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Shampoo in a box

Introducing delivery of a portion of shampoo in a reusable box

Photo of Vivek Patil

Written by

A typical low-income household in a developing nation requires purchase of toiletries in small volumes such as 10 mL. Their financial circumstances prevent them from buying in bulk due to lack of disposable income. The frequency in which family members need this purchase is often variable. But the amount of waste generated from these sachets, at the end of a year is enormous. What if they get all these toiletries in just one box per person for the whole year? 

Take example of typical Indian household. Before the plastics and sachet economy made its way into small villages in India, the use of cosmetics, such as talcum powder was common. During this time, these would be stored in metal (Aluminum or copper), glass or wooden boxes called ‘dibbi’ (डिब्बी). One can use the similar form of storage but with a modern material called ‘Polylactic acid’.

(The publicity video about this product, also explaining the issue of sachets waste in the local language of Maharashtra, India)

Plastic made from polylactic acid is biodegradable. It can be used to make a small sized box with a holding capacity of 10 mL of fluid. If required, it can have an additional coating to avoid any chemical interaction with shampoo. The users can buy this container, named ShampooBox from a company which is interested in reducing waste generation due to its products. ShampooBox will have a leak-proof lid. Now, the company will keep refilling containers as 

shown in the figure 'A', to refill ShampooBox. One rotation of the knob on the dispenser will deliver product equivalent in portion to volume of a sachet. The cost will be paid with each refill (say Rs.₹2.5 per refill). ShampooBox will have a marking inside to check whether the volume of the refilled product is same as what is mentioned. 

This refilling will be done in front of customers directly from the company-provided tamper-proof container. Hence there would not be any chance of mistrust about quality or any doubt about contamination of the product. The cost of ShampooBox will be in the range of cost of one-shot of product (say, ₹ 4/ShampooBox). It has to be bought by customer only once and it will easily last for a year. Since it will be easily washed after every use, it can dry till next day with no efforts and can also be used on every-day basis if required. 

The initial ShampooBox can be ordered by sending a text message from mobile phone (upto 4 containers for a mobile number)

The additional cost of ShampooBox for customers will be offset by the reduction in cost of one portion of shampoo (say ₹2.5/portion instead of ₹3/ sachet), since the packaging cost is eliminated. ShampooBox can be made in different shapes for different family members (kids and adults), keeping the holding capacity same.


The assumption is that users will be carrying their container whenever they are going to buy shampoo. I would like to know how can I test this without actually making the ShampooBox with all its features (durability, ease of use, attractive look)?

Prototyping and testing:

I made a video explaining the way the container will be used to refill the shampoo at store and got some feedback from my village (through my volunteer network), which is representative of the BoP community I plan to serve through this product.

How would I get different brands to collaborate for this solution? 

If one brand is willing to invest in this new system of shampoo delivery, then the others brands will not want to be left behind. Hence, they will need to necessarily participate in the testing of this system. If it turns out to be working very well in some communities, they can continue their business without lagging behind others.  

What is the main assumption/key question that I have about your solution? 

The assumption is that users will be carrying their container whenever they are going to buy shampoo. I would like to know how can I test this without actually making the ShampooBox with all its features (durability, ease of use, attractive look)? I plan to make a video explaining the way the container will be used to refill the shampoo at store and get feedback from my village (through my volunteer network), which is representative of the BoP community I plan to serve through this product.  

How would I account for high volume periods at refill station? How could you address this? 

To avoid the possibility of waiting time for refill in a store, coin-operated shampoo dispensers from different companies will be prototyped and tested in the next stage.  

With this solution, could users bring their own containers or other people copy the container?

There is a limitation of brand recognition in the case of users bringing their own container. If the container is given by the shampoo-making company itself, then :

  1. They can have logo of their brand on it 

  1. The standard volume of container and measurement markings on it will ensure right quantity of shampoo is delivered 

How would you differentiate yourself? 

1. Brand recognition

2. Personal touch to the product 

3. Benefit to customers from lower price of refill as compared to a sachet

Would this be through the delivery model?

It will be through the existing delivery model. 



Idea Title



Where are you / your team located?

