Refill stations for cosmetics, detergents dwindle due to regulations

2024.02.28 11:14:01 | 2024.02.28 11:15:03

[Photo by MK DB]이미지 확대

[Photo by MK DB]

South Korea has seen a decline in the number of refill stations for detergents and fabric softeners at large retail chains, mainly due to low consumer accessibility and regulatory challenges, according to sources on Tuesday.

Industry figures showed that there were only four refill stations, down from a peak of 19.

Emart, the country’s leading retail chain in terms of sales, introduced Eco Refill Stations in its stores in 2020, showcasing the collaborative effort of Emart, Sugar Bubble, the Ministry of Environment, and the Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute (KEITI).

These stations featured vending machines for refilling laundry detergent and fabric softener, offering environmentally friendly options to consumers.

Despite the initially positive response, the number of available refill stations has now decreased to just two out of the initial 13 in 2022.

Other major retail chains such as Homeplus and Lotte Mart have also faced challenges in maintaining refill stations.

Homeplus, which initiated the Zero Market refill store concept across four locations in Seoul, including Hapjeong and Sindorim, has closed all of these outlets.

Lotte Mart has only one refill station each for snacks and shampoo, located in the Zeta Plex Jamsil store.

In the convenience store sector, 7-Eleven introduced refill stations at three locations nationwide in 2021, while GS25, the country’s top-selling convenience store, closed its first refill store at Konkuk University in March 2021.

The decline in the number of refill stations is attributed to the difficulty consumers face in finding these stations and the challenges associated with purchasing specific containers and checking product information, including expiration dates.

According to data released by the Korea Consumer Agency last year, 81.3 percent of respondents expressed a positive willingness to use refill stations.

However, issues such as the inability to check product information (24.3 percent), the need to purchase specific containers (21.1 percent), and product unavailability (16.4 percent) were listed as key challenges.

The stringent regulations, especially those applicable to refill stations for cosmetics, have further impeded the expansion of such facilities.

Current regulations require the presence of a cosmetics formulation professional at locations offering cosmetic refills, and the act of dispensing and refilling cosmetics is considered a manufacturing process under the law.

The associated qualification exams for the position have proven to be challenging, with an average pass rate of only 19.4 percent across seven tests conducted until 2022.

Although efforts were made by the Regulatory Sandbox Support Center at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy in January 2021 to allow cosmetic refill stations to operate without a formulation management professional during a two-year pilot program, this initiative came to an end on January 24.

Zero-waste shops, considered pioneers in setting refill station standards, have also faced challenges, with one of the two operating outlets at Seoul Station having placed a formulation management professional.

However, the risk of closure looms if this employee resigns without a replacement with the required qualifications.

According to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, 241 cosmetic stores nationwide are in a similar situation.

The Ministry said that it plans to facilitate the operation of cosmetic refill stations without the requirement of a formulation management professional through legal revisions.

By Lee Hyo-seok and Minu Kim

[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper &, All rights reserved]