The fight against single-use plastic waste is ongoing and requires innovative solutions to keep it out of landfills. Although the U.S. has recycling programs, not every piece of plastic ends up at a sorting center. However, a new retail style has emerged as a possible solution: the refillery. They are what they sound like, a store where shoppers can refill empty bottles with shampoo, soap, conditioner, and in some cases, dry foods.
One in Arizona, aptly named Desert Refillery, is working tirelessly to promote refilling in cities like Phoenix and Flagstaff. Tiffany and Kyle Skoyen opened the store in 2021 to raise awareness about the benefits of reusing plastic bottles. “When our eyes were opened to it, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is something we would love to shop at,’ so we started doing research and were like, this is something that Phoenix needs,” Tiffany said.
What started as a mobile refilling station, they would set up at farmers’ markets eventually became a full-fledged shop in Phoenix. Through strategic partnerships with like-minded businesses, the Skoyens can offer various locally-sold products like biodegradable toothbrushes, wool dryer balls, and cutlery.
As Desert Refillery expands its outreach to other businesses in Arizona, they are tapping into more locally-made, sustainable goods. The most recent partnership is with Peak Scents, a Flagstaff-based shop that makes skincare with plant-infused therapies.
The store’s big claim to fame is creating a natural sunscreen line designed to protect rafters without using alcohol, parabens, and artificial chemicals.
Peak Scents already had a solid refilling program in the store, so it made sense to partner with Desert Refillery to expand the line of refillable products. A shopper can get their receptacle sanitized and refilled with the item of choice. It’s an efficient way of reducing plastic while heavily emphasizing the reuse portion of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Desert Refillery even writes blogs on its website to teach consumers how to sanitize bottles at home properly.
A big draw of refilleries is that they address a major recycling roadblock: not every plastic bottle can be recycled. Every city has its distinct waste management program, and contamination is a big problem. This dilemma causes more bottles to be thrown away. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75% of the waste produced in America is recyclable, yet only 34% is placed in the correct bins and properly sorted. From there, 25% of all plastics end up contaminated.
While recycling is essential, Tiffany sees reusing as making a real impact. “You don’t have to be zero waste to make a difference. If everybody refilled one bottle a year, that’s a huge difference,” she said. “That’s millions of bottles diverted from the landfill.” Refilleries make this prospect more accessible. As the concept gains momentum around the world, there are sure to be more stores and partnerships like the one between Desert Refillery and Peak Scents popping up.