Algramo Makes Zero Waste Shopping Affordable and Convenient

This Chilean company, recently arrived in NYC, refills cleaning products from vending machines.

 Algramo vending machines

 Algramo's contact-free dispensers for cleaning products.


If you've ever been to South America, you may have noticed that many people shop for food and cleaning products at little corner stores and sidewalk kiosks. Not only is it convenient, but for many people with limited incomes, small quantities are more affordable in the moment. 

The first locations in Santiago's local bodegas were a huge success, with an 80% bottle reuse rate. Unilever noticed, and partnered with Algramo to develop a mobile refill system that could be carried around the city by electric tricycle and sell liquid laundry detergent in addition to powdered. These tricycles set up shop at predetermined locations around the city and did home deliveries of refills. 

"The service is easy to use. Each package has a smart tag, a built-in RFID that's linked to the user. It takes a run-of-the-mill bottle and turns it into a smart bottle. It knows the number of times the bottle's been reused, it lets you pay by the ounce, and you can see the balance on your account."
Algramo Softsoap refill
Algramo's Softsoap bottle can be refilled.


When asked if Algramo intended to include food in its dispensers, Gaafar said it's a possibility and that the company is in talks with several food companies. Food poses more challenges than cleaning products, however, with rules around expiry dates. Most recently, it partnered with Nestlé to sell Purina dog food in Santiago, but that is not yet available in the U.S. locations.

The cost savings make it even more attractive as soon as people realize how much they're saving. Gaafar gives the example of a bottle of bleach that can be refilled for $2, while a new bottle goes for $5 at a laundromat across the street. Going with the refill option is a no-brainer. Hundreds of New York customers have been surveyed and Gaafar said that "feedback has been phenomenal. People like the savings component and are excited about the opportunity to have this within their building. They obviously want a broader array of products."

If the New York trial continues to go well, then Algramo has big plans for expansion. Its model could work well within urban environments, especially in residential buildings, in partnerships with retailers, on college campuses, and at transportation hubs.

It's smart to give people control over the quantities they want, at a price point that rewards them for reusing containers. This is the kind of model that will encourage zero-waste behaviors that, when scaled up across a population, can make a real dent in the amount of plastic trash being generated. Zero-waste solutions have to be convenient and affordable if people are going to use them, and Algramo proves that both criteria can be met without compromising the shopping experience.

Katherne Martinko, February 2021