Start-up looking to revolutionise eco-shopping with vending machines to refill plastic bottles
A Polish start-up wants to “revolutionise the shopping experience” and cut plastic waste by placing vending-machine style “refill-o-mats” in shops where customers can refill bottles rather than discarding them.
Thinking big Swapp, founded by Szymon Barabasz and Sargheve Sukumaran, also plans to go beyond the world of retail by putting its refill-o-mats in other buildings such as blocks of flats in a bid to shake up shopping and shrink the mountains of plastic waste the world produces each year.
Taking its first steps on what it intends to a big long road, the firm has already got its first machine in a Warsaw branch of a Carrefour Bio, the green and organic branch of the supermarket chain, in a move that ties in with the retail giant’s goal of reducing packaging waste.
The interactive vending machine dispenses four liquids produced by Yope, a maker of environmentally friendly cosmetics and cleaning products.
The idea for the machine came when Barabasz was mulling over the problem of plastic waste.
“I’m a vegetarian and into less waste, and I started to think about why there was so much waste, and that there should be another way,” he told TFN. “So I started to go deep into the problem, reading and listening to pod-casts, and then I thought about some kind of re-fill-o-mat.”
He was told to get in touch with Sukumaran, an Indian living in Warsaw with extensive experience in design and technology, who could help turn an idea into reality. Andrzej Sarapata, a market and project management expert, was also brought on board, and Swapp was born.
“Now we are developing this product and I hope it will revolutionise the shopping experience for people,” said Barabasz.
Sukumaran is quick to stress that Swapp is probably not the first company in the world to come up with the idea of the refill vending machine but he is also eager to point out that the machine is just part of a re-using, and low-packaging “eco-system” that the company’s plans to develop.
An example of this, he pointed out, are the bottles that can be used at the refill-o-mats.
“We would like to introduce bottle renting,” he explained. “We were thinking that if people don't want to buy a bottle or have forgotten their own then they can rent a stainless steel bottle. This bottle is a bit more expensive than a glass bottle, but the idea is that you can use it anywhere between 100 and 500 times. When renting the bottle you pay a deposit so you either keep the bottle or if you want to return it we will pay you back all the money.”
The firm also wants to develop an app, as part of aforementioned eco-system, which can provide customers with handy details such as where the refill-o-mats are located and what they dispense.
But for the time being most of Swapp’s attention is absorbed by developing its vending machine. Having got the prototype model up and running, pulled in a few investors and managed to attract the attention of retail chains and product producers the goal now is to develop more advanced refill-o-mats which can also be manufactured and distributed quickly, and one that can handle more than soap.
“We want to have machines that can sell cosmetics, but we are also thinking about selling olive oil, vinegar, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and of course yogurts,” explained Barabasz.
“We are now talking with Carrefour, Rossmann, Auchan etc. because everybody wants to join us and put the machine in their shops,” he continued. “So if we can sign a contract this year, probably next year, like in May, there will be more Swapp machines in Warsaw.”
And the Swapp machines could also escape the confines of shops. If all goes to plan, refill-o-mats could appear, one day, in apartment blocks, hotels and metro stations; or anywhere people might need a supply of something useful that can be poured into a bottle.