The big problem with refill pouches: why they're not as sustainable as you thought

Big problem with refill pouches. Plastic is not sustainable

Think refill pouches are sustainable? Think again.

Refilling a plastic bottle from a plastic pouch and calling it sustainable doesn’t make much sense. Refill pouches are made from 100% virgin plastic, which relies on petrochemicals and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Not only are refill pouches unsustainable in terms of their manufacture, they are also difficult - or impossible - to dispose of sustainably.

Any pouch that holds liquid content is made up of multiple layers of different types of plastic which are chemically bonded together, making the pouches impossible to recycle. Further, they use non-recyclable water proof seals which will end up in landfill. 

While refill pouches are touted as 'reducing plastic waste', the truth is that plastic refill pouches are a greenwashing exercise, not a sustainable solution to single-use plastic.  

The problem with recycling plastic

In Australia we use 3.5 million tonnes of single use plastic every year. Only 9% of that plastic is recycled, while the remaining 91% ends up in landfill or discarded into our natural ecosystems where it never degrades. The plastic that does make it into the recycling system has a limited recycling lifespan and can most often only be 'down-cycled', not remade into like-for-like products.

Refill pouches are commonly disposed of at soft plastic collection points by well meaning consumers. However, given their inability to be recycled, this leads to the contamination of large batches of otherwise recyclable soft plastic. The inability to recycle refill pouches and the lack of consumer education around their poor sustainability rating is creating a new problem, not solving an existing one.

Simply, the only way to stop plastic pollution is to stop using single-use plastic.  


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A truly sustainable refill system 

All WØRKS formulations are housed in reusable glass vessels - not plastic. Our refills are also housed in glass vessels and sealed with a screw cap, which represents a 12% reduction in plastic compared to our pumps.

Our refill system supports our circular economy model, which completely eliminates single-use plastic and prioritises reuse over recycling. Here's how.

1. Remove the screw cap from the refill, replace it with the pump from the empty vessel and begin using the new product.

2. Soak the empty vessel in a solution of warm water and bicarbonate soda, which will dissolve the label adhesive. Clean the unlabelled vessel with warm soapy water or add it to the dishwasher.

3. Add the screw cap to the clean empty vessel and repurpose it for storing liquids, as a drinking bottle, or however you see fit. Or return it to us and we'll reuse it.

The benefits of glass

From manufacture through to post-consumer, glass is the most sustainable option for personal care packaging.

Glass can be easily sterilised in the home to be safely refilled and repurposed. Glass can be recycled in perpetuity via the curbside recycling system without a loss of integrity, meaning there are no limitations to its recycling lifespan. Glass is manufactured from natural raw materials: silica (sand), soda ash and limestone - not oil or petrochemicals - making the process far more environmentally sound than plastic manufacture.

Should it enter our natural ecosystems, glass poses no risk of leaching toxins into soil and water. Similarly, it does not pose any risk to wildlife or marine life. 

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