Four Simple Actions to Prepare for a Refillery Visit
If you’ve been exploring the zero waste movement or are just looking for ways to reduce your waste and live a more sustainable lifestyle in general, then you’ve probably started looking for a refillery or zero waste store in your area.
Most refill shops will have containers for purchase or to borrow, but if your goal is to bring your own container to fill up on household essentials there are a few additional steps to set you up for success shopping at a sustainable store. Here are four simple actions to make sure that your refill experience is a breeze.
This is written from my perspective as the owner of a refill station focusing on body care and household products, but the tips all apply to visiting a bulk food store too!
Taking stock of what you already have and what you need is not only a great way to keep yourself on track when it comes to buying only what you need, but also super important for making sure you don’t forget to grab anything when you’re looking at all of your empty jars at the zero waste store!
Before you leave the house take a quick inventory of what you need. Once you know what products you'll be getting you can make sure that you've got enough containers or bags to accommodate all of them (I always bring a couple extra just in case). It can be helpful to label your jars so that you know exactly what is going into each, but I personally just make sure I have a solid list.
This step can be especially important if you don’t live super close to a refillery and need to make longer drives and less frequent trips.
You've probably already got a good amount of containers around that you can use for refilling, but once you start looking for them you'll find that just about everything becomes a potential refill container.
Squeezy ketchup bottle? Great for refilling body wash.
Plastic orange juice jug? Made for refillable laundry detergent.
Every jam jar you've ever met? I mean, what can't they hold?
You can always reuse whatever container you originally bought your product in, but for reasons I'll mention in the next section, I usually like to have back up containers for some of my refills.
The containers that I find myself saving for refilling are ones that I can use for multiple different things, so I tend to save glass jars with wide mouths that didn't hold anything with a strong/vinegary scent. In my typical stash I have jam jars, peanut butter jars, mason jars, among others. They're great for not only hitting the refillery, but for glassware at home, storing left over food, grabbing an iced latte from my favorite cafe, and a whole lot more than just refills.
3. Clean + Let Dry
I know that when it comes to things like dish soap and laundry detergent you might be thinking "why do I need to clean this out, isn't it just soap going on top of soap?"
The truth of the matter is that any aqueous soap (a soap with water based ingredients including things like aloe vera juice) has preservatives in it because of the water. That's because water acts as a great matrix for things like fungi and bacteria to grow. Just think about how bad things start to smell when they can't dry out fully.
To make sure that the product you fill up on lasts as long as it should and works as well as it should, its best to get your containers nice and clean so you aren't accidentally introducing any undesirable microbes into them. If you want to be extra safe you can boil any glass that you're filling, run it through your dish washer's sanitize cycle, or give it a swish with isopropyl alcohol (especially if it's plastic and can't stand high heat) to sanitize it.
This is where the back up container strategy comes in! Instead of letting my hand soap dispenser run all the way out at my sink, then washing it, letting it dry, and going to refill it, I have a big container that I use to go back and forth to the refill shop with, and then use that to refill my hand soap dispenser at home. That way, when I pour the last of the hand soap into my dispenser I can wash the big container out immediately and get it ready to refill. Just make sure you give your dispenser a good wash and dry every few months to keep it nice and clean too.
4. Pack Up
Setting your already cleaned jars and bags aside in a grab-and-go shopping tote is a great way to make adding package-free shopping a no brainer. You can hang this tote from your door knob the night before you plan to visit the bulk store or keep it in your car if you drive, but having a 'go bag' for all of your sustainable shopping can be a real game changer if you're prone to forgetting your containers.
Some of my customers have told me that they'll wash their containers out and stick them directly in the tote once they're dry, and if they're already labeled they act as part of their shopping list.
There you have it! These tips are a great place to start when it comes to developing your own personal system for shopping at your local refillery. If you give it a try and you're still struggling to figure out how to make it work, start a conversation with the people who run your local shop and see if they have any helpful tips for your specific situation.