A council grant will give a city-based start-up the chance to develop smart technology in its quest to provide consumers with zero-waste grocery baskets.
Unpackaged Eco won $25,000 from the City of Melbourne’s Small Business and Social Enterprise Grants which will go toward radio-frequency identification (RFID).
“The dispenser of the bin and the packaging start talking to each other and we collect some really interesting data on refills,” said founder Irene Chen.
Unpackaged Eco is a package-free system that enables customers to shop, refill and return containers that are cleaned, refilled with product and returned back to shelves.
“The technology will let us detect how many times a container has been returned back, measuring impact at a granular level. It will also help us troubleshoot – if we’ve got stations in two suburbs and one is refilling more than the other we can figure out why.”
Unpackaged Eco currently has stations at a number of independent supermarkets in the inner north and more should be coming to the CBD soon.
The stations are currently supplying cleaning product – dish liquid, handwash, multi-cleaner and laundry liquid – that are largely Unpackaged Eco’s own.
But they also do partnerships with brands to supply other products.
“The goal for us is to grow to make sure the grocery basket is as complete as possible. We want to expand to food soon,” said Ms Chen.
Ms Chen is one of three founders. She said she moved toward a sustainability start-up from a career in retailing about a year ago.
“I heard about the size of the plastic waste issue and I was concerned about it like everyone else and I realised when I tried to reduce my waste it was nearly impossible,” she said.
“There weren’t any options to refill or reuse my containers. I felt like I was forced to throw my plastic away.”
Ms Chen said Unpackaged Eco would like to thank the City of Melbourne and invite any brands and retailers to reach out for partnerships.