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fulFILL aims to combat the waste epidemic by revolutionizing the way we consume common household products.



Individuals in the United States generate a lot of waste.  On average, each American generates 4.4 pounds of daily waste and a large portion of this waste comes from packaging materials.  As a country, we desperately need to rethink the way we consume products, and that begins with reusing our resources.

fulFILL provides an opportunity for customers to reuse containers for common household and personal care products.  With fulFILL, customers will purchase their favorite products online and leave their empty containers on their doorsteps to be refilled.  By reusing containers, customers will actively prevent containers from living a lifetime in a landfill or being put through an energy-intensive recycling process after a one-time use.  They will simultaneously conserve natural resources, decrease municipal solid waste, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

fulFILL will begin in Ann Arbor, MI by targeting densely populated residential buildings, University of Michigan dormitories, sororities and fraternities, and senior citizen communities.  By targeting dense buildings, fulFILL will limit GHG emissions associated with the delivery service while also maximizing our customer base.

With the recent trend for home-delivery and ease of purchasing online -- in addition to an increased priority on sustainability initiatives -- fulFILL is a natural next step to reducing our carbon footprint in the United States.  Should fulFILL gain 100,000 customers, we would have effectively diverted 194,500 lbs of municipal solid waste and 112,500 lbs of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions.  That equates to a 7.4% decrease in GHG emissions from a single landfill, equal to the annual energy use of 4.7 average U.S. homes.

Should fulFILL reach every major city, the environmental impacts would be truly monumental.

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management

What actions do you propose?

The Problem:
An average American generates 4.4 pounds of waste each day [1].  For comparison, citizens in the United Kingdom generate 3.2 pounds of daily waste, and those in Sweden generate 2.8 [2].

Packaging and containers are the largest contributors to Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the United States, generating approximately 76 million tons annually -- roughly the weight of 208 Empire State Buildings [1], [3].  Only 48.5% of this waste is recovered, leaving the remaining 39 million tons of packaging materials for landfills [1]. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately 28 billion bottles and jars end up in dumps annually and one-third of an average landfill is packaging materials [4], [5]. These landfills require vast amounts of land, disrupt local habitat and produce harmful toxins such as methane and leachate [6].

Efforts have been made to increase the proportion of recyclable containers, but consumers are not always educated on proper disposal methods. For example, a recent waste audit conducted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan found that over 50% of the contents from the building's 30 garbage cans should have either been recycled or composted [7].  To further illustrate this point, only 20% of trash in the state of Michigan is recovered annually--much lower than the national average of 35%--despite the 10 cent state incentive for recycling bottles and cans [8], [1].

Our Solution:
fulFILL is a refilling delivery service that seeks to lower these alarming numbers by encouraging a lasting behavioral change that is sustainable, affordable, and convenient.  By focusing on the “reuse” part of the famous reduce-reuse-recycle mantra, fulFILL will enable residents to both divert waste and save money on essential items such as soaps, detergents, shampoos, etc.


Consumer inconvenience is one of the largest contributing factors to low trash recovery.  With fulFILL, customers can participate in sustainability efforts by simply purchasing products online and having them delivered in reusable containers to their residence.  Now that’s convenient.

How It Works:
fulFILL will reinvigorate the milkman service and add a sustainability twist.  With fulFILL, customers can simply shop on our website, choose the type of shampoo they want, click a button and leave their empty bottle on their doorstep (or in a designated area in the building) to be refilled with the product of their choice (see figure).

fulFILL understands that once consumers run out of essential items, the turn-around to get more of the product needs to be quick.  For customer convenience, we plan on providing our service three times a week.  This way, the maximum time a consumer would wait for their product is only two days.  Additionally, we will send a reminder email to customers when their products are likely getting low to encourage them to refill before they run out completely.

For some of our customers, particularly for fraternity and sorority houses, we plan on offering a subscription service.  With this service, fulFILL will visit every few weeks to refill products, and customers would never have to worry about running out of essential household and personal care products.

