Circular Economy: My Take on Reuse & Refill Business Models

Suara Senar Nirwana ⑇
5 min readSep 30, 2022

For the past 2 years I have been working in Enviu, a start-up studio based in The Netherlands which work in Indonesia focuses to close the tap of plastic pollution from its source through the means of venture building. The ventures that Enviu build in Indonesia are ones that support the idea of circular economy by enabling reuse and refill business models. This writing is my key take aways from 2 years working in the industry and as a mark of me signing off from this office. Yes, I am moving on to another journey! We’ll talk about my new journey a bit later

Well, if I were to describe how was it working with the mission of enabling reuse and refill, I’d say that it was hard, but enjoyable.

Market Outlook

There are for sure a certain share of eco-conscious people in the market. But compared to those who are not conscious yet, the percentage is rather small in my opinion. This is one of the parts that make working in the industry was quite challenging. Many of the solutions we were offering are new, I mean who could imagine that you could consume and return home care products in the same way you consume and return water gallon? These solutions are a real challenge for us to introduce to the market because the core problem started from the urgent need to solve environmental issue, yet the solution introduced need a behavioral change from the market. Linking back to the percentage of these people in the market being relatively small, it makes it even harder. So, we have to introduce a new solution to a relatively small market for the purpose of saving the environment, can you imagine that?

Well, now the question would be, is there a chance for the market to grow? How would I look at the potential of these market?

There is, for sure. Plastic problem is emerging everywhere not only in Indonesia, but also abroad. People are starting to be educated about the potential harm that microplastics brought to our life, and people also start to see that plastics are polluting our oceans. Sadly, the truth is, most of the share in the market are not aware yet until they feel or see it themselves of the impact from massive plastic pollution. The trend for people to be eco-conscious is surely growing with massive effort and education disseminated and so with this, I hope one day, the reuse and refill business model will be the new normal. I hope people can start opening their eyes even before feeling the massive damage of plastic pollution. I believe that one day, we can shift from single use to reuse and refill models.

The Ops: Reverse Logistic

This terminology was new to me. I never heard of reverse logistic before until building a circular start-up. To make sure our solution is circular, we have to think about the process not only about distributing our products but also about how we take them back to responsibly process the after-consumption state.

This is exactly one of the reasons why most of “green” or “eco-friendly” or “environmentally friendly” solutions are more expensive compared to the single-use solution. In the linear economy model, the company only focus with production and feel like their responsibility is finished once the goods are in the customer’s hand. But within the circular economy, we have to also think about how we can take back what we have produced so that it won’t end up in a landfill.

I wasn’t directly involved in designing the efficient reverse logistic, but I was there and witness it myself that it is not that easy. The priority between customer excellency and cost saving is sometimes clashing, same as the clash between quick & efficient delivery and reducing carbon footprint.

Now the question would be: so, is it possible to have a green business while still making profit?

Well, we can’t lie. Business is no business if it does not generate any profit. My take on this is that it is possible but in its early stage, a massive support/subsidy is needed. The massive support/subsidy shall be used to support the operational of the business hence it can cut cost and offer the solution in a comparably affordable price. At some point, these new solutions are demanded to even be cheaper as to incentivize people in shifting their behavior from take, use, and dispose to take, use, and return. I hope that funders, VCs, investors, start to shift their perspective from just prioritizing return of the investment, to also consider the impact created from the business they are supporting. I hope as day goes by, more and more impact funders will emerge in this world.

The Future is Circular, and I Believe That.

Well, the tagline that Enviu use is #ReuseRevolution. We would like to make reuse a new normal and in doing so, a return and refill effort needed to be made from the customer side. If asked whether I believe in the idea of circular economy or not, I’d say I believe in it and would do my best to support it. But if asked how likely we can implement the full circular economy today? it’s rather hard here in Indonesia.

Indonesians are accustomed to get everything instantly. The take, use, and dispose model is so easy for us because after consuming the goods, there is no effort needed to take care of its waste. This is where the problem started. A serious and massive behavioral change is needed so the customers are willing to do their part, to make an effort to take care of the waste post-consumption stage. And yes, for sure, behavioral change is not an easy thing. It can be done, but it’s not easy.

It’s for sure still a long journey until the reuse and refill model can become the new normal. But with Enviu has started their work from now on to distribute the idea, introduce the reuse and refill model, and initiate the behavioral change, I believe we are going on the right track. Enviu cannot do it alone. I hope one day more and more people will be supporting this idea and become the agent in #reuserevolution.

It’s time for us to look for the alternative of single use noting that the waste issue has been concerning for us all. We want to make sure that we leave a habitable of good environment condition for our offspring. To do so, we cannot expect the same result from doing the same thing. Something needs to change, we need to change, the world will change.

On Me Leaving the Company,

Oh, this one is a bit teary. Enviu is my first workplace right after graduated last October 2020. Working here has taught me so many things from understanding the criteria of a sustainable product to gaining the ability of listening and empathizing with the consumer. I still believe in the idea of reuse and refill business model, I still support the idea of circular economy. It’s just for now, I’ll be a bit selfish and prioritize my personal development first. I’d like to learn more on how to design an impactful product better, how to listen to our consumer better, and how to synthesize insights from consumer. Sadly, these can be gained in another place and that I have to move. One day, I’ll go back to develop the reuse and refill business model even better. But for now, it’s goodbye and goodluck for us.

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Suara Senar Nirwana ⑇

This is Anin’s public diary consist of her opinion, experience, and thoughts.