Updated: 27 March 2024

+ How does it work?

It's simple. Look around your home at the disposable plastic bottles you have, and then choose durable glass or stainless-steel replacements to use over and over. Of course, you could stick with the disposable plastic bottles you already have, and just refill them but we figure if you're going to have them hanging around for years, you might as well get something more beautiful

Then buy the bulk liquid you want to use, and refill your bottles. Easy! You can get bulk liquid from us or other sites where it's increasingly becoming available

+ What difference will using LESS really make?

With LESS, it’s easy to save 100 plastic bottles every year. Here's how...

Reducing plastic waste

  • Refilling from 5L bulk containers (roughly a year’s worth, give or take) prevents 16.7 300ml plastic bottles being wasted
  • Do this across 6 product categories (choose from shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, hand soap, hand sanitiser, laundry liquid, fabric conditioner, surface cleaner, washing-up liquid, rinse aid etc) and you prevent about 100 wasted plastic bottles
  • Get others involved and it quickly adds up. A small city of around 100,000 households could easily save over 1,000,000 waste plastic bottles if just 10% switch to refills

And it will lower your carbon footprint

  • Plastic causes a large share of greenhouse gases. For the US, for example, Beyond Plastics estimates that plastic industry GHG emissions will exceed those of the coal industry by the year 2030
  • Using Refill With LESS also lowers CO2 emissions. COis generated to make each plastic container (almost all of which comes from petrochemicals), and more is released when the waste is incinerated or even recycled. If it is left to degrade in landfill it also releases CO2
  • The UK Circular Plastic Network says: "Typically, each kg of plastics used in packaging produced, results in the release of 2kg of CO2. An additional 1.7kg of CO2 are emitted for every kg of plastic that ends its life in an incinerator"
  • On the back of this, we estimate each kg of plastic we save prevents 3.7kg of CO2
  • In a separate measure, a study in the EU found that a reusable glass bottle generates 70% less emissions than a single-use PET bottle

+ Isn't shipping liquid inefficient and bad for the environment?

It's not perfect but it's better than the current arrangement where consumers buy small disposable bottles at stores. Shipping bulk liquid saves plastic and GHG emissions

Switching to powders and concentrates can be a better option but consumers are reluctant to switch, and for many categories, such as body lotion, these options aren't available

+ What do I do with the empty bulk container?

This depends on the brand. Some brands provide a FREEPOST label for you to return the container so it can be washed and reused. Some brands do this themselves, others pay us to do it

In other cases, the bulk container can be put into recycling. They’re all made of HDPE and readily recyclable

We'd like all jerry cans to be reusable and we’re working towards that. But even where they’re not returned for reuse, the plastic saving from reusing your own bottle at home is considerable. There are more details on this in the FAQ below

+ What do you do with the bulk containers?

When we receive them, we give them a quick inspection to make sure they’re still in good shape and, if they are, we wash them so they can be reused. Our industrial cleaning process means they are fit to be refilled and sent out again

+ Is it worth sending back the bulk containers?

This is a complicated question to answer, and your conclusion will probably hinge on whether you are more concerned about climate change or plastic pollution

A critical takeaway is that refilling your own bottle prevents plastic waste and lowers carbon emissions (as well as saving you money); what happens with the empty bulk container is a secondary question that does not greatly change the overall benefit

This little example shows some of the complexity…

If you refill a 400ml bottle from a 5L bulk container, you get 12.5 refills and prevent 12.5 bottles from being used and thrown away

Each bottle and cap together weigh a little over 40 grams. There is also the non-recyclable plastic label and plastic and energy used in the upstream supply chain, but we'll ignore these for now

So if you return the 5L bulk container so it can be reused your 12.5 refills prevent 500g, or half a kilogram, of plastic waste. You get the same result if you get your refills from a local store

But if you don’t return the 5L bulk container, we have to net out its weight of about 135g, so the net plastic saving is 365g. This means you use 135g of plastic instead of 500g, which is still nearly 75% less!