Facilitating Behavioral Change:
The difficulties associated with behavioral change is one of the most common reasons social ventures fail.  fulFILL plans on making behavior change as easy as possible.  We hope to have designated areas in each residential complex where customers can drop off their empty bottles in the morning and pick up their filled containers on their way home.  In order to streamline the purchasing model and to further promote our business, customers will use bottles provided by fulFILL and pay a deposit.  These containers will be attractive and durable to encourage consumers to continue using our service; however, should a customer choose not to continue using fulFILL for any reason, they may return fulFILL’s bottles and redeem their deposit. 

Furthermore, the behavior change for customers will be less severe by offering brands and products our customers are already familiar with and enjoy.  Ideally, we would offer only eco-friendly products, but from our survey and research we learned that consumers are particularly brand loyal when it comes to personal care products.  Overcoming the barriers associated with our refill delivery service will be easier for a larger variety of customers if we offer brands they are familiar with.  In addition to these more popular brands, we do intend to offer several environmentally friendly options for each product type.

Supporting Data:
The Ann Arbor community is an ideal location for launching fulFILL.  This community is...

  • Actively involved in recycling efforts:  According to the ReCommunity Annual Sustainability Report, the Ann Arbor community recycled 935 tons of plastics and 1,424 tons of glass, which equates to almost 6.5 million bottles [9].  In a recent survey conducted by fulFILL, 84% of survey responders currently recycle plastics and 78% are concerned about their personal waste contribution.  

  • Interested in being more “green”:  Ninety-three percent of survey takers are interested in buying more environmentally friendly products.  Additionally, we met with the Zero-Waste Advocate for Ann Arbor, who is excited about fulFILL and has offered to promote our business through Recycle Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Ecology Center.

  • Comfortable with the fulFILL model:  Ninety-three percent of survey-takers reported that they already purchase products online and 56% said they purchase items online at least once a month.  Additionally, 77% of survey-takers are comfortable leaving their containers on their doorsteps.  

  • Home to a University focussed on sustainability:  The University of Michigan is dedicated to sustainability initiatives.  The school has set several ambitious goals for the year 2025, including 40% waste reduction using 2006 levels as a baseline.  We have already partnered with the Student Buyers Association and are currently meeting with University stakeholders to provide our service to the dorms, which will contribute to their waste reduction goal.


Proof of Concept:

In the next few months, fulFILL will begin reaching out to densely populated areas in the city of Ann Arbor and continue speaking with the University of Michigan about providing our service in the dorms.  In the fall, fulFILL will test our concept by doing a trial run with two buildings in the area--ideally one dorm and one apartment complex.  From this trial, we hope to gain a better sense as to whether or not our model is a good fit for Ann Arbor residents and, if it’s not, determine what model would work better for our customers and for us.

Environmental Impact:

The more customers we obtain, the more impact we have on our environment.  Although reusing bottles is a relatively small change in behavior, the impacts are both quantifiable and undeniable.  Should fulFILL gain 1,000 customers in their second year of business, and if each of these customers orders all 9 of our initial household products throughout the year, fulFILL would effectively divert 76,426 bottles (or 1,945 pounds) from landfills and recycling centers, while also generating over $58 thousand in customer savings.  Should the business gain an additional nine thousand customers, fulFILL’s waste reduction will have increased ten-fold, diverting roughly 11,250 lbs of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions annually.

Social Impact:
In providing household and beauty products at an affordable price and delivering them, fulFILL will also enable all residents to engage in the sustainability conversation, particularly the lower-income and low-mobility communities. These communities have often been left out of this dialogue under the guise that environmental responsibility equates to higher product prices and, in many cases, this is true.

When considering the fact that 45% of the country is unable to afford basic needs like utilities, food, transportation, and essential household items, these higher prices make it very difficult for the average person to justify purchasing, and the same can be found for many other “green” products [11].   As a result, many consumers are unable to sacrifice the contents of their pocket books for sustainability initiatives, despite their interest in doing so.

