Reducing Consumption of Single-Use Plastics
Amelia Eichel is founder and CEO of Wonderfil, a green business that saves consumers money while removing plastic from the supply chain. We recently caught up with her at Wonderfil headquarters in Santa Cruz, California.
Wonderfil in a nutshell: We’re a refill technology start-up with a mission to reduce demand for single-use plastics, starting with packaging for liquid and cream products. Our refill stations create value for consumer packaged-goods companies, stores, and consumers that plastic does not.
The need: While working on an independent research project at L&C, I found that fossil fuel companies are increasing plastic production to prolong the fossil fuel era. Plastic, a byproduct of petroleum, has proved to be complicated and ineffective to recycle. In fact, less than 9 percent of plastic is recycled globally each year. Plastic bottles can last for 450 years in landfills and waterways.
Inspiration in Morocco: As an L&C student, I was thrilled to visit Morocco on an overseas study program led by Oren Kosansky, associate professor of anthropology. We worked with the women-led NGO Dar Si Hmad. Their award-winning green technology project harvests fog water from nets installed in the mountains and distributes it to villages suffering from severe drought. This solution ended exhausting daily treks to distant wells by village women. Their success in coordinating stakeholders to combine education with building key infrastructure fueled my passion to create something similar in my community.
Impact of the Bates Center: The Bates Center for Entrepreneurship and Leadership was amazingly collaborative and interdisciplinary. Associate Director Chrys Hutchings introduced me to a competition and discovery process called Map the System sponsored by the University of Oxford. It encourages entrepreneurs to delve deeply into understanding complex social or environmental problems before working on solutions. I also consulted with the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers and with circular economy experts. My research found two gaps: a lack of data collection and few “upstream” solutions, meaning most people were addressing recycling rather than reducing plastic consumption.
Building a business: Wonderfil was still an idea in the making until after graduation when I started brainstorming ideas with my childhood friend, Shiloh Sacks. An electrical engineering student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, she soon joined me as company cofounder. We collaborated with her fellow engineering students to design prototypes and build our first five refill stations. Recently, we rolled out stations in Eshleman Hall at the University of California at Berkeley and at Ethos, a low-waste-living shop and refillery in Capitola.
How it works: Universities and retailers tell us the purpose, scope, and size of refill stations they want to purchase. We currently offer two-tap and four-tap stations. The stations calculate the amount of product being dispensed per purchase and automatically charge the buyer’s credit card, eliminating the need to weigh reusable containers they bring with them.
Target customers: We’re focusing on universities that already have policies in place to achieve zero-waste goals.
Ideal suppliers: We source organic products from local suppliers to reduce our carbon footprint. Testing is essential to find products that work well for the greatest number of people—for example, shampoos and conditioners that work for all hair types.
Future plans: Customers have been quick to understand and embrace our product. In addition to our other clients, we hope to work with Lewis & Clark to integrate stations into Templeton Campus Center once it’s renovated. We also want to expand into more colleges and universities on the West Coast, eventually moving into more retail markets.
—Interviewed by Pattie Pace