Soap on Tap

Soap on Tap
November 29, 2020 Christina Mullin

A startup called Algramo that is targeting plastic waste has arrived in NYC. Algramo is self-service, cash-less and touch-less, and allows you to buy as much cleaning product as you need. Its kiosks that can be found at several locations in Brooklyn, provide an efficient, automated bulk-dispensing system for staple food and cleaning products — opening up economies of scale to customers at all income levels. And it’s BYORP: bring your own reusable packaging.

How it works:

1-Download the app and create your account

2-Charge your account

3-Bring your smart reusable packaging to an Algramo dispenser

4-Choose how much you want to fill

The story of Algramo began in 2011, when José Manuel Moller was living in a low-income neighborhood in Santiago, Chile. He realized that he was spending about 40 percent more on household items — all because the smaller sizes, which have a higher packaging-to-product ratio, cost more. Moller’s problem has a name: the poverty tax. Simply put, poorer folks wind up spending more on everyday goods and services, because they can’t afford the bulk-sized products that offer a better bargain. A big part of this problem turns out to be the packaging itself. As Moller discovered, packaging can make up as much as 40 percent of the cost of a product, particularly with lower-volume amounts of everyday goods. “It’s absurd that we’re pushing the poorest families to pay for something that they’re going to throw away, that’s also polluting the planet,” Moller says.

The pandemic as a turning point

The COVID-19 pandemic actually sped up Algramo’s arrival in the States. Several aspects of the service make it well suited to pandemic times. One is obvious: It offers a convenient source of cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer. It’s an essentially touchless system. There is no cashier at the kiosk; the packaging is yours, the refill is automatic, and the payment is digital, and in a time when the supply chain is stressed, simplicity is in everyone’s best interest. Some companies are experiencing packaging shortages because for instance, not enough pumps for soap dispensers. Consumers can reuse their dispensers, which makes one less component that needs to be sourced in a time of shortages.

With the shakeup created by COVID, there’s an opportunity for behavior and system change in a way that doesn’t exist when you’re kind of going through your life in the usual ways.