Nearly all of your household products (think: liquid dish soap, laundry detergent, disinfectant spray, window cleaner) are packaged in plastic. After you use up the solution that's in the bottles, those single-use items often add to the millions of tons of plastic dumped into landfills each year. Even if you diligently sort out recyclables from your trash, some of these materials end up in landfills anyway.
To combat plastic waste from household products, some small businesses around the country are offering a more sustainable alternative.
Jamie Nicolino Bottle refill station at THE COLLECTIVE, a sustainable supply company in Des Moines, Iowa.
Bottle refill shops (also sometimes called zero-waste stores) help you skip plastic altogether by providing refill stations for household essentials such as soaps, detergents, cleaners, and more. The products are sold by weight, and you can typically purchase glass vessels in-store or bring in your own containers to fill up.
These plastic-free, zero-waste stores have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, and now you can find sustainability-focused shops all over the United States, including locations in Missouri, Minnesota, New Jersey, and California. Jamie Nicolino, owner of THE COLLECTIVE, a sustainable supply company in Des Moines, Iowa, says her primary goal is to spread awareness about the products we use in our homes and what happens to those containers once they're empty.
Jamie Nicolino THE COLLECTIVE, a bottle refill shop in Des Moines, Iowa.
Her shop's bulk refill station is stocked with household cleaners, including dish soap, laundry detergent, and cleaning spray, as well as personal products such as shampoo, conditioner, hand soap, lotions, and powdered toothpaste and face masks. Each product is vegan, cruelty-free, and typically derived from natural ingredients. Shoppers can bring in containers from home or choose one from the "jar library," a selection of donated containers that Nicolino washes before adding to the shelf.
As consumers, we have a lot of power. If we choose not to purchase single-use items, companies have to do something about it.
Nicolino hopes bottle refill shops will contribute to broader changes in the household product industry. "As consumers, we have a lot of power," she says. "If we choose not to purchase single-use items, companies have to do something about it."
The concept of single-use plastic is fairly new, as the trend toward synthetic materials emerged out of necessity around the mid-century. After the invention of plastic in 1869, the industry began ramping up during the World War II era, when production in the U.S. jumped 300%. During wartime, plastic provided a synthetic alternative when natural resources were scarce.
Afterward, plastic use became more a matter of convenience as the industry worked to keep up with growing families and working parents in the 1950s, Nicolino says. Americans increasingly turned to single-use plastics as an inexpensive, sanitary, easily accessible alternative to paper or glass packaging.
But that convenience could prove costly, as plastic waste (which can take hundreds of years to break down) mounts in landfills and oceans. "At some point, we lost sight of what's important, which is the world around us," Nicolino says.
Although it might seem daunting to give up plastic completely, bottle refill shops are a great place to start cutting back on your use of disposable packaging. Nicolino notes that you don't have to live a 100% zero-waste lifestyle to make more environmentally responsible shopping choices.
"Even the littlest changes can make a difference, whether it's bringing your own reusable straw or buying refillable dish soap," Nicolino says. "As long as you're doing something, you’re making a difference."