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Zero waste movement gaining traction in Kingston

Photo by Sarah Chai.

With climate concerns growing around the globe, there is a new consumer movement gaining traction here in the Limestone City: refilling. Refilling is a zero-waste movement aimed at increasing sustainability and offering high-quality products in the exact amount consumers need — and without all the unnecessary packaging.

While buying in bulk is not a new idea, the selection of products available at refill stores are different from traditional bulk buying. New stores have been popping up in the Kingston area over the last few months, and some established businesses have added refilleries to their current retail locations.

Zero-waste refilleries offer household and personal care products, such as dish and laundry soaps, as well as shampoos, lotions and facial care products, and much more, all with no plastic waste.

Most local refill stores operate on a BYOC platform: Bring Your Own Container and fill it with product. It’s a simple concept, and allows consumers to use any containers which close firmly to take home their purchases.

Some refill stores will allow empty containers that previously contained commercial products (laundry detergent jugs, dish soap bottles, etc.) to be refilled, as long as they are clean. Containers are also available to purchase in most refill stores – as long as you have every intention of refilling them!

Jessica Collins introduced a refill section when she expanded her Artisan Made Co location on Bath Road in July 2021.

“We opened Boutique Grocer in July 2021, and it includes a refillery section,” Collins stated, noting that when she expanded her store, eco-friendly products were in high demand. “Our mission is to help our community reduce single-use plastic consumption by offering the option to reuse and refill household and personal care products.”

“We aim to help people embrace a ‘reduce, reuse, REFILL’ mindset one step at a time,” she continued. “We will be launching a refillery loyalty program in February 2022 to further encourage our community to engage in a more eco-friendly lifestyle.”

Some previously established stores were hit hard with pandemic restrictions. 1000 Islands Soap Company shut down their refill section in early 2020, and just got the okay to resume refillery operations. They anticipate a Feb 1 return for the service.

Jackie Marshall, owner of 1000 Islands Soap Company, reminds customers to ensure their containers are clean and dry. “The products we sell are all-natural with no preservatives. If a container isn’t clean, it could contaminate [the product] or grow bacteria or mould,” she said.

Marshall stated that refill stores are the perfect chance for consumers to try new products. “Buy as little or as much as you wish,” she continued. “Refill shops allow customers to buy as little as one ounce of an unfamiliar product, so you can try it before you commit. If you’re a first-timer, take a lap around the store and explore your options. Want to sniff a scent or test a body-care product? Ask a clerk. These stores are also the perfect place to fill travel-size containers. Even one item saved from a landfill is a win.”

Harlowe Green started as a tiny refillery in Ange Defosse’s home north of Kingston early in the pandemic. According to Defosse, a few months later she was receiving requests to host pop-up events and place her products in local businesses. In December 2021, Defosse took the plunge and opened a physical storefront in downtown Kingston.

“Everything in our refillery is online and can be purchased remotely and in a contactless manner,” Defosse said, noting that for delivery, refill goods are placed in mason jars or compostable paper bags, so single-use plastics are eliminated.

“The mason jars and bags can be brought back to refill or be used in a myriad of other ways than most single-use plastics. In store, you can select a jar or other style of dispenser and fill it, or bring your own container (and have it sanitized) to be weighed and filled,” she continued. “We suggest switching over your products one at a time by using up what you already have at home and switching when you only absolutely need to, to ensure less waste.”

Laurie Davey-Quantick, owner of Verde Alternatives, shared that while they do sell products in refillable containers, the first time a customer makes a purchase of either of their refill product lines, they are required to purchase the container as well. After that, it’s simply a matter of bringing that container back for a refill.

“Currently, in our store, customers must bring back the original container they purchased to refill because we do not have [the space for] the scales necessary for weighing customer containers and to ensure the correct cost is calculated for purchase of a refill,” Davey-Quantick explained.

She describes her downtown storefront as “an environmental general store,” and said that she is behind the refillery movement, even though it presents some challenges for merchants. Besides the requirement for space, Davey-Quantick suggested that not all refillery products are environmentally friendly, and consumers need to do their homework to ensure they are making sound and purposeful decisions with their purchasing.

Go Green Baby is another local store that joined the refillery movement in 2019. “We started the refillery in early 2019 for two reasons; the environment and local access. The big one was knowing that perfectly good containers are being used once and then discarded, even when there was nothing wrong with the container!” expressed Amanda Findley, owner of Go Green Baby.

“We knew that our customers would appreciate the convenience of being able to get refills of their favourite baby care products,” she continued. “Then the pandemic hit, and we briefly paused the program. One of the less talked about supply shortages in those early days was for plastic containers. We had a number of local and Canadian product makers not able to bottle their products and ship them out because containers were nearly impossible to get. Another sign that a change was needed to our systems. Once things started to open back up, we figured out ways we could offer refills, both curbside and more safely in-store.”

Plastic pollution is a very real problem, and all of these proprietors believe that zero-waste is what consumers need to prioritize. According to the Canadian government, only about 9 per cent of plastic waste is recycled in Canada. Many refill stores create a closed-loop packaging system in which the stores send their empty packages back to product manufacturers for refilling and returning to the retail locations.

“We can’t wait for manufactures to be responsible for their waste,” explained Jacquie Rushlow, owner of The Keep Refillery Kingston. “We must take matters into our own hands and make this super simple change. At The Keep, we hold all our manufactures/suppliers responsible for their waste — Meaning, when you refill, we refill. We don’t toss a jug out the back door when it’s empty (and yes, that happens even in refilleries). Instead, we will send it back and have it refilled for us. Otherwise, what the heck is the point!”

By shifting focus from recycling to refilling and reusing, consumers can change the system, one refilled bottle at a time. And with options here in Kingston expanding, keeping containers in use and out of our blue bins and landfills is becoming as simple as saying “Fill it up, please!”

Ted Hsu for MPP
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