive. “Reduce” and “Reuse” are both higher up on the resource hierarchy than “Recycle,” and sometimes the non-recyclable refills are worth it in order to reduce the amount of packaging that is used. In the comparison of plastic bottles and plastic pouches, the pouches may be less recyclable, but they use a significantly smaller amount of plastic overall. Additionally, they weigh less and take up less space in the lorry for each millilitre of liquid, which results in fewer emissions during the transportation process. According to the findings of some studies, the amount of space required to store and transport 30 plastic bottles is roughly equivalent to that of 840 pouches. Additionally, one truckload of empty rigid containers is equivalent to anywhere from 15 to 25 truckloads of flat pouches. When we investigated refillables, we discovered that many of them did not have recycling labelling or information that explained the original container could be refilled with a new liquid. For the purpose of assisting customers in obtaining this information, the On-Pack Recycling Label scheme (OPRL) is introducing a new set of refillable labels.

How to get the most out of your refillables and save money.


Only one third of shoppers have actually seen refillable products on store shelves; however, a substantial three quarters of shoppers told us they would be willing to purchase these products if they were available. We strongly suggest that you keep an eye out for them because, in general, refillables are better for the environment than their more traditional single-use equivalents.

However, when it comes to their credentials in regards to the environment, some are better than others: Keep an eye out for companies that will replace the triggers or pumps on their refillable bottles at no additional cost in order to help their products last for a longer period of time. Some plastic refill pouches are eligible for recycling through the privately run TerraCycle programme, which primarily functions through drop-off points. It is in your best interest to take advantage of this programme if there is a drop-off point located in your area. Buy concentrates if you can: When you refill your product with a concentrated tablet or solution that you dilute at home, you can make a huge difference in the amount of water (and, consequently, the weight) that is being shipped around the world. As a result, your product’s carbon footprint will be significantly reduced. Don’t let the fact that there is an unpleasant remnant of handwash at the bottom of the container discourage you from recycling the container it came in whenever possible.

Before being placed in your recycling bin, the packaging for cleaning products typically does not need to be rinsed as thoroughly as food packaging does. If you’re interested in trying refills, the best piece of guidance I can give you is to search for concentrates whenever it’s possible to do so. In addition, whenever possible, choose products that come in smaller, more easily recyclable packages.

Will you end up saving money by using refills?

Refillables are fantastic for both the environment and your wallet, in addition to being great for the environment. During our investigation in 2021, we focused on twelve of the most popular personal and home care products that can be refilled at home (alongside their original versions). Eleven of them had a lower price per millilitre in comparison to their predecessors (while one was the same price). And the cost savings were remarkable, amounting to up to 44 percent in the instance of the Ecover dishwashing liquid.