At a time when consumers and businesses have an unprecedented interest and alignment with positive social and environmental endeavours, RBC group has designed the Refill Station — the world’s first fully-automated refill station. We urgently need to act on the plastic pollution epidemic that’s plaguing the planet — fostering a shift of consumer behaviour towards sustainability is part of the solution, and the Refill Station is a pioneering product that will enable such a shift.

The Refill Station is an innovative, state-of-the-art machine which allows for a range of liquid and viscous products to be sold and refilled at the point of sale — it can dispense a wide range of products, including shampoos, lotions, creams, washing-up liquid, and laundry detergents, and the machine can also be fully customised to vend a plethora of other products as well to comprehensively combat the use of single-use plastic. The Refill Station presents an innovative, economical, and ideal solution for retailers and brands alike. Designed with a focus on the widespread adoption of sustainable practices, the Refill Station curbs the scourge of single-use plastic, and allows for the sale of products without a single gram of superfluous plastic or packaging.

Estimates from the United Nations Environment Programme state that circa 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s — only circa 9% of this plastic has been recycled, 12% has been burned, and the remaining 79% has ended up in landfills or the environment. To best illustrate the transformational potential of the Refill Station, liquid shampoo was invented in 1927, and it has been largely sold in either glass or plastic ever since — the Refill Station is the first time a machine of such technical ingenuity has been created which allows for said products to be sold without any plastic waste at all, and it has the power to completely upend the way household products are retailed.

The proliferation of plastic products in the last several decades has been extraordinary. Quite simply, humans are addicted to this nearly indestructible material. We are producing over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, 50% of which is for single-use purposes — utilised for only a few moments, but on the planet for at least several hundred years. More than 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year, and circa 50% of global plastic is used just once before being thrown away. With the call for the end of single-use plastics at an alltime high, it is now incumbent on consumers to make a concerted effort to combat the disposable lifestyle that’s become the norm — and the Refill Station affords them that very opportunity.

The Refill Station works in concert with the Return-Refill-Repeat programme, which is a pioneering new approach to sustainable packaging that’s been created in partnership with the ethical cosmetics brand Beauty Kitchen. Over 95% of packaging is discarded after just one use, but with our Return-Refill-Repeat programme, consumers can return empty bottles to the Return Station — a sister machine which can be used standalone or as a slave unit — for them to be washed and cleaned by our partners, and subsequently made available again to consumers. We’ve spent considerable resources in developing a sustainable solution with reusability in mind: the bottles we use are manufactured from glass, aluminium, or stainless steel, and without using glue or any other adhesives in our lids, we can reuse 100% of each bottle. Moreover, through using proprietary tracking technology, bottles (and the product containers housed in the Refill Station) can be scanned throughout the ecosystem: by collecting data pertaining to when they’re used, washed, and returned, we can assiduously examine the lifecycle of each bottle, and calculate the precise environmental impact through ascertaining the amount of superfluous plastic saved.

The Refill Station’s software also includes a raft of environmentally-friendly features, including an option for the machine to auto-shutdown in accordance with a retailer’s opening hours, thereby saving energy. At RBC Group, we also manufacture the Refill Station utilising the cradle-to-cradle biomimetic design methodology to ensure our environmental footprint is as minimal as possible. This is sustainable retail at its best.

The Refill Station operates industry-leading, AI-powered software designed by RBC Group’s technology division VendSmart, and is replete with unparalleled, cutting-edge technology. The machine is able to dynamically ascertain the weight of containers using precision sensors so the exact amount of product can be decanted, and utilising VendSmart’s Smart Sense — which is a network of state-of-the-art sensors seamlessly embedded in each machine — retailers can oversee the technical status of the machine, which is achieved by monitoring the internal and external environment, including temperature, energy consumption, and air pollution. VendSmart’s innovative Smart Face technology integrates a further plethora of sophisticated reporting and analytics — using facial recognition, retailers can access data pertaining to consumers’ gender and age.

VendSmart’s software platform is an industryleading, robust, and scalable cloud-based solution, with a suite of components that offers realtime telemetry and allows users to control and manage all connected machines in real-time, and it includes a raft of environmentally-friendly features, including an option for the Refill Station to auto-shutdown in accordance with a retailer’s opening hours, thereby saving energy. The foregoing parcel of technology embodies innovation at its finest.

In October 2020, the Refill Station was used by Unilever to launch their largest refill trial in Europe in conjunction with Asda and Beauty Kitchen. Unilever’s aim is to halve their use of virgin plastic by 2025, and — in the furtherance of this aim — their trial at Asda’s new sustainability store in Leeds entailed the use of a bank of our Refill Stations to dispense a range of their staple products. Moreover, the Refill Station was presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2020. William McDonough, Founder of McDonough Innovation and the recipient of the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, featured the Refill Station in his presentation on a Circular Economy.