Additionally, a large percentage (10-40%) of the price for household items is from packaging [12].  To avoid excessive costs for essential household items, some residents will buy in bulk from places like COSTCO, where a membership is required at extra cost, leaving consumers with large containers that are inconvenient, cumbersome, and difficult to store.  fulFILL is able to offer COSTCO prices by purchasing and storing goods in large sizes and redistributing them in manageable sizes to consumers’ doorsteps in containers that they already own.  For example, we calculated that consumers are paying an average of $0.93 per ounce of shampoo at the local grocery or convenience store.  When factoring in our costs of goods sold, delivery, and markup, fulFILL can sell the same shampoos at $0.89 per ounce.

Scaling Impact:
In terms of scalability, the possibilities for fulFILL are endless.  After the first year, fulFILL hopes to expand their product line by offering dried foods, such as beans, rices, coffees, etc.  With these added products--and with the additional packaging savings--the waste reduction and GHG emissions diverted will be even more impressive.  fulFILL also plans to move into other cities within three years, beginning with areas surrounding Ann Arbor and eventually moving to other densely populated urban areas in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, and San Diego.  All of these diversions--for both waste and GHG emissions--will be recorded daily on fulFILL’s website and quantified annually, through a Waste Reduction Report.

Policy Ideas to Help Support fulFILL:
There are a number of policies that, if put into effect, would significantly encourage customers to reuse and refill with fulFILL.  Some examples of policy changes to encourage behavior change are below:

  • Deposit on all Containers:  The state of Michigan currently has a 10 cent deposit on most beverage bottles and cans.  This deposit is intended to encourage consumer recycling efforts.  Given the 20% trash recovery rate in Michigan, we feel that the state should extend a deposit to all containers and increase the deposit to 50 cents each.  The 10 cent incentive is not enough for many people to make a behavioral change and the 50 cent upfront cost is high enough to encourage customers to reuse with fulFILL and avoid continually paying for products with a deposit.

  • University Policy:  If colleges and universities changed their policies to allow students to purchase fulFILL products through their University ID cards, more students and parents would be willing to partake in waste reduction efforts.  Since students are already using their IDs to purchase from cafeterias and on-campus vendors, the addition of personal care and cleaning products from fulFILL would be a convenient for parents and students and would help universities achieve their sustainability goals. After four years of reusing bottles, this lifestyle will inevitably translate to their post-undergrad lives.

  • Tax Incentive:  If the city, state or federal governments are willing to provide a slight tax break for the amount of waste diverted (similar to the charitable donations tax break), this would further encourage residents to change their lifestyles.  A tax break for being sustainable will make the customers happy, but also show the customers that sustainability is a priority for the local city, state, and federal legislators.

Who will take these actions?

At its core, fulFILL is a for-profit service business. The best way to influence behavior is to provide tangible benefits to the people we aim to help. We have identified factors which will drive interest in our product including increased convenience and lower prices, with the substantial but less directly visible benefit of reducing our communal footprint through reductions in waste, material, and transportation usage.

Our most important actors are our clients and the communities which they create. These clients--residence halls, apartment complexes, etc.--will help support the growth of our business by communicating the benefits to the wider community and helping us reduce our environmental footprint over time. While we want everyone to refill with fulFILL, we do have some specific groups in mind, beginning with students and urban communities (see figure below).

As students ourselves, we have a thorough understanding of the our main customer segment: a desire to do good and change the world, but preferably on a tight budget.  Many students do not have cars, but are always plugged in, always on the move and open to new trends and ideas. Students are perfectly positioned to utilize our product, but more importantly, they have the potential to create awareness across a wider population.  We have already partnered with the Student Buyers Association (SBA) to gain access to numerous sororities and fraternities on campus.

From there, we hope to influence urban residents, providing widespread access to our service, specifically those who stand to benefit the most.  We will work with building owners to make participation easy for residents; local agencies to lower barriers to building entry and encourage adoption of sustainable products; NGOs to promote our services and add credibility; and other businesses to establish partnerships, especially for delivery services.  In the end, we hope to build an inclusive community that will benefit everyone.

