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Refilleries! What are they? How do we use them?
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It’s the first thing many of us learn about sustainability and remains the central concept in sustainable practices today. Consuming less and using what already exists is one of the best ways we can reduce our impact on the environment, but the world doesn’t make it easy for us. Think about your regular grocery shop, and how many products come in “single-use” containers. Everything from cream cheese to baking powder to shampoo comes in plastic containers that are meant to be recycled when emptied and repurchased. Recycling is a great option when waste has to be made, but why do we need a new container in the first place? If you look through your plastic recycling bin it is probably full of containers, the only thing wrong with them being the fact that they are empty.
This is where refilleries come in! They purchase items in bulk, allowing you to bring in your own containers time and time again to refill. They are usually locally owned so offerings will differ, but generally you can purchase dry goods, hygiene products, home goods, and sometimes fresh goods like produce or bread from these stores. By purchasing their products in bulk and allowing you to bring in your own containers to fill up and reuse they are able to drastically cut down on the amount of packaging waste if not eliminating it all together.
To shop at one of these stores all you need to do to prepare is collect and clean the containers you are going to fill. These can be reused jars, bottles, and containers from products you have bought in the past, plastic or glass storage containers, or storage bags. You will bring them with you to the store and weigh them while they are empty; this weight is your tare weight. You will go through the store filling up each container with products of your choice then head to the checkout counter. Here they will weigh each full container, removing the tared weight from earlier; you only pay for the product you are taking home, never the container!
Refilleries' key focus of impact is the environment, although many will intentionally stock products focused on health, ethical production, or animal rights. They combat plastic waste, unnecessary packaging, and food/product waste with their bulk style of distribution. By allowing you to bring your own containers they eliminate the need for single use packaging, plastic or not, all together. These shops buy their products in bulk, so even if the containers they purchase products in are single use it still creates drastically less waste than individually packaged items. Many of the products they buy come in containers that can be returned to the manufacturer over and over again to be refilled (like their own large scale refillery).
They also allow us to waste less food and product overall. Have you ever needed an obscure ingredient for a recipe and been forced to buy ten times the amount you needed because that was the only size package they had? A lot of food and products go to waste because companies have to guess how much we need or want. Refilleries allow you to buy exactly what you need, preventing waste and saving you money.
Refilleries can also make sustainability more accessible! Sometimes sustainable alternatives to products just don’t work for a person, like shampoo bars instead of liquid shampoo to eliminate the need for a plastic bottle. Refilleries allow you to buy the ‘normal’ versions of these products while still avoiding the waste!
Finally, if an aesthetic pantry is important to you refilleries remove the need to decant your products into prettier containers than their branded store packaging. If you want to store all of your dry goods in matching containers refilleries let you skip the time and mess of transferring containers, and eliminate the stash of half empty packages you have hidden away somewhere. This isn’t a sustainability point, just another great perk of bulk shopping!
We’ve covered the what, how, and why. That just leaves us the who and the where. The Sustainable Life App can help you find refilleries, bulk stores, and all sorts of other sustainable and ethical businesses in your neighbourhood. Just download the app, and choose refilleries from the search bar on the map. If you find refilleries in your area that aren’t in the app add them to our map! This can help local businesses gain exposure and give more people in your community access to these sustainable tools.