So, you’ve been reading about ways to reduce your plastic use, including bringing back empty bottles and containers of personal care and cleaning products to refill, and you think, “I’ve got to try that sometime.” (The BULK mobile site can help you find refill locations.) But that means planning ahead and remembering to bring your empty containers back to the store. Once you get in the habit of doing it, remembering is no big deal. But getting started can be difficult for folks just beginning the plastic-free, zero waste journey. If only there were a service that would pick up those empties and deliver freshly filled ones right to your door.
If you live in the Bay Area, Stéphanie Regni can help! Her company, Fillgood.co, delivers refilled glass containers of natural personal care and cleaning products to local customers. I paid a visit to Stéphanie at her home in Albany, CA, last month, and chatted with her about the Fillgood system and why she believes a system like this is needed.
How the Fillgood Refill System Works
- On your first order, purchase a refillable container with dispenser lid plus the liquid soap or cleaning product refill of your choice. The containers are beautiful glass mason jars with stainless steel dispenser lids. (Stéphanie gifted me a foaming liquid soap dispenser, and I really love it! I love it so much, I made an animated gift. I’ve never made an animated gif before, so that says something. Not sure what.)
- Your order is delivered to your door in a reusable wine bag.
- When you’re ready to reorder, keep the dispenser lid and order only the product refill.
- Put your empty glass jars and regular lids in the reusable wine bag and set them outside your door to be picked up.
- When you receive your next delivery, switch out the regular lid(s) for the dispenser lid(s), and you’re good to go.
Refillable Liquid Products Offered
Currently, Fillgood.co offers Dr. Bronner’s liquid hand soaps, Biokleen dish liquid, Biokleen laundry liquid, and Biokleen automatic dish powder. Dr. Bronner’s is very concentrated, so a 12-ounce refill jar comes with 4 ounces of soap, and you add your own water to fill it up. The foaming dispenser adds air so you don’t use too much.
I asked Stéphanie how she chooses which products to offer. She said that having a background in chemical engineering, she loves looking at product labels and chooses based on ingredients and whether the company discloses all of its ingredients. She also consults the EWG safe products databases. And she’d like to offer local brands if she can find ones offered in bulk that are safe and non-toxic.
Behind the Scenes
But how are the products packaged before Stéphanie portions them out into glass jars? Ah, that’s the rub. Like nearly all bulk products, the liquid products come in big plastic containers that must then be reused or recycled.
Stéphanie and her husband experimented and were able to develop a clever spigot to make refilling much easier. (She pours new containers into the containers with the spouts.)
For right now, she is storing the empty containers and trying to figure out what to do with them. Ultimately, she would like to work out a system for sending them back to the vendor to refill. (Because of the environmental impacts of recycling, she refuses to just toss them in her recycle bin and call it a day.) I’m guessing she will need to increase her sales an awful lot before she has enough clout to make that happen. (AND her customers can contact the vendors themselves to ask for take-back programs.) The system is a work in progress.
Solid Alternatives to Liquid Soaps
Ultimately, Stéphanie recognizes that the truly zero-waste alternatives to liquid products are solid products that don’t require any packaging at all. To that end, she also offers and delivers solid soap and shampoo bars from Sappo Hill and other companies. If you’ve ever purchased a Sappo Hill soap bar in a store, you’ve probably noticed the small sticker stuck to it. But by ordering in bulk, Stéphanie’s able to purchase the bars without any stickers.
What About the Carbon Footprint of All Those Deliveries?
Of course, it’s important to reduce the carbon footprint of delivering products. Stéphanie drives a hybrid car and encourages customers to form groups and place group orders to be delivered once a week. But she also considers the carbon to be part of the cost of educating consumers about the culture of refilling and helping them take steps toward creating new habits. Toward that end, she is adding zero waste accessories to her store to teach customers about other ways to reduce waste. Her first offering is a bamboo travel utensil set.
To reduce the carbon footprint even further, Stéphanie hopes to create central locations (at farmers markets, perhaps) where customers can bring back and receive their products while they are doing the rest of their shopping.
Right now, Fillgood.co offers just a few, carefully selected products. The offerings will expand as the company grows and as Stéphanie is able to identify local products that meet her criteria. I wish her well!