Where will these actions be taken?

fulFILL will begin in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Like many great ideas, fulFILL will start in the dorms. Students at the University of Michigan are our first clients, for many of the reasons noted above.  Additionally, we believe that student living is conducive to our approach. Student life generally consists of close quarters and centrally organized management of living facilities. Partnering with these organizations and marketing to students will allow us to effectively access our ideal audience while making the service as convenient as possible at scale.

From there, we plan to expand from campuses to urban areas, beginning with neighboring cities and Detroit, which has a denser center despite its renowned sprawl. We hope to work with our neighbors first and prove the model close to home. Then, we will focus on building up one city at a time across the United States.

Our optimal markets are apartment buildings or multi-family communities in urban areas for a number of reasons: lower car ownership, ease of scaling to residents in close proximity, higher technology adoption rates and access to underserved communities. We believe that all of these characteristics define fulFILL’s target market, and see ample potential for growth where people are most likely to utilize a cheaper, more convenient product with a little bit of education. In addition to the client benefits, these areas will help us more effectively reach economies of scale, leading to consistently decreasing costs and footprints as we are able to optimize our delivery operations and buy larger quantities of products. In each new city we will require teams on the ground, but we are positioned to benefit from the maximum possible penetration in each city, becoming more effective as the number of residents we serve in each area grows. Once our model is proven and running effectively, we will expand into similar markets and partner with other logistics providers, giving everyone an opportunity to fulFILL.

What are other key benefits?

Aside from reducing the volume of disposable packaging in landfills, fulFILL’s refill model will also reduce the amount of energy, water, and raw materials used in the packaging manufacturing process.  Water scarcity is an ominous problem. The WWF predicts that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages and ecosystems around the world will suffer. Packaging plays a significant role in freshwater usage. According to the Water Footprint Network, the amount of water to make one bottle can be up to 6 or 7 times what's inside the bottle [13].

In addition to the environmental benefits, fulFILL provides important societal benefits.  By lowering the price of essential household and personal care products, fulFILL eases the burden for lower-income families while engaging them in the sustainability conversation. Furthermore, delivering these products to our customers’ doorstep provides the immobile community, especially seniors and students, with a complete solution.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

In 2013, 53.8% of MSW generated in the U.S. was disposed of in 1,908 landfills [2].  Landfills are the third largest source of human-produced methane, accounting for 18% of total methane emissions and causing 131.5 MMT of CO2 equivalent emissions [14]. 

Business As Usual:
Considering that 30% of landfills are comprised of containers and packaging [1], approximately 124,980 lbs of CO2e emissions is generated by containers and packaging every day per landfill in the United States (over 152 million pounds CO2e emissions per landfill each year).

Using the same logic as the “business as usual” scenario, 0.578 lbs of CO2e emissions is generated for each pound of MSW.  With one thousand customers, fulFILL would have diverted 1,945 lbs of packaging, which would prevent 1,125 lbs of CO2e emissions from landfills each year.  With 100,000 customers, fulFILL will have diverted 112,500 lbs of CO2e from landfills each year, an approximate decrease of 7.4% of emissions from a single landfill.

What are the proposal’s costs?

Our initial project “pilot” will be an organic start.  We will use our personal vehicles, store products in our personal garage, and will not incur labor costs.  However, as the business grows, our fixed and variable costs will grow such as a vehicle purchase and employee wages.  Below is the cash flow statement for our first and second year assuming a customer base growing from 500 to 1,000 and an average order of two 16 oz bottles per delivery.

fulFILL Year1 Cash Flow - Twelve-month cash flow (6)-page-001.jpg

The costs to society, if any, are in the delivery system.  The emissions associated with transportation from doorstep delivery will be calculated to ensure we are not increasing emissions and, at worst, are maintaining current levels.  In order to mitigate emissions from transportation, we will limit our delivery area and will start by only delivering three days per week.  Several factors will affect the net emissions calculations including our customers’ current:

