If you’ve ever walked along a beach at low tide it’s impossible to ignore the plastic: water bottles, lids, straws and cigarette butts, all carelessly cast aside after a single use. Not only is this scourge polluting our oceans and endangering our ecosystem, it’s a blatant wasteful misuse of the planet’s finite resources. While many might stick their heads in the sand ANDREA DUNKLEY couldn’t shake her desire to do something to fix the problem. The Melbourne mum of two started volunteering with her local beach patrol group, taking part in beach clean ups and reducing her own waste. But she soon realised it wasn’t enough, something had to be done to stop the plastic from ending up on the beach in the first place. When she heard about Roving Refills, a mobile service created by Claudine and Raphaelle Lagier that allows people to refill their own bottles with earth-friendly household products she got in touch and Roving Refills Frankston was born.
What’s the philosophy behind Roving Refills and how did you come to be involved?
Roving Refills works to reuse and refill existing containers with eco-friendly, Australian-made cleaning products. I started Roving Refills Frankston in 2019 after seeing the original Roving Refills operating in the north-western suburbs of Melbourne. I contacted them to see if they would be interested in expanding to the other side of Melbourne – and they were! I rove to various locations in south east Melbourne where people meet me with their containers from home and I refill them. With so much single-use plastic being sent to landfill, or not recycled properly, Roving Refills focuses on keeping perfectly good containers in use and also providing great cleaning products that are gentle on the environment.
How does the refilling and reusing system work?
I operate Roving Refills Frankston off the back of my ute. I set up at a location for a couple of hours and people from the local area come with their containers. Most refills are into bottles but I also refill jars and other containers and simply tare the container, refill it, and weigh again. I love it when people come to me with a beautiful cane basket carrying their bottles or even just a bucket. Refilling containers can take a little time, but it’s nice to chat with customers, too. Every day is different. Market days are fun as there’s a good vibe around and lots of people to talk to. Sometimes I’ll have my sister or my mum or even my dad along for an extra set of refilling hands! They like to help out occasionally – as long as there’s coffee involved!
Where do you rove to and what kinds of customers do you serve?
I visit cafes, kinders, schools, workplaces and markets. Sometimes I get invited to visit locations for either a public or private event and sometimes I reach out to places and ask if they are interested in hosting me. I have a range of customers who are all keen to reduce their waste. The majority are female, but sometimes I have male customers, and sometimes they are sent to me with a list! It’s funny when the school mums hand me their empty containers for refills in the school carpark.
Why are you so passionate about reusing and refilling? What do you hope will happen as a result of your efforts?
It just makes so much sense. Keeping resources in use and in the “loop” reduces the need to consume more – more energy, more of the Earth’s resources. I can no longer “throw out” a perfectly good container! Reusing is easy once you develop the habit of remembering to bring your reusables. It does require some organisation, I guess. Hopefully my efforts will encourage more people to make simple changes. Even refilling one bottle a month adds up over time. Less stuff being sent to landfill is the ultimate goal.
How do people hear about you and know where to find you when you’re “roving”?
Most advertising is through social media – Facebook and Instagram. There’s also a website –and, of course, word of mouth. I post almost daily and send out a monthly schedule on social media and create refill events on Facebook. Many of my regular roves are shared on socials by the businesses that I’m visiting, which is great. I advertise them too so it works both ways for reaching customers.
What have been some of the most interesting and surprising things you’ve noticed on your travels?
I’ve found some great businesses and cafes that I didn’t previously know about. I like to support local, too, and often buy coffee or food and things from places I rove to. I like meeting new people and hearing about their waste minimising. One day roving down the peninsula Mum and I spotted a koala up in a tree in the distance!
How has the coronavirus changed the way you do business?
I’m not currently refilling people’s own containers at various locations. I’m refilling at home instead and also offering local pick up and delivery. I’ve switched to an “exchange your own container” system, where I’m washing and drying donated containers and refilling those. So I’m still reusing and refilling! It’s added an extra step and created more work, but I feel that it’s important to maintain the philosophy and also ensure hygiene in the current situation. I’m also not able to reach as many people as I would usually with my roving to different areas, but at the same time I have new, local customers who’ve found me useful since the shortages of cleaning products began at the supermarkets.
What’s one thing you wish people would stop doing to help the planet?
I wish people would stop disregarding how their actions affect the environment, whether that’s throwing cigarette butts out their car window or putting general recycling in the rubbish bin. Most people know better, now they need to DO better.
What do you think the future holds? What hopes do you have for the future and how would you like to see things change more broadly?
I think there are positive changes happening. More and more refill options are popping up, not just for cleaning products, but also food products. It’s becoming more widely accepted to bring your own containers to the market, butcher, deli etc.
There needs to be more focus on buying products made from recycled materials and for the larger organisations and businesses to include recycled materials in their packaging and products – or to reduce unnecessary packaging in the first place. We must move from the take-make-dispose culture into one that treads more lightly on Earth.
Did you feel daunted initially about starting your small business?
Of course! It was scary taking the first step and part of the reason for joining the Roving Refills name, rather than starting my own from scratch, was that I’d have the support of another rover to start with. I spent quite a while just thinking about the idea before actually starting. I did have a very small hobby business making handmade baby and kids items, but I wouldn’t really call it “working for myself”. I used to be a primary school teacher, so this is all very new.
How do you balance running a small business and raising kids under Lockdown?
I’m very lucky that my husband works from home (he always does) so there’s an extra adult around to help with the kids. I’m not sure how I would cope otherwise. The kids took a little time to adjust to remote learning, but now they’re pretty good at doing most things online themselves. They are at an age (six and eight) where they are becoming more independent and can play unsupervised (for the most part) outside or down the back of the house. Hubby and I take it in turns to help with schoolwork, getting the kids food and making the coffee!