Drinkfill and Soapstand Refill Stations are Bringing the Zero-Waste Lifestyle to the Masses
With their sleekly designed refill stations dispensing beverages and household soaps, Vancouver-manufactured Drinkfill and Soapstand are positioned to make zero-waste living accessible to millions of people around the globe.
I sat down with the company’s CEO, 31-year-old Andy Chou, to learn about his ambitious goal of having hundreds of thousands of stations installed in major urban centres within the next ten years, and his inspiring zero-waste vision for humanity.
How did you initially come up with the idea for Drinkfill and Soapstand?
Andy Chou (AC): In 2016, I was at the St. Regis pub in Vancouver hosting a social entrepreneurship meetup, and my then-business partner, Abner, attended. We were discussing how we can make zero-waste solutions accessible to everyone. From there, Soapstand was born.
Fast-forward to my 2019 trip to Japan and I noticed there was nowhere to refill my reusable bottle (other than the hotel's tap). The only options were plastic bottled water and beverages such as soda and juices.
There were plenty of vending stations around, though. That’s when it hit me: no matter how many reusable bottles consumers carry with them, they are useless if they are forced into consuming single-use receptacles.
It occurred to me that using an automated or distributed form of retail could be an effective method for getting zero-waste liquid products to customers. The idea led to the zero-waste beverage vending stations, Drinkfill.
Why is there is a need for this network of stations, and why now?
AC: Ecologically, we are devastating our planet with the sheer amount of waste we are producing. And while recycling does help, it only partially slows the damage.
But the zero-waste lifestyle that a small portion of us currently live is out of reach for the vast majority of people due to time, cost, and desired quality of life. Creating this network will make it easier, less expensive, and more desirable to live waste-free than to consume single-use.
And why now? In a world where we must be vigilant about COVID-19, it’s imperative to limit unnecessary human contact. Our solution offers an option to have zero human contact and, eventually with a mobile solution, a completely touchless experience as well.
Are there other refill stations like these on the market? Who are Drinkfill and Soapstand’s competitors?
AC: I don’t consider companies that are doing the same thing as us to be competitors. They are more like partners in the fight against single-use waste. These companies are Algramo, a Chile-based company doing refills in trucks, and Eco-pod, a company in Florida that also makes a standalone refill station.
But our real competitors are the creators of single-use containers. We welcome these companies to partner with us by installing our machines in their public spaces, or supplying our machines with soap and beverages, to help build a zero-waste future.
Which businesses, organizations and individuals inspire you in terms of their zero-waste products and service offerings?
Along with them, the entire global zero-waste community, and the actions they take every day to reduce their waste, are such a huge source of inspiration. The efforts these individuals and organizations make are astonishing and I hope to make their lives easier through our solutions.
Which brands of Kombucha, coffee and soap are dispensed in Drinkfill and Soapstand stations?
AC: We believe in working, when possible, with local companies in each city where we have a presence. Here in Vancouver, we offer JJ Bean nitro cold brew coffee and Oddity Kombucha in our beverage refill stations. We are also looking to bring in other providers as we prepare to launch additional stations across the city.
How many Drinkfill and Soapstand stations do you hope to have installed within the next ten years?
AC: There are currently pilot Drinkfill stations located in Vancouver, at UBC and Langara College campuses, and in Gastown, and there are plans for one in Singapore. The vision is for Drinkfill and Soapstand stations to have a presence globally, and in every major city, within the next 10 years. This means hundreds of stations installed in public spaces within each city, adding up to tens or hundreds of thousands globally. This is a very audacious and ambitious dream.
In the next few years, we are looking to achieve up to 1,000 or slightly more in several core North American cities.
Do you see the fear of COVID-19 transmission as an obstacle to your company’s success?
AC: Yes, but it's something we can overcome. It is very important as a society that we are vigilant against the COVID-19 threat. And we are taking measures, which include designing stations with self-cleaning nozzles, and security screens protecting the nozzles, to assure customers that we are a COVID-19-safe solution.
Our stations also reduce the risk of transmission for operators of the locations that install Drinkfill and Soapstand. The stations reduce the contact consumers and staff have with one another, making purchasing beverages and household soaps a safer experience for everyone.
Do you have a zero-waste vision for humanity?
AC: This is an exciting topic to me. I believe we can create a completely circular economy, and a zero-waste future without sacrificing any of our current luxuries.
Imagine everywhere you go, there is a refill station dispensing every type of product, from milk to olive oil, to shampoo to hand sanitizer. And all our purchases are reusable but maintain the quality that we expect from a ‘first-time’ purchase.
In order to achieve this sustainable, zero-waste vision, everyone needs to be on board. And to do that, we need to create solutions that are convenient, affordable and accessible to everyone on the planet.
Over the next few years, I hope to see more options for zero-waste meal delivery services, zero-waste refill stations and zero-waste shopping. The sharing economy will also be a big part of this dream.
Do you want to become part of the movement to help build a global zero-waste network? For business partnership opportunities, contact Miguel Santos at firstname.lastname@example.org