So far so good, but now we have the question of whether it's worth returning the 5L container. This is where it gets tricky since a lot of effort, cost and resources go into enabling that container to be reused

You have to rinse it, take it to the post office and mail it (thank you!), which you may be prepared to do but does entail use of time and resources

We pay for postage, and if the container passes inspection, we clean it, which requires a good amount of hot water and steam as well as manual labour

Just roughly, we estimate it takes 15 minutes of labour and between £5-10 to get a 5L container ready for reuse. Since a new container is less than £1, it's clearly any uneconomic proposition, but it does save some plastic

On the other hand, many 5L containers we receive are not fit for reuse and need to be recycled. In this case, the cost and effort of mailing them back is worthless, but does need to be factored into the overall benefit

Also, the energy input and related carbon emissions of mailing them back and cleaning them is considerable. Bio-D commissioned a study by Hull University to assess the benefit of reusing 5L containers and concluded that the added burden of carbon emissions outweighed the gain of plastic waste avoided

Different companies arrive at different assessments of the best course. Faith in Nature, for example, has decided that it is worth reusing its containers and will pay for the bulk containers to be shipped to their facilities where they wash and reuse them

So there you have it! 

The primary takeaway is that doing your own refills at home delivers by far and away the most benefit in terms of preventing plastic waste and lowering carbon emissions. Do this and you prevent about 75% of plastic. Mailing back the 5L container for reuse can save an additional but relatively small amount of plastic, but causes carbon emissions and is at best of marginal benefit overall

Different people come to different conclusions. If you mail back your containers, we will do our best to reuse them, but do not feel guilty if you instead place them in the recycling bin. Just by doing refills at home you're making a difference, so run with that

+ What else are you doing to prevent plastic waste

We have a pilot project in India, where we are are demonstrating a cost-effective alternative to the plastic sachet, an especially problematic form of plastic pollution

Here in the UK, we use plastic sachets mostly for condiments but in many Asian and African countries they are the main way low-income consumers buy personal care and household care products, since purchasing bottles is too costly

Sachets are almost impossible to recycle and are just thrown away or burnt. When they are thrown away, they end up on the streets, across the landscape or in waterways. They are a primary cause of ocean microplastic, clog drains and add to flooding risk and disease spread

Some 1 trillion of them are produced and sold globally each year, and that's expected to double by 2030

Our pilot is still ongoing and generating some exciting results and we're now seeking funds to expand to across the whole of Aurangabad (a city of 2 million people) 

You can read more about our project at 

10 percent of all sales from Refill With LESS goes to help fund our India project, which is being conducted with the help of a local charity in Aurangabad. Buy £100 worth of product and £10 will go to the India project

If you want to help more, please buy one of our LESS branded stainless-steel water bottles, for which all proceeds go to support our India project

+ Do plastics really cause much CO2?

They do. This October 2021 report from Beyond Plastics describes plastics as the new coal

And plastics are set to grow. Greenpeace cites industry forecasts that plastic production will increase 3x by 2050

+ I already recycle. Surely that's good enough?

We're afraid it isn't. Even Boris Johnson agrees, saying ‘recycling doesn't work’ and that we need to reduce plastic use instead

The rules around recycling are confusing but many people put time to carefully sorting their waste for recycling. However, very little actually gets recycled

An October 2022 report from the Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) in the UK found that 84% of households are contaminating recycling through well-intended ‘wish cycling’, where people try to do the right thing by adding plastic items to their recycling that should not be in there. Because the contaminated plastic affects the quality of the recycling, the recycling collected often has to be discarded

It's hard to get precise figures, but the percent of plastic waste that is actually recycled (as opposed to just collected for recycling) in the UK looks to be about 10%. The rest gets buried or burned or escapes to rivers and oceans

These quotes from recent articles and reports makes for depressing reading…

Greenpeace on recycling in the UK:

The government claims that almost half of the UK’s plastic packaging gets recycled, but that simply isn’t true.

