The Refill Shop: Here are the Pros and Cons

Refilling stations are popping up across the city, giving consumers a better alternative to shopping and introducing some to the zero waste lifestyle. But is it the end-all and be-all solution to the increasing volume of trash in Metro Manila?
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Lauren Singer, founder of eco-sustainability bible Trash is for Tossers, was the first person to introduce me to the concept of “zero waste.” She is a New York-based Environmental Studies graduate who has lived the zero waste life for over 7 years. By zero waste, she means: “No sending anything to the landfill, no throwing anything in a trash can, nothing.”

I started integrating zero waste practices into my life in 2014. It is through Lauren I learned how to love sustainable fashion and modern apothecary. She taught me how to shop in wet markets as well as create compost bins. Because of Lauren, I had a newfound appreciation for gardening, cruelty-free skin care products, and vegan dishes.

But I’d be lying to say the journey isn’t tough. Unlike Lauren, I wasn’t making zero waste. I was still throwing out plastic egg containers and scrambling for ways to recycle my lotion bottles. Plus, given that most of Lauren’s recommendations for refillery shops were based in a faraway city, I admitted defeat.

I believed that making the full switch to zero waste in the Philippines would be impossible.

The Rise of the Refillery

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Refill with us at Powerplant til Sunday!

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Just when I thought living in our country would spell doom for my environmental advocacies, I was proven wrong.

The very first zero waste shop that I knew of was Ritual which, to my surprise, has been open since 2012. It is a short walk from the MRT, the Ayala bus stop, as well as from Greenbelt and New World Hotel. Just like refill shops anywhere else in the world, plastic packaging is a no-no. You can purchase locally made bath products and buy grains in bulk. Cleopatra’s Secret is for skin care fanatics. They have handcrafted, affordable products where you can bring your empty containers for a quick face wash refill.

For South girls like me, we have options, too. All Things Hair PH refills used shampoo and conditioners for a lower price (just note that they only do so for the exact same type of shampoo and conditioner from Unilever brands). They have stalls in Glorietta, TriNoma, and Alabang Town Center. Refuse is also a great option. It’s located in Alabang Town Center as well, inside Pop Culture. They carry the best-smelling hand and body scrubs I’ve ever tried.

Wala Usik sari-sari store was recently launched in Negros Occidental. This store is enough proof that zero waste stores need not be fancy and expensive. With refill shelves for soy sauce, vinegar, and asin, shopping here with your reusable containers can be your little contribution to preserving the environment.

The Pros

You not only reduce your waste with refilling stations, but you also scale back on the spending and pay only for what you can afford
Image from the Facebook page of Refuse

With more and more shops putting up refill options for customers, it’s good to know what good it does for you, the company, and the environment:

  1. Packaging and food waste reduction

Perhaps the most obvious advantage refill shops have is reducing their waste production by diverting trash that goes to landfills. They also give consumers the opportunity to shop smart because this way, you’ll be buying exactly how much you need instead of throwing away excess product. Food stays fresher this way, too.

  1. It’s cheaper

Compared to buying items at your local supermarket, shopping for bulk goods is way cheaper. Most of the time, famous brands with fancy packaging price their goods higher than those at refill stores. Also, businesses often offer discounts for those who bring their own containers.

  1. Minimized transport costs

For businesses, loading goods in bulk means less transportation costs. Packaging can take more space and add a significant amount of weight to cargo. When you ship products in bulk, however, you can pack items more densely.

  1. It’s personal and interactive

Based from experience, buying products in bulk is extremely satisfying. It nurtures a real connection with your food, letting me appreciate every single thing I buy, down to the pea. I’m also eager to organize them the moment I get home and store them in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

The Cons

You may overestimate your need for food and pantry needs and buy in bulk; spoilage may occur because the products aren’t in airtight containers
Image from the Facebook page of SWEEP: Sea Waste Education to Eradicate Plastic

Just as with anything with benefits, refill stations have their disadvantages, too:

  1. Increased risks of spoilage

If you shopped for food and you accidentally buy more than what you intended to buy, you’re more likely to waste than save. Since they aren’t wrapped in air-tight packaging, food bought in bulk can easily go bad, especially if you didn’t refrigerate or freeze it immediately.

  1. Overestimating your storage

It’s important to look through your kitchen and bathroom first before heading out to a refill store. This ensures you aren’t buying too much things that you don’t have room for (and might end up throwing anyway).

  1. Picky stores

Some shops are very particular with the packaging you use for refills, so what’s the point of bringing your own containers? Be sure a store you’re visiting allows you to use your own containers so that you can avoid purchasing new ones.

Although it’s a small act, purchasing your personal products from refill shops is ten steps forward into practicing the zero waste lifestyle. With enough research, trials-and-errors, as well as a bit of courage, you’ll have enough beans in your (reusable) bag to make the switch.

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