It is no secret that ethical shopping starts with taking care of the planet, which means going plastic-free. As companies begin to rethink how they package their products to reduce plastic consumption, they can look to refill shops for inspiration. Refill shops use a business model where customers return and refill plastic-free containers with various products such as household cleaning products, dish soap, and laundry detergent. Some refill shops have even taken it a step further, including Berkeley’s very own FillGood.co that opened in the spring of 2019 and is one of the only refill shops in the East Bay.
They carry refill options for basic household items such as cleaners, detergents, and soaps, as well as makeup, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer. The shop also carries sustainable products to get your zero-waste journey started, such as beeswax wraps, cloth bags, and dinnerware. FillGood.co works to select cruelty-free, nontoxic, (some vegan!) and organic products to ensure that what they carry aligns with their values. Not only does FillGood.co offer amazing products, but they also go the extra mile by refusing and reducing waste within their own business, closing the waste loop. In this interview, FillGood founder, Stéphanie Regni shares more about the FillGood shop and philosophy. Stéphanie is an advocate for a low-waste lifestyle, steering away from the “throwaway culture” norm that locks us into collecting more waste and reducing our quality of life.
A: How did your zero-waste and reuse journey begin?
S: It started a little bit after moving here from France in 2015. I remember seeing a video of a turtle with a straw in its nose—I think it was 2015—and something happened when I saw that. I started learning more about plastic pollution in the ocean. I saw pictures of what was happening with the North Pacific gyre and I was shocked. For me, plastic was recyclable and recycled. The more I learned about the plastics crisis, the more I realized that plastic wasn’t recycled at all, it was shipped to China and Asia where it ended up in the environment and in the water.
At that time, I decided to just start with a few things to see what I was able to do to reduce our plastic use for our family (my husband and two kids). Little by little, I became very interested in the topic, and I did more than a few zero waste items.
A: What inspired you to open your business?
S: Because I had been through these changes at home, at some point, I realized it’s not that complicated: you just have to change your habits and change the products that you buy. I thought that zero-waste information should be more accessible to people and more visible. I was looking for a job, and I really wanted to work for a company with a zero-waste mission, but I couldn’t find something that I was really excited about. Then I took a class at Recology for three days with NCRA, and I realized that there was no refill store in the East Bay. I came home that day, and I said to my husband, “I think I want to start a business like this one.”
A: How does the fillgood.co service work?
S: It all started online in 2017, a refill service with home delivery and pickup locations. The idea was to be like the milkman for everyday products that people need like laundry detergent, dish soap, shampoo, etc. In addition to that, we opened a store in Albany in April 2019 to allow people to reuse their own containers and refill them with our products.
FillGood is a certified California Green Business: having a minimal environmental impact is a top priority. For example, to reduce the impact of home delivery, orders are grouped and delivered weekly. Wednesdays in Berkeley, Fridays in San Francisco, etc. People return their empties when they get a new order, and we reuse everything we can: delivery bags, tags, jars, shipping materials from our suppliers, etc. We also have a range of products with no packaging at all like shampoo bars, bar soaps, and other options for people to reduce even more single-use plastics. Finally, we work with our suppliers to eliminate disposable plastic from our supply chain.
A: What challenges have you encountered in the refill business?
S: The biggest challenge is to create closed-loop systems for the bulk products we sell. To me, a refill business only makes sense if we are able to return the empty bulk containers to our suppliers to be cleaned and refilled. It’s like a double looped system. I want to be able to offer eco-friendly products made by brands that support this idea. It took about 2 years to find the perfect match. At first, we managed to reuse and donate all our large containers, instead of sending them to recycling. But now, thanks to brands like Meliora, Puretergent, Oneka, and LAMissApple, all these containers are reused again and again for the same purpose. Refill, Reuse, Repeat!
A: What makes FillGood products unique and unlike items sold in a traditional marketplace or store?
S: The difference is that people don’t end up with single-use plastic packaging. Instead, their containers can be refilled again and again in the store, or via pick-up and delivery. This means it’s a 100% reuse system compared to the traditional “buy/throw away” model. I strongly believe in reuse business models because I believe it’s the best way to conserve energy and resources and create a sustainable world.
A: What does zero-waste mean for FillGood?
S: I cannot say that we are zero waste, we still have a trash can; but as a low waste company, we take responsibility for the waste generated by our business, and we do everything we can to have a minimal impact on the environment. We don’t cut corners, and we focus on Refuse, Reduce and Reuse.
A: What has been the most rewarding part of running your business so far?
S: Our customers are the best! It’s always a pleasure to chat with them when they come to the store. They understand our mission. They are conscious about their habits and are committed to reducing waste. At first, when you start your zero waste journey, you feel isolated because it’s so different from the mass consumption system we live in. It’s very inspiring to be in contact with like-minded people, it helps us move forward!
A: What advice do you have for people trying to reduce their waste?
S: What I always tell people is to start. It’s overwhelming, it’s a lot of changes, but don’t overthink it. Just start somewhere. Start with something that looks easy to do, do it, and once it’s done, take another step. It’s a one by one process so start with the low hanging fruits. I totally understand: I was overwhelmed when I started. The word zero-waste is intimidating because it says “zero,” when in fact, how many people are truly zero waste? Instead, I think people should talk about a low-waste lifestyle.
A: What do you say to people who might think that recycling is enough?
S: This is a tough discussion because we are going against decades of misinformation about plastic recycling. I tell them to watch The Story of Plastic (watch with us on July 30), or read some of my favorite resources such as National Geographic’s issue on Plastic Pollution that have really shocking pictures and lots of facts and numbers.
A: At the Ecology Center Helpdesk I answer many questions about the recyclability of products and whether or not they end up in the landfill anyway. I always circle back to emphasize that people should try to reuse that product or refuse it in the first place. If it’s so difficult to dispose of it, maybe we should rethink having it in the first place.
S: That’s excellent advice because people are still very confused about recycling, and we can’t blame them. Finding reusable and plastic-free alternatives to single-use has made my life so much easier!
How to get your refills from FillGood.co?
S: You can either place an order on the website and get a home delivery, or shop in our Berkeley store and refill your own containers and bottles. We moved to a new location in August 2020, at 1579A Solano ave, Berkeley. In the store, people have access to more than 50 different products in bulk!
A: Thank you Stéphanie for taking the time to speak with me and share your knowledge about zero-waste. Inspired to go plastic-free this July? Invest in eco-friendly, zero-waste solutions at FillGood! Stay connected with FillGood by following them on Facebook and Instagram.