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Refill Not Landfill: Alaska’s Blue Market AK

Fed up with the amount of trash they witnessed amid Alaska’s natural landscapes and beyond, two Anchorage residents recently opened a zero-waste retail store in the Spenard neighborhood. Calling it an “unpackaged refillery,” the shop, officially known as Blue Market AK, aims to reduce single-use plastics by selling unpackaged, refillable products such as cleaning supplies, personal care items and bulk grocery goods. 

The operation originally started as a cart at local Anchorage farmers markets. Customers could bring their own containers and fill them with locally made lotion, soap, shampoo and laundry detergent. Encouraged by the sales and positive reception at the farmers markets, owners Jennifer Gordon and Jessica Johnson decided to move forward with plans for a retail space, raising $30,000 through crowdfunding measures.

The shop puts a sustainable spin on the classic general store concept with groceries sold alongside other everyday essentials. Inventory changes frequently, but one is likely to find items such as bulk granola, pasta, nuts, and spices as well as a deodorant in biodegradable packaging, bars of soap, bath salts, even compostable toothbrushes. 

The owners attempt to stock as many made-in-Alaska products as possible and estimate local goods make up about a third of their inventory. Each item in the store is displayed with a description of the product’s back story, ingredients, and environmental impact. 

For Gordon, the inspiration for Blue Market AK started when she was on a family sailing trip to Guatemala and noticed just how much trash ends up in our oceans.

“I didn’t think about it at first, but in the tiniest little cove you would find a bottle cap or a plastic bottle cap or a piece of netting or whatever,” she said. “It hit me hard when my 17-year-old son declared one day that he was not planning to ever have children because he didn’t see any point in bringing people into a toxic place…I was shocked to hear this hopelessness from someone so young.”

Johnson’s environmental passion came about in a similar fashion. “As someone who loves nature and the water, I was disturbed by the amount of plastic and garbage I would see along Alaska’s roadways or while SCUBA diving in Hawaii,” she explained. “I started making small strides on a personal level to refuse the plastics and other waste coming into my home.”

Like many other retail outlets, Blue Market AK has had to implement changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re offering online ordering and curbside pickup in an effort to reduce the number of people in the store at any given time. Customers can still bring their own containers, but the staff must handle the refilling per current guidelines. And as part of their phased opening plan, the shop will close briefly in early August and reopen on August 19 with extended hours.

The owners’ vision for the future is to be a one-stop-shop for all things sustainable, and they seem well on their way to attaining that goal. They hope to partner with more local makers as well as eventually offer workshops and lectures in the store.

As the owners point out on their website, disposables and even recyclables never go away, and thus end up in landfills or in the ocean. Blue Market AK hopes to change the way we shop by promoting a “refill, not landfill” consumer mentality. By refusing goods with plastic packaging, and encouraging reuse of already existing containers, the owners are doing their part to nudge their community toward “a simpler, friendlier, slower paced lifestyle”—and one that also happens to be sustainable.

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