is the first bulk store in Thailand where you can bring empty containers of shampoo, shower gel and detergent to refill. Behind the project are three friends: Supatchaya “Ann” Techachoochert, a PhD candidate in biology at Mahidol University; Chanin “Nammon” Srisuman, a project manager in developing renewable energy; and Papawee “Pear” Pongthanavaranon, co-founder of Better Moon cafe and guesthouse. The store’s a mere two months old, and has already received the full-throated, social-media endorsement of Bangkokians. Here, Pear talks to us about ways to curb our wasteful habits.
How do you know one another?
I’ve known Ann since when we were in junior high. We would meet at the environmental camps my mother sent me to. Nammon is Ann’s friend. She is also active in this sort of thing. When our friends hear that Nammon is near, they hide their plastic bottles.
Why did you decide to open Refill Station?
It started with Ann and me. We have always had ideas regarding plastic-use. At first we talked about how to get people to carry their own water bottles, but we would need to have spots for people to refill their bottles, which would be out of our control. We then decided on Refill Station. It was much easier to do and people can also get into it easier, too.
What’s your message?
That everyone can start on their own by doing something small. Each of us started alone, then we tried to find more ways to expand our habits in the wider community. It’s actually pretty easy, you just come in and fill your bottles, and you’re already using less plastic. The model of Refill Station is taken from other countries and not our original idea, but I want people to see our shop and do it themselves. We have so many 7-Elevens, I want to see more refill stations in the future.
Do people understand what you’re trying to do?
We are very small and niche, but we have been getting a lot of good feedback. A lot of foreigners come in and say we’ve been recommended by their friends. My customers really appreciate this shop. I’ve tried to talk to the vendors around here, to tell them to use paper containers instead of foam, and that they can make the customers pay extra for that, but they disagree. They’re afraid that no customers will want to do that.
What kind of products do you carry?
Right now we don’t have that much variety, but we have bathroom stuff, dishwashing gel, bathroom cleaning products and body lotion. We have had a few customers complain that our products are not 100-percent organic. Yes, that’s right, because our purpose is to reduce plastic. We have a gallon of Sunlight dishwashing liquid, and people come in and refill their bottles from it. We have to spread the message first that people can easily reduce plastic by coming to our shop and filling bottle, whatever the product.
What do you think of Bangkok’s current plastic use?
People waste so much plastic! They use it so unnecessarily. Double bags, triple bags. And they throw the plastic away after first use, within minutes. It’s just too much. People don’t reuse enough.
What else can people do to help?
The easiest way to start is by carrying your own water bottle and tote bag, and saying no to plastic straws. The plastic straws are even worse than the plastic bags because they are so small. Before plastic can be recycled, it has to be cleaned, and plastic straws are very difficult to clean. Because they are so small, people don’t really think about them and end up using so many. They also get stuck in recycling machines.
What’s next for you?
I want to improve my store by carrying more products, and then turn that into a business model. I want to spread the idea, so people take it and open their own refill stations in their communities.
Watch our video of Refill Station below: