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Refill Station: Empower MSMEs to Encourage an Environmentally Friendly Shopping Lifestyle


Average read time: 7 minutes

Unilever, UK Government, EY and Alner Appreciate the Role of MSMEs to Educate and Encourage a Refill Lifestyle Among Consumers

Talk show session and group photo in the discussion themed “Refill Station: Berdayakan UMKM, Dorong Gaya Hidup Belanja Ramah Lingkungan”

Jakarta, 11 June 2024 – In welcoming World Refill Day, which is celebrated every June 16th, Alner, Unilever and EY are celebrating the progress of Project TRANSFORM-Alner, supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. For one year, this project has succeeded in empowering 675 MSMEs to spread the lifestyle of refill shopping to the public, and reduce 4,412 kg of new plastic packaging.

This achievement was explained in the discussion "Refill Station: Empowering MSMEs to Encourage an Environmentally Friendly Shopping Lifestyle", featuring several stakeholders who exchanged views on alternatives to reducing and handling plastic waste. This is where the refill concept is believed to be one of the solutions that needs to be continuously explored, tested, and encouraged.

By 2023 Indonesia produced 19.5 million tons of waste, and 3.6 million tons of it was plastic waste. In order to realize the target of ‘Waste-Free Indonesia' by 2025, there is still a lot of potential to handle plastic that can have the most optimal impact.

Ujang Solihin Sidik, S.Si, M.Sc., Head of Sub-Directorate of Goods and Packaging, Directorate of Waste Management, Directorate General of Waste Management, and B3 KLHK RI stated: “Referring to the circular economy implementation framework as stated in KLHK Regulation no. 75 of 2019, the refill system is an example of technology that can be used to reduce and prevent plastic waste from upstream.”

“This system has the potential to grow and should be a business model implemented by more manufacturers to reduce the use of single-use plastics. In addition, the public’s understanding and participation to adopt a refill lifestyle is also needed so that the plastic waste problem can be addressed more comprehensively."

Alner, a start-up solution provider of packaging reuse systems for FMCG products (or consumer goods) is a pioneer of refill packaging facilitators. Its mission is to handle single-use packaging waste starting from the upstream. Since 2023, Alner has been running Project TRANSFORM-Alner, which is testing innovative refill options for FMCG products targeting the lower middle class. Unlike other refill solutions, Alner uses low tech refills (without refill machines). With a manual process from jerry cans directly to consumers' bottles, this approach is more cost efficient and more capable of being scaled up.

Renata Felichiko, Chief Commercial Officer of Alner, explained, "In Project TRANSFORM-Alner, the community not only acts as consumers but also as partners who provide refill facilities. They are community-based and conventional MSMEs such as shops or stalls and Waste Banks, thus creating a system that can be replicated quickly and on a large scale. "Moreover, 70% of products in Indonesia are purchased through conventional channels and now more and more community-based Waste Banks are starting to enter the refill ecosystem as retailers and collectors of reusable packaging systems."

As partners, not only do they participate in efforts to reduce the plastic waste problem, but they also become more economically empowered. Therefore, in this project they are referred to as Refill Enterprises, which makes refill solutions more competitive and the strength of their business.

The Project TRANSFORM-Alner is funded by a grant from Project TRANSFORM, which is led by Unilever, the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and EY. As one of last year's grant winners, Alner is running the project with the Unilever group, including Unilever Indonesia.

Representing the Unilever group, Maya Tamimi, Head of Division Environment & Sustainability at the Unilever Indonesia Foundation said: "The issue of plastic waste is one of the main focuses that we always pay close attention to, follow up on and collaborate with all parties. Adhering to circular economy principles, the framework underlying our entire strategy is less plastic, better plastic and no plastic. The TRANSFORM initiative with Alner is in line with these goals."

Maya added that this refill initiative is also in line with the Unilever Indonesia Community Refill Program initiated by Unilever Indonesia since August 2022 to reduce consumption of new plastic and introduce shopping alternatives that are both economically and environmentally friendly. Especially for the Unilever Indonesia refill program, this year it was recorded that it had reached 900 points in the Jabodetabek area as well as Surabaya and its surroundings.

Creating new habits is not easy, as can be seen from the challenges during the implementation of Project TRANSFORM-Alnertaking place. For example, in forming consumers' mindsets regarding packaging-free shopping solutions, the majority of them still choose sachet/pouch packaging, which is considered cheap and practical. There is also a challenge in getting consumers to bring their own refill containers, because it is considered a hassle.

For this reason, Project TRANSFORM-Alner continues to educate the public on the advantages of refill solutions, including by familiarizing the public with the costs, and the fact that shopping with a refill system can be cheaper than buying products in new packaging. As for the habit of bringing your own container, the most important step is the willingness to start. Once consumers have tried using the refill system, they will continue to carry out this habit without being burdened.

This education continues to be intensified for consumers and Refill Enterprises, such as through collaboration with the DKI Jakarta Environmental Agency in the "Jakarta Reuse Movement" program initiated by Enviu and Diet Plastik (of which Alner is a member) to introduce refill to Waste Banks.

Sri Mulyati, ST, M.Sc., Chair of the Partnership, Data and Information Sub-Group, DKI Jakarta Provincial Environmental Service commented: "According to its function, the Waste Bank is a facility for managing waste using the 3R principles, a means of educating the public to change its behavior in waste management, and implementing a circular economy that is formed and managed by the public. So, we believe that the Waste Bank has a great opportunity to become a forum for encouraging the use of refills as well as refill outlets. We encourage the application of this project in more Waste Banks in Jakarta."

After one year, Project TRANSFORM-Alner has been able to contribute to solving the plastic waste problem and improving the public’s economy, as can be seen from these indicators:

  • Number of Refill Enterprises: Until now, refill sales have been available at 675 points in the Jabodetabek area, and the number is growing
  • The economic and environmental benefits felt by the Refill Enterprises: By selling refills, the increase in people’s incomes reached an average of Rp500,000 to Rp1,000,000 per month, a 10%-25% increase from their previous monthly income. In addition, 46.2% of them became more knowledgeable about the refill system, and felt that their waste impact on the environment was reduced
  • Public interest in the refill solution: There have been 77,624 liters of products sold through the refill system, indicating that the solution is gaining acceptance and has the potential to be scaled up
  • Reduction of single-use plastic packaging: With this refill distribution, approximately 4,412 kg of new plastic packaging have been reduced

This achievement is certainly inseparable from the contribution of the Refill Enterprise, which has helped educate, familiarize and encourage the refill lifestyle among consumers. For this reason, today Alner and Unilever showed their appreciation to three partners with the best performance, namely: Bank Sampah Anggrek Ciliwung, Bank Sampah Matoa SMKN 57, and Bank Sampah Melati Tebet.

The success of Project TRANSFORM-Alner provides a strong platform for a wider impact. For the next year, the target is to reach a total of 1,500 points (including the existing ones), along with an increase in product volume to reduce plastic waste more significantly. This project will also continue to work with MSMEs/Waste Banks to help educate the public and acquire new partners while maintaining the active Refill Enterprise to continue to pursue its business consistently.

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