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Unilever installs a detergent refill machine in Mumbai that works with any bottle

Hindustan Unilever recently placed a 'Smart Fill' machine in Mumbai's Reliance Smart Acme Mall. The refill station allows consumers to refill any bottle with a number of Unilever's local brands, including Surf Excel washing detergent, Comfort fabric softener and Vim dishwashing soap.

Customers can purchase a Smart Fill bottle or bring an empty container from home. The refill station includes a UV sanitizing unit to clean bottles before refilling. Products on tap are up to 20% cheaper than the bottled version grabbed from a shelf — in line with Unilever's 'reuse, refill and reward' approach. A similar set-up is being trialed by Asda in the UK.

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In a recent report by Break Free From Plastic, major FMCG brands — including Unilever — are taken to task for not doing enough to tackle plastic pollution, focusing too much on recycling and not enough on reuse. Greenpeace's Graham Forbes: "It is clear that reuse-based alternatives are essential for these companies to remain viable in a climate-safe future and end their contributions to the plastic pollution crisis." So Unilever's smart fill machine seems to be on the right track. But considering refill stations won't be viable in every supermarket and for every brand — it's just one part of the solution.