  • Method of transportation (e.g. by car or by foot)

  • Number/frequency of trips to the store

  • Distance traveled to the store

Time line

Short term (5-15 years):
Year 1:  fulFILL will conduct a soft launch in the fall of 2015, providing nine commonly used products to one or two residential complexes.  In winter of 2016, fulFILL hopes to expand it’s reach to at least 10 apartment complexes and dormitories in the area, solidifying 2,500 customers by the end of year one and publish its first “Annual Waste Reduction Report.”

Year 2:  fulFILL will add several non-perishable product items to its existing product line, such as rice, beans, coffee, etc., and continue expanding its customer base and waste reduction, with a goal of 5,000 customers in Ann Arbor.

Year 3-5:  fulfill will extend the service to densely populated residences in neighboring communities and enter the Detroit and Chicago markets by the end of year 5 with a goal of gaining 50,000 customers.

Beyond year five, fulFILL hopes to continue expanding its reach to other cities across the country, working diligently to divert waste in as many areas as possible.  At the end of 15 years, fulFILL hopes to be in five major cities across the country and divert over 450 million pounds of waste, equating to over 260 million pounds of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions.

Medium term (15-50 years):
fulFILL hopes to continue to expand, thereby further increasing their environmental impact.  In addition to the refilling service, fulFILL also hopes to engage in opportunities to educate on proper waste disposal and get involved with community recycling/reusing/composting initiatives.  fulFILL also hopes to be a future voice for policy-makers, enforcing sustainability efforts associated with waste reduction.

Long term (50-100 years):
Fifty years from now, fulFILL hopes to see a complete shift in how American consumers purchase their products.  Ideally, we will be able to report that an average American generates 1.1 pounds of waste each day rather than 4.4.  This nation can make the necessary shift in behavior and it starts with reusing our resources.

Related proposals

Suburbia as source of food and regenerator of resources
-Tapping suburban land for agriculture.
-Moving small quantities of goods is central to our model: aggregating the transportation and processes associated with these different ideas to reduce emissions and waste will be valuable to our underlying goal.

Reward the Carless
-Incentives for reduced car ownership.
-fulFILL is intended as a service to people who either don’t have cars or want to use them less. This concept could either be targeted at residents who join the program or paired with it, providing the service at a reduced cost.

Net Zero Somerville
-Incentivize efficient buildings through government policy.
-Part of creating an efficient building is utilizing the features effectively. We believe that building design can encourage less waste, and that incentives can be geared towards tenants who are using the efficient buildings most effectively, which can include waste-reduction services such as fulFILL.


[1] - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2011. “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010.”

[2] - Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan. 2014. “Municipal Solid Waste Factsheet.” Pub. No. CSS04-15

[3] - World Federation of Great Towers. 2012. “Empire State Building.”

[4] - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2013. “10 Fast Facts on Recycling.”

[5] - University of Southern Indiana. 2015. “Solid Waste & Landfill Facts.”

[6] - Environment Victoria. “The problem with landfill.”

[7] - Planet Blue, University of Michigan. 2015. “Ross School of Business Waste Audit and Waste Education Day”

[8] - Department of Environmental Quality. 2005. “Recommendations for Improving and Expanding Recycling in Michigan.”

[9] - Re Community Recycling, Ann Arbor. 2012. “ReCommunity Annual Sustainability Report 2012.”

[10] - United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Economic Research Service (ESA). 2014. “Organic Prices.”

[11] - Think Progress. 2013. “Almost Half The Country Can’t Afford Basic Needs.”

[12] - Smallbusiness.chron. 2015. “Packaging Sales Goals and Strategies.”

[13] - National Public Radio (NPR). 2013. “How Much Water Actually Goes Into Making A Bottle Of Water?”

[14] - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2015. “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2013.”

[15] - US EPA (2014) Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.