An ambitious Sydney start-up aiming to disrupt a $44 billion global industry has received $1.3 million in competitive seed funding to scale up their venture.
Refilled offers an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to traditional drink vending machines, with a bring-your-own-bottle model that reduces plastic and waste, and costs less to operate.
Co-founded by Sydney tech guru Ryan Nelson, the company began with the development of a prototype distribution machine, with improvements leading to the hi-tech Refillers now rolling out at multiple locations.
Described as a cross between a fridge and a massive Soda Stream, the devices let customers with a bottle choose an array of flavours and multiple potential combinations, as well as still or sparkling.
There are optional add-ons like caffeine, protein and vitamins too, with further future innovations planned.
“I came up with the idea at the gym during Covid,” Mr Nelson said.
“It was when drinking fountains were turned off [to stop the spread]. I had a drink bottle but no water to put in it. I had to go to the vending and while there were heaps of options, everything was in a plastic bottle.”
Conscious of his environmental footprint but very thirsty after a gruelling workout, he bought a drink but felt bad about it.
“I thought, ‘Why can’t you refill your own bottle with drinks like these?’ and it kind of went from there.”
Each year, more than 890 billion single-use plastic bottles are manufactured and fewer than 20 per cent end up in recycling.
Vending machines are a major source of pollution and waste, and the $44 billion industry is ripe for disrupting.
“Armed with just a reusable bottle and a couple of bucks, our Refillers offer an affordable, achievable way to eliminate plastic pollution,” Mr Nelson said.
“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.”
The Refillers can stock six times as many beverages as a traditional machine, so they need to be restocked less.
When new supplies are required, the syrups arrive in packaging about the size of a shoebox rather than a massive pallet full of bottles and cans.
Just months after officially launching, Refilled counts among its major customers Google, UTS, UNSW Sydney, and Greenhouse Tech Hub.
Refilled is now on track to install 100 machines in offices, co-working spaces, gyms and cafeterias across Australia, which would result in saving one million plastic bottles a year.
The start-up has just received $1.3 million in seed funding from Melt Ventures to help manufacture 100 Refillers and continue expanding the business.
“We all know we need to reduce our impact on the planet,” Trent Bagnall, Melt Ventures founder and managing partner, said.
“We also know changing consumer’s habits is hard without practical solutions that are easily adopted. Producing plastic bottles for water and beverages just doesn’t make sense.
“Refilled’s approach will save millions of plastic bottles from entering landfill and the environment while providing consumers with an enhanced and personalised experience. Melt Ventures invests in these practical companies having a massive impact on the world.”
The reusable market, servicing everything from gym water bottles to BYO coffee cups, is worth about $14 billion globally.