Refill Not Landfill: Businesses in Laos reducing plastic consumption


Woman holding bottle

In Southern Laos, many micro-, small- and medium-sized businesses are reducing plastic consumption by selling reusable, branded water bottles and offering free water refill stations in their stores. The Refill Not Landfill initiative has not only been good for the environment, it’s been good for business.

“Many businesses have reported increased foot traffic as a result of the refill stations and our marketing support—over 169 Southern Laos branded aluminum reusable water bottles have been sold by the businesses,” says Cuso International volunteer Vivekan Jeyagaran. Vivekan provided support with product development, designing inclusive itineraries, project planning and implementation, marketing, workshop facilitation and technical assistance for Cuso partner Swisscontact and local businesses.

In the first five months of the initiative, participating businesses reduced plastic water bottle consumption by approximately 200,000 bottles.

“We have seen Lao people, foreigners and backpackers buy the bottles to refill,” says Siriporn, manager of local café Delta Coffee in Pakse. “It’s better for our environment to reduce plastic. I’m quite happy with the results from the people who refill the water into the bottle.”

In Laos, as in many countries around the world, people are trying to reduce their use of single-use plastics. In 2018, it was estimated that more than 100-million disposable water bottles were consumed by travellers in the Southeast Asian country.

Vivekan Jeyagaran

“A lot of tourists are looking for reusable bottles, but more importantly, refill stations—whether it’s for the environmental cause or because it also saves money,” says Vivekan. “Refill Not Landfill is reducing plastic and helping these small- and medium-enterprises adapt to the way consumers are changing.”

And it’s influencing change in other areas. As a participating retailer in Refill Not Landfill, Siriporn became aware of how many plastic bags she was accumulating when shopping at the market. “The vendor uses plastic for small things. I decided not to take all those plastics. I put them together in one big bag.”

The Refill Not Landfill project is led by Cuso and Swisscontact, and involves the Southern Laos Department of Tourism, local business associations and business owners.

“Both the private and especially the public sectors have been taking notice of the importance of single-use plastic reduction and the implications it has on the tourism economy in Laos,” says Vivekan. “Other provincial departments have expressed interest in expanding the Refill Not Landfill initiative into their provinces, while the Ministry has shown great interest in the potential of this initiative.”

Vivekan volunteered as a Tourism Entrepreneurship Advisor for 12 months in Laos. Born in Sri Lanka, the 25-year-old lives in Markham, Ontario and graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Business Administration.