Consumers & refillable aerosols

Written on: October 1, 2022 by Patrick Heskins

In 2019, in conjunction with the French Aerosol Association (CFA), The British Aerosol Manufacturers’ Association (BAMA) embarked on a series of workshops to discuss the potential for refillable aerosols. This is, and continues to be, a difficult discussion for industry as we are obliged by regulation, for clear safety reasons, to make packaging that must be disposed of at end of life. Whether aerosols are “single use” is an ongoing conversation, as most are used multiple times during their lifetime; however, when empty, they do go into the waste stream.

There was some misunderstanding at the beginning, with the notion that we wanted to discuss how existing aerosol packaging could be refilled. This was never the ambition. We actually wanted to find out if it is possible to design a product that gives the same performance and efficacy as an existing aerosol dispenser, but that can be reused after being emptied, and how the consumer might get it refilled.

It became clear in our discussions that to move away from the linear make-use-dispose and-(hopefully)-recycle model is perfectly feasible. Similar technology is already on the market and the regulatory framework, albeit a little more complex than most aerosol regulations, exists for a variety of different products. In Europe, for example, there is the Transportable Pressure Equipment Directive that could easily be applied to consumer products but would add extra layers of inspection and testing on the part of manufacturers. We also have a category of products called “Chemicals under Pressure” in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification & Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) that, at one time, were colloquially referred to as “giant aerosols,” many of which are collected, cleaned and reused.

However, the question of how consumers might take to these products hung in the air, so BAMA asked Paul Jenkins of The Pack Hub to carry out a survey on our behalf. Jenkins has been working in the refillable product area for many years and has access to various consumer panels to help understand their attitudes. He can also see through the fog of what consumers say they will do and what they will actually do.

The survey started very generally, looking at how many consumers already used refillable packaging, how they refilled it and what they thought were the positives and negatives. Many already used refillable drinks containers and most were aware of the option to have refillable food packaging that they then returned to the supermarket.

When the survey got into more detail on aerosols, many clearly understood the additional difficulties with refilling a pressurized package. They knew that there would be safety issues associated with the packaging and the refill system. However, most indicated that they would prefer a product that could be refilled at home rather than having to take it back to the store where it was purchased. If this was a route our industry looked to pursue, it would probably mean a move away from liquefied gases, particularly flammable ones. This isn’t impossible to imagine though; the Soda Stream system has been available on the market for many years and allows consumers to fill CO2 into a reusable container in relative safety.

What was clear was the need for any system to be simple, cost-effective and consumer-friendly.

The overriding message that came out of the survey, however, was that consumers didn’t know if they wanted refillable aerosols as they aren’t available on the market!

Where does this leave us? The make-use-dispose-recycle model has worked for our industry for many years, but pressure from Government to make more refillable and reusable products will grow as the push for a more circular economy develops. Perhaps there are some professional markets where refillable aerosol could be tried? The problem, as always, is that the cost of entry into a new market is high, with no guarantee of success.

At some point we will, as an industry, have to “take the plunge” and put something onto the market to see how it fairs. I look forward to seeing such a trial take place and BAMA will be happy to help in any small way it can when this happens. SPRAY