I remember thinking while I was living in my shoebox apartment in NYC, and again when I was living in the back of a van in New Zealand, “I wish I could just refill my shampoo bottles.” Trying to find utility in empty plastic bottles is cumbersome, and the containers just get thrown away most of the time. I was first exposed to refilleries while working at an eco-store in the small town of Raglan, New Zealand. My savings had run dry, and I was lucky enough to land a job at the Herbal Dispensary while crashing in my employer’s spare room. The Herbal Dispensary carries innovative eco-friendly makeup and home accessories, but many of the products can have a large price tag. Expensive green-washed products and whitewashed marketing can make mainstream environmentalism inaccessible and painfully exclusive. However, the idea of refilling empty containers totally captured my imagination. Although the refillery products were all eco-friendly, they were by and large more affordable. Buying bulk kept prices low because wholesale purchases could forgo packaging and labeling costs.
Customers seemed excited about the refillery portion of the store, however, this feature comes with several inconveniences. Patrons must remember their own jars and haul them around. They also need to know the process and understand the weighing and taring procedure — not to mention that refilling is time-consuming and messy. By the time I left Herbal Dispensary, I was enamored with small businesses. I saw first hand the power for good local creators and shops bring to communities, and I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.
I made my way back to Utah right before the pandemic closed down the world. Salt Lake City is home to a beautiful community, but I must admit, I was wary of coming back. I was terrified to sink my teeth into any new project, and reestablish roots. There is a divide here that can be suffocating. A divide between outdoor enthusiasts, and those who have never felt welcome in the scene, or had the means to accumulate gear. A divide between Mormons and non-Mormons, and between the “good side of 7th East” and the “bad side.” I had learned, however, that these divisions bled outside of my little Salt Lake City bubble. Environmentalism is branded to a narrow group of people. It sometimes screams a holier-than-thou ethos, rather than cultivate a sense of camaraderie. Too often main-stream environmentalism excludes people of color, and social justice issues from the narrative. We know that the most vulnerable among us will suffer the most severely from global warming, and it is past time we bring their voices to the table. Foster’s Refillery strives to do our part to help flip the script.