I interviewed Rahul Batra and Purav Desai in May 2022. They are the co-founders of Refillable (*), a zero-waste refill service, which creates smart packaging and refill systems to eradicate waste at source for brands and consumers.
What prompted you to launch?
We started the business in 2018 when the State of Maharashtra decided to ban single-use plastics. We realized that there were no alternatives in the market. We wanted to build a business as well as a social enterprise.
We cofounded Refillable between Rahul, Purav, and Lokesh Sambhwani. We had met in college and had always wanted to work together on building projects that could be the best in the world and positively impact people’s lives.
What problem(s) are you solving?
In 2022 we were struck, as the rest of the world by COVID-19, and saw that sanitizer, as well as detergents, consumption exploded, multiplying by 3 times. The landfill capacity could not take the additional waste generated by these extra plastic products, so we decided to create a new solution that would avoid contributing waste to landfills by delivering cleaning products to the people’s doorstep, i.e., a zero-waste solution.
We launched with detergents because they were being sold in multilayer plastic containers and in aluminum boxes, which were most of the time non-recyclable. We thought about no packaging and reusable solutions. Bringing a refill solution directly to the end-consumer bottles. India produces 28,000 tons per day of plastic waste and FMCG/F&B products combined represent approximately 45% of them. Out of this category of products, almost half of them are going to landfills daily.
We first launched with one vehicle in Mumbai. We quickly discovered that we needed to be asset-light, and added 4 bikes for extended distribution. We then proceeded to launch in Bangalore and prototyped a kiosk machine in Jodhpur.
What is immediately next for your company?
We plan to launch six new locations in the next three months (1). We are scaling up combining the delivery of household products with the dispensing and delivery of groceries in a format that we continue to test. We are currently conducting a pilot in Mumbai for personal care products.
In essence, we have seen strong interest in purchasing home care liquids, handwash, and toiletry products from renowned brands.
What is your business model?
Our business model consists of charging a commission on our sales. As part of our scaling-up plan, we are considering franchising and joint ventures and partnerships to grow geographically, as well as revenue-sharing models.
We are actively testing new business models including packaging as a service and plastics credits.
What’s your current greatest challenge?
Part of our business includes customer education, both of our existing clients and those who could be easier to convert. Our business model depends on customer awareness of the environmental costs involved in purchasing plastic containers. We promote the “bring your bottle model”, which requires a particular effort on logistics and scheduling.
Are you satisfied with your rate of progress?
We are proud of being ambitious. We are growing at a good rate, but we would like to accelerate our growth, contributing to a greater impact. We are always interested in finding how to leverage relationships with existing communities.
Want to learn more?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead
(*) I am an investor
(1) Refillable as of 3/10/23 operates in Bangalore, Mumbai, Jodhpur, Chennai, Surat, Lucknow and Trivandrum.
(2) The Marico Innovation Foundation is involved in promoting innovation across every part of Marico’s business, as well as focusing on plastic waste management and promoting sustainability. They have published books and reports on innovation and plastic waste, and have worked towards replacing traditional tin packaging with plastic packaging. They are a not-for-profit organization that works towards sustainable solutions in the food industry and promotes consumer-centric innovation as a key growth driver.