It was when Alexander Torrey got a box the size of his kitchen table, containing a single bottle of hand soap, that he decided there had to be a better way to deliver staples without all that waste, which piled up in the trash room in his apartment building.
“Why couldn’t my soap dispenser just be refilled with more soap, rather than replaced with an entirely new bottle?”
So he began figuring out a better way. “It’s like this: I don’t want better hand soap, I want a better way to get my hand soap — a method that is more convenient, but also sustainable.”
Designing a closed loop supply chain that is truly zero waste scalable became an obsession. He worked on the idea at graduate school at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He biked around Philadelphia to test out the service with a small group of customers.
Then in early 2020, with Wharton classmate and former Uber employee Byungwoo “BK” Ko, he launched a larger-scale pilot which did so well that it led to what The Rounds is today – offering zero-waste household and personal care basics delivered to the door in Philadelphia and now in Washington DC, Miami, and Atlanta as well.
Their original image was that of a milkman, who made rounds delivering milk and picking up empty bottles. In fact, they originally called the company Mlkmn. They rebranded it as The Rounds to better represent “our greater vision of making everyday sustainable choices effortless” through a circular economy.
Torrey aims to “make single-use packaging waste a thing of the past in every neighborhood around the country.”
On average, customers of The Rounds can reduce their waste by 40 to 50 pounds per year. As The Rounds increase their product offerings, Torrey estimates that the number can grow to 100 pounds a year.
After filling out a profile, customers receive free weekly delivery and personalized refill amounts for a fee of $10/month. The orders are filled at Neighborhood Refillment Centers and then delivered via bike.
The Rounds ‘manages’ the inventory of home essentials, predicting when you’ll need a refill based on your individual household’s usage. The products are refilled in reusable containers, with no packaging waste or annoying plastic cushions.
“[We] deliver the goods you need, right to your door on the same day every week, all organized in your own personal dashboard online, and delivered in reusable containers. Once you’re done with a container, we pick up your empties to be cleaned, sanitized, and reused.”
Products are sourced directly from manufacturers who make products that are biodegradable and organic. Hyper-local products are sourced from local partners.
“Our products are priced to be comparable to what you’d find at a high-quality grocery store in your neighborhood, without any markups,” he said.
“It’s all meant to help you make managing the stuff you use every day easier and more sustainable,” Torrey said, “for you and the planet.”
This Zero-Waste Grocery Service Makes Sustainability Convenient in Some of America’s Largest Cities. Good good good, Aug. 9, 2023
The Rounds pairs sustainability & convenience to get household basics to your door, waste-free The Green Cities, Aug. 4, 2021
This Zero-Waste Delivery Company Is Making Stocking Up on Home Goods More Sustainable. Philly Mag, Aug. 10, 2021
Cover and other images: The Rounds