That WaPo Article About Refilleries Missed The Forest For the Trees

That WaPo Article About Refilleries Missed The Forest For the Trees

Yeah, I'm a little salty about this article in WaPo that's EVERYWHERE in the refill/eco-friendly/plastic-free sphere. I made a Reel today addressing some issues with the claims in the piece, but if you know me at all, you know I love a good take-apart, so let's go. 

(If you just want the 90 second, tl;dr version, catch the reel!) 

The writer's main issues with Refilleries seem to be:

1. Price
2. Location of the store itself 
3. Being "forced" (author's words!) to use certain jars
4. That it took a long time. 

And to that I say: you are sorta incorrect, you definitely did *not* ask (or maybe you did and those questions didn't make the cut) for additional information, and you have missed the bigger picture, my friend. 

Alrighty, *cracks knuckles* let's go. 

1. Refillery Prices 

Some items at a refill or eco-shop might be more expensive than traditional products, yes.

There are a few reasons for this: many traditional products can be made at much larger scales, at very low wages, with little environmental regard. Refill products are, usually, made with higher quality ingredients (and more of them), by people paid fairly, and stick to strict rules about what can go in the products.

Refill products have higher quality ingredients, often, and are more concentrated, making them last longer because you don't need to use as much to get the same clean.

Some items are the same price or cheaper. The writer seems stuck on the cost of Dip shampoo and conditioner, comparing it to Tresemme. No shade to Tresemme or anyone who uses it, but Dip advertises itself as a salon-quality product. Salon-quality haircare is more expensive than traditional drugstore products, regardless of brand.

If Dip isn't in your budget, there are other brands of bar shampoo and conditioners, at a variety of price points. 

The author says 8 items cost her $66.43, and that included a "pricey" tea, toothpaste tabs, pasta, detergent, shampoo, and conditioner. I hate to be THAT GUY, but I've definitely spent $66 or more on a quick cleaning product, pantry, or freezer restock for about the same amount of items. 

2. Location of the refill store. 

No, the store is not in the middle of the city. Have you SEEN storefront rents in walkable areas? Many small businesses- most, I'd say- cannot afford astronomical rents on products that do not have huge margins. These are not corporate shops that can afford to operate on a razor thin margin for a few months, or be supported by a nation-wide network of stores, or operate at a loss for an extended period.

These are stores owned by people in the community (who live and spend money in the community!) not mega-corporations, therefore, they seek out places that are affordable, which is not going to be in the middle of DC.

Instead, try to consider it like a trip to Costco- you go when you need a bunch of stuff and stock up- rather than treating it like a mid-week grocery run. \

3. Being FORCED to use certain containers at the refillery. 

These are the author's words, not mine: I didn’t think of this beforehand and was forced to pump dish soap into a small Mason jar. The mental image of this makes me chuckle, having met scores of refillery owners and employees, I don't think any of them have FORCED a customer to use a product, although they may make suggestions for the type of product. The author's tone at being told to "slowly" pour quinoa because "it bounces," makes it seem like the shop owner is chastising the shopper, rather than sharing a "refill/bulk best practice." 

The author later seems embarrassed that she brought plastic containers to refill, rather than glass.

And to that I say: no one cares. We're happy you're trying refill. Maybe plastic makes more sense if you live in a home with children. It's lighter than glass, maybe you have a long walk. Maybe you've been reusing the same plastic spray bottle for ages. Maybe that's what you had on hand. Maybe you're just not into glass jars.

Whatever. No one cares, we're just glad you're there. (And most refilleries, including this one, will happily offer you a clean and sterilized glass jar to use and keep or return.

Comments on the original article mention that we should have a "milkman" model for refill and to that I say, hello, we do. So do other refilleries. I'd love your empties back.  And delivery is free within 3 miles of Wheaton Metro.) 

4.That shopping at the refillery took a long time.

I will give the author this: yes, filling bulk products is a bit slower than grabbing a box off of a shelf. I'm positive there's a learning curve in a new store, especially one where you have to weigh an empty container, fill it yourself, get assistance, etc. Going to any new grocery store is an adjustment, honestly! They moved a bunch of stuff in my local Safeway months ago and I still forget where the items are now.

To this I say: so? First of all, the author was being paid to be there, was brand new to refill, and asking questions for her article, so it took as long as it took- which would DEFINITELY be longer than the third, fourth, or fifth refill trip.  

Secondly, I know we love fast, convenient, and cheap...but is there really anything *wrong* with having a slower shopping experience? Asking a shop owner for a recommendation or tips? Talking with other shoppers?

This is how we build community. Not by ordering on Amazon and getting our things delivered to our doorstep.

I understand being in a hurry, but presumably the author is not. And like my Costco analogy...sometimes you have to go shopping and just KNOW it's going to take extra time and plan accordingly. (I have been on Costco on a Saturday afternoon. I promise, having a slightly longer experience ruins nothing.)


There are many reasons people may choose to shop at Refilleries, such as: 

  • Refill store products are often made without synthetic fragrances/additives/questionable ingredients that are in traditional products. Someone with allergies, an illness, a nursing or pregnant person, etc., may choose to refill, even at a higher cost, rather than deal with skin irritation or potential issues with pregnancy/nursing. 
  • Many eco-shop products are cheaper in the long run, such as Swedish dish towels, or even bulk items, where you only pay for the jar once and refill over and over. 
  • Plastic sucks. It's everywhere and it's bad for all living things. Our local shoppers are trying to reduce consumption of all things, but especially plastics. Refill shops offer plastic-free alternatives that are better for the planet and better for us. 
  • They want to contribute to a circular economy, where products are kept in circulation longer and disposed of less. Shoppers may value the low-waste ethics of refill shops. 
  • Shopping at refilleries and eco-shops builds a larger market for those type of products, which will make them more accessible and affordable in the long run. Good ideas can take time to catch on. This might be one of those times. 
  • Shoppers may enjoy learning more about low-waste, plastic-free living, where their products come from, and connecting with others or attending events (many at refilleries!) and ENJOY the slower pace of shopping and opportunity to build community. 
  • They want to be mindful and conscious consumers, buying only what they need and nothing extra. They may want to support local businesses over big-box stores and online ordering. (If no one shops at local shops, they will close. That's how it goes.) 

To sum up, the benefits of refilling are about a way of life, not necessarily saving a few bucks. 

In the capitalist world, we have to use our dollars to build the world we want to live in. And for many of us, it is a world that isn't trying to be the fastest, cheapest, and most impersonable. It's a world with less waste, with more thoughtful consumption, more community, and more locally owned businesses, rather than big box stores.

Note: The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns Amazon. Do with this info what you will.