Alabama, USA

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Small format plastic waste in the form of a shampoo sachet will be replaced by a single box which will be used repeatedly for a long period of time. Hence, all the multi-layered plastic waste generated due to sachets will be totally eliminated. This can potentially save $80-120 billion in value ( or around 10% of the total plastic packaging in the world.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Saatwika, waste collector in Pune & Rajata, working mother in Kerala (Both, India)

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Initially, all over India (particularly BoP localities). Potentially, all developing countries around the world.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

The idea needs to be taken up by a large FMCG company who is interested in reducing the waste generated due to sachets. They will need assistance from designers to design low-cost ShampooBox with all the necessary storage properties. This will be the most important step. The customers need to be educated about the potential cost savings for them over a period of time as well as environmental benefits of doing it for their community (e.g. reduced waste around the area they live in).

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

My goal is to eliminate waste generated due to small sachets packaging by introducing re-usable box. This concept is new but also promising. One has to build a culture around this concept. I would do efforts to make this idea reach manufacturers of shampoo and other FMCG products. Becoming a top idea will help this concept gain wider attention and public acceptance. The Accelerator program will enable me to build contacts with potential FMCG partners who can help in testing prototype.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

I often go and stay in my village in India, where many of the products of daily use are stored in small metal boxes. They have good longevity and I got the idea of personalising the ‘personal care’ products from there.

Tell us about your work experience

I am doing PhD in waste to energy, I have work experience in petrochemical sector for two years and research/development experience in making household waste to energy prototypes.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure


Please describe, in detail, your business model and how you intend to test and iterate this model.

The suppliers of shampoo need to be convinced about selling their product in dispenser. The brands will have the opportunity to print their logo on the containers and hence get promoted. The shopkeepers will have monetary incentive due to higher margin on shampoo dispensers than sachets. The customers will be given shampoobox for free in initial stages, for them to start using it. They can order it using SMS from their mobile phone. The limit will be 4 containers per mobile number.

Please explain how your innovation will work within, potentially improve, and provide benefit to the plastics system.

The shampoo re-fill will be given in a plastic container that is re-usable. Two materials are required: for the dispenser and for the re-fillable container. The dispenser will be taken back by the company who makes the liquid shampoo and re-used, hence retaining its value. The shampoo container will inherently be made of material with longevity due to the nature of its intended application. While purchasing a new ShampooBox, the old one can be exchanged for one refill. It will then be re-molded.

Please describe, in depth, how your solution will reduce the overall environmental footprint of packaging.

The use of re-fillable containers will make the volume of plastic go down by >99%. It is not hard to see how much pollution that would’ve been added by burning/ improper disposal of sachets to the environment is avoided in this case. The recycling of containers will need less energy as compared to synthesizing new material. The reduced volume and complexity of plastic waste will bring the transportation cost down and hence encourage collection and recycling of these containers.

Please outline how your design, material, and delivery choices will influence price, and how you intend to address the price increase that may result from this solution.

There are two options to take care of financial viability of this product by the shampoo-making company: 1. Giving out the containers for free and deriving profits from re-filling of the shampoo. In this case, price of 1 refill = price of 1 sachet 2. Asking the customers to buy the container (preferred). In this case, cost of 1 refill < cost of 1 sachet. The shampoo-makers just have to make the cost of container within the limits of cumulative price reduction for liquid shampoo.

Please explain how your solution will impact user behavior, and what design considerations you've included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions with your Idea. 

This idea uniquely combines return (of dispensers) and refill- reuse (of containers) for the small volume consumption of shampoo. The behavior change required for customers to carry the container whenever they have to buy small volume of shampoo will be achieved by giving first refill free with the container. Then the customers would already have a container which they need to start re-filling. Also, 3 to 4 customized designs would give the product a personal touch and ensure long term use.

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

The prize funding will be used for field testing in THREE VILLAGES (3k people), which includes buying bulk quantity of shampoo, manufacturing a batch of 'containers' & shampoo 'dispensers', employing a salesperson and a manager and advertisements.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Carolina Mndz

This is a great idea!
I personally have long curly hair and every month I have to buy a new set of shampoo and conditioner. That is 24 plastic bottles each year! Which I doubt it gets recycle. This idea is amazing. I

Photo of Vivek Patil

Thank you Carolina. I hope to work on this idea again with several improvements.

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