  • Thousands of tonnes of our household plastic packaging put out for recycling, as well as other kinds of plastic waste, ends up in waste incinerators in the UK. Incinerators are giant furnaces for burning waste, and they cause air pollution, noise, smells, litter and traffic as waste is trucked in and smoke pours from the chimneys. Incinerators are overwhelmingly located in low-income areas and neighbourhoods with more people of colour. Some also goes into landfill, where it can leach toxic chemicals into the environment.
  • But the rest gets recycled though, right? Wrong.
  • The UK is dumping our waste on other countries.
  • Well over half of the household plastic packaging the government claims is recycled is sent abroad, most of it going to countries with very low recycling rates and a serious problem with plastic waste being dumped or burned illegally.
  • Unbelievably, the amount the UK sends abroad is the equivalent of three and a half Olympic swimming pools every single day.
  • The government claims all of this exported plastic gets recycled, but the truth is we have no idea what really happens to it because no one bothers to check.
  • Where our plastic waste goes changes all the time, because countries aren’t keen to clean up our mess and are trying to ban plastic waste imports. A few years ago most of our plastic “recycling” went to China; at the moment, more than half is going to Turkey and Malaysia.
  • … The sad truth is that less than 10% of everyday plastic – the plastic packaging that the things we buy is wrapped in – actually gets recycled in the UK.


Guardian on UK plastic use:

  • The UK is second only to the US for the amount of plastic waste per person it generates


Science Advances on global plastic use:

  • As of 2015, approximately 6300 Mt of plastic waste had been generated, around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment


If you’d rather watch, these documentaries are good:


+ I refill my own bottles from refill pouches. Is that better?

Refilling your own bottles is a great step, but it can be complicated. Refilling from flexible plastic pouches can cause more problems than it solves since flexible plastic is unrecyclable and can contaminate the waste stream of other plastics, making them harder or impossible to recycle

In many ways, it's best to avoid flexible plastics altogether if you can (we don’t use any). If you're taking your bottles to a local refill store, yay you!, but if you'd rather get them shipped to you, we can help :)

+ Are flexible plastics really that bad?

They are an issue.

According to WRAP UK, flexible plastic packaging represents 22% of plastic packaging used by UK citizens, but only 6% is recycled, and only 17% of local authorities collect it

2019 figures cited in an article from the British Plastics Federation show that of 410 councils in the UK, just 28 collected a variety of flexible films and six of these only accept plastic shopping bags. Just 5% of the total volume of film used is collected from households, the rest goes to general waste, landfill or incineration, or contaminates other plastic waste streams

+ What is reuse?

Reuse is all about using the packaging for your products again and again

Rather than buying products in disposable packaging, we sell reusable bottles and product in bulk containers so you can do your own refills at home

By reusing your bottles time and again you prevent a lot of plastic waste. It's really that simple

+ What is a closed loop system?

A true closed loop (or circular) system means the material used in packaging is returned to the system to be reused

In theory, recycling can enable this, but it’s not possible with plastic. Plastic bottles usually get recycled into items like garden furniture or synthetic materials rather than new plastic bottles

This downcycling merely delays the disposal of plastic waste on its journey to landfill or incinerators

+ How quickly will I get my order?

Where we have product readily available, you should get it in a few days, but sometimes we have to wait for items to be delivered to to us, which can delay things. Either way, we will keep you in touch and if you want to be certain before you order, please contact us

+ What's the aim of LESS?

We're working to help prevent single-use plastic and plastic waste generally. You can read more about our work here

Recycling is not the answer - it's often difficult and confusing for consumers, not all plastic can be recycled, 'wish-cycling' leads to contaminated waste streams, most recycling is downcycling (to lower grade plastic) and infrastructure is lacking

Under 10% of plastic is being recycled globally, about half goes to landfill, but over 20% is dumped, burned in open pits or leaked into the environment, according to the OECD. Most of the rest is incinerated

Reusing and refilling bottles helps prevent the need for more plastic to be made. It's a better solution that makes a contribution immediately, it prevents resource depletion, and avoids confusion around what can and can't be recycled

Small differences matter and refilling bottles prevents a lot of plastic waste over the course of a year

+ I want to do more, how can I help?

Spread the word! We sell across the UK so please tell your friends and family