While vending machines offer convenience and ease for anyone with a few dollars and thirsty, the supply-chain logistics around them are staggering when you drill down into the environmental impact.
Putting aside the transport emissions, less than 20% of the 891 billion-plus single-use plastic bottles are produced annually worldwide are ever recycled.
A 2020 report analysing the roll out of connected vending machines estimated that there are around 15 million vending machines (with more than half to be connected by 2024) and IbisWorld estimates the US alone, which has around a third of all machine, generates around US$10bn annually in revenue, while globally, it’s worth around A$44bn.
Now a Sydney climate tech startup, Refilled, is looking to transform the sector by replacing single-use plastic bottles with a BYO-bottle system that’s already a hit with students at the University of Technology Sydney and University of Sydney Union.
Refilled founder and CEO Ryan Nelson said the reusable bottles market now worth $14 billion and they’re hoping to ride that wave into the vending machine sector while also giving people more flavour and nutritional options beyond tap water.
The startup’s ‘Refillers’ vending machines are a cross between a fridge and a giant Soda Stream. They offer chilled still and sparkling drinks in a range of flavours with the ability to add optional boosters such as caffeine, vitamins, and exercise focused nootropics, as well as offering chilled water for free. A single Refiller can stock 10 times more beverages than a bottled product vending machine, which, aside from reducing waste also cuts the restocking delivery emissions.
“Refilled is transforming the ordinary, everyday act of drinking water into climate action. Most people have good intentions and want to do good for the planet, but not everyone can afford to buy an electric vehicle or install solar panels,” Nelson said.
“Armed with just a reusable bottle and a couple of bucks, our Refillers offer an affordable, achievable way to eliminate plastic pollution. If we can replace even a fraction of drinks vending machines, which are an outrageous source of plastic waste, we will stop millions of plastic bottles going to landfill.”
Refilled has raised $600,000 through angel investors and modern manufacturing fund Melt Ventures and is now on the hunt for an additional $1.5 million in a new round, with Nelson saying their close to achieving their funding goal, alongside plans to install 100 Refillers by 2024.
This would eliminate upwards of 1 million single-use plastic bottles from ending up in our environment or landfills every year,” he said, adding that their goal is to increase that figure to 100m bottles by 2030.
The startup has been part of UTS Startups and the campus has embraced the product, which is cheaper than traditional soft drink brands. Refilled is tracking the number of bottles saved in real time, and has created reusable bottles with QR codes that can be scanned at the Refiller and used to pay for drinks so you don’t need to carry a card, phone or cash
UTS general manager of commercial operations Anna Chavez said they were proud to partner with Nelson as a UTS alumni to hone Refilled’ s prototype in ActivateUTS Student engagement ‘Hideout’ space
Students loved the newly launched machine, at our recent Orientation Day, offering an easy-to-use interface, paired with a cost effective and convenient product,” she said.
“We believe the right commercial decisions can meet the needs of the business, consumer and drive a positive change towards a more sustainable world, and Refilled is a great example of this.”
More on Refilled if you’re interested in getting one here.