The Australian government recently set new packaging regulations after an official review found that only 18% of plastic packaging is recycled, falling short of the 70% target by 2025. Refilled, a startup based in Sydney, wants to help dispensers of smart drinks, which are meant to be used with disposable bottles. Its mission is to save a million plastic bottles from the landfill, and its first customers include Google.
Refilled announced today that it has raised a $1.3 million AUD (about $845,000 USD) seed round led by impact investor Melt Ventures, with participation from Envato co-founders Cyan Ta’eed and Collis Ta’eed. It will use part of the funding to build 100 of its beverage stations, called Refillers, at its factory in Penrith NSW.
Used by organizations such as Google’s Sydney office, University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney, Aeona co-working space and The Sydney Green House Tech Hub, Refillers are installed in shared spaces such as gyms, universities and office as an alternative to bottled and canned drinks. machines. They serve still and sparkling drinks in hundreds of flavors, with the option of adding caffeine, vitamins and nootropics. Refilled says that across all sites where its dispensers have been installed, it has saved 25,000 bottles since launching in August.
Before starting Refilled, founder Ryan Nelson was one of the co-founders of Foodbomb, an Australian startup that aggregates wholesale food supplies for restaurants. This gave him insight into various challenges in the food industry. The idea for Refilled came when he was at a gym and couldn’t find a way to refill his water bottle.
“Instead, I was presented with rows and rows of drinks wrapped in single-use plastic,” he told TechCrunch. “I bought one, I drank it right away, and there was no recycle bin either. When it dawned on me, this plastic bottle was only used for two minutes and could stay on the planet for 1,000 years. I started working on the Refiller that afternoon.
The refillers differ from the standard beverage dispensers you find in restaurants because they are designed to be used in shared spaces, not just hospitality areas, Nelson said. It can make credit card payments, and track sales and CO2 levels in real time, so Refilled knows when a machine needs to be restocked. Each machine can store 100 times more drinks than a traditional vending machine, and a complete restock fits in a shoebox, making shipping faster and cheaper.
Five more Refillers have been installed this year, in addition to 100 to be made. Refill charges customers a small installation fee and then a monthly subscription fee of several hundred dollars for each machine. The monthly fee covers restocking and maintenance. Still water is provided for free, while flavored, caffeinated and sparkling water costs about a dollar each. Customers can also choose to let people use the machine for free, for example as an office perk. Users can scan the QR code to track their environmental impact and see how many plastic bottles they have saved by using Refiller, and they can purchase a Refilled+ subscription that allows them to get the every little drink.
Refilled has two types of competitors. The first category is the big beverage companies like Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Nestle. “We want to take market share away from any beverage served in a plastic bottle or metal can, by being a greener alternative,” Nelson said.
The second category is closer to Refilled and includes Bevi, Zip and Billi Taps, which all make different types of drink or water dispensers.
Nelson says tastes and user experiences are very different between these brands, and Refilled differentiates itself by offering natural, Australian-made flavours. It is also designed for use in many different types of shared spaces, not just offices.
In a statement about the investment, Collis Ta’eed said, “Continuity alone is not enough to make consumers change their behavior. Refilled’s clarity is that it uses a less is a new model to give consumers a better, more affordable beverage experience. It’s a win-win.”