Combating climate change one refill at a time

Denver-based refill shops provide a local solution to a global issue

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David Rouse notices that the city is changing. He is a Denver native and has seen a trend that has come alongside the city’s growing population: an accumulation of landfill waste.

“Trash is becoming more apparent and there’s pollution in the streets,” said Rouse, co-owner of Off the Bottle refill shop located in Capitol Hill.

Refill shops provide a solution to landfill waste

Single-use plastic waste is a growing problem in the United States. Research using a variety of online sources reveal that an estimated 700 million plastic laundry detergent jugs, 550 million shampoo bottles, 2 billion disposable razors and one billion spray cleaning bottles are thrown away annually. Because of recycling accessibility gaps — combined with a lack of understanding of how to recycle and confusion about acceptable recycling materials — many of these plastics end up in landfills and pollute the environment, including waterways.

Some Denver businesses have come up with a solution: refill shops. These stores provide customers an opportunity to bring their own containers and refill household goods such as liquid laundry detergent, shampoos and conditioners, and more. Refill products are sold by weight and customers are asked to bring their own containers or, depending on the store, may purchase refillable containers onsite. In addition to refillable products, customers can also find environmentally-friendly alternatives to typical home goods, like bamboo-handled toothbrushes, stainless steel razors, beeswax food wrap and cosmetics packaged in cardboard or bamboo, for a few examples.

More people equals more waste

With Denver’s growing population, business partners Rouse and Daniel Landes wanted to be a part of the solution to the amount of waste sent to the landfill. They have supported sustainable living and earth-conscious lifestyles for more than 20 years, so opening Off the Bottle in June 2021 fell right in line with their beliefs. A refill shop was an opportunity to share their passion with the community and educate Denver residents on how to reduce landfill waste through alternative options for daily living, Rouse said.

Along with the refill portion of the store, Off the Bottle provides a Freecycle program that allows customers to donate containers for others to use. This provides opportunities for individuals who might be passing by and want to participate in the refill program, but do not have a container handy.

Rouse and Landes try to keep their carbon footprint low by purchasing their stock locally, thus offering many Colorado-based products in their store. All products are plant-based, vegan and palm-oil free.

Rouse researches every product and examines all the ingredients in every product to ensure that everything sold at Off the Bottle aligns with his and Landes’ beliefs.

“The earth is in such a state of turmoil,” Rouse said. “It is better to do what we can to offer products that are of high quality (and) provide something that doesn’t wreak havoc on the environment.”

Rouse added that the location of the shop, 220 E. 13th Ave., provides a unique opportunity to cater to the neighborhood. Capitol Hill is a densely populated area filled with apartment buildings that often do not provide recycling, he said.

“Our store brings accessibility to the community for eco-friendly alternatives,” Rouse said, including “those who do not have the option to recycle … where it isn’t provided.”

‘People just want to make a difference’

Like Rouse and Landes, Brittany Iseli’s passion for the environment led to the opening of Joy Fill, 4340 W. 35th Ave. in Denver, in spring of 2018.

Iseli wanted to bring something novel to the area that would allow people to cut down on their plastic waste. She believes Joy Fill has had success in Denver because “people just want to make a difference on a personal level, in terms of lowering carbon footprint and plastic use.”

Joy Fill sells local products and client-favorite brands, and Iseli recently launched Joyfill-branded products that include laundry and dish detergent, hand soap and bubble bath. Iseli hopes to expand the brand to include more personal care products such as body wash and lotion.

The advantage of selling a store brand allows for keen oversight on how products are made, as well as being able to offer them at a lower price, Iseli said.

But Joy Fill’s expansion doesn’t stop there — launching in the near future will be an expanded delivery subscription program.

A customer’s perspective

Melissa Colonno, of Denver’s City Park West neighborhood, has been practicing a focused, intentional interest in zero waste for about seven years.

It started when her first child was born — Colonno began to question her actual need of things that her family, other parents and society were telling her that she needed to raise her child. This sparked a curiosity in using cloth diapers, which is where the journey began.

Colonno is now a regular refill customer at Joy Fill. This lifestyle allows her to focus on buying what she truly needs, rather than allowing others to influence her purchasing power, she said.

By patronizing refill stores, Denver residents can help conserve the local landscape while also making practical purchases and buying only the quantity that is needed.

“In addition to the environmental impacts, it is practical because you can buy the amount you need, rather than a full bottle,” Colonno said. And, she said, “it’s a great way to try out new products in small quantities.”

Refill shops: the answer to the climate crisis

Carrie Martin-Haley joined the refill shop community as a business owner in fall of 2020 with Summit Sustainable Goods, a virtual refill shop with the opportunity for purchasing in person at pop-ups, farmers markets and the collective at Made to Last in Lakewood.

“I see the climate crisis as being the most dangerous thing we need to address as a society,” said Martin-Haley.

While weighing the options of how to make a difference in the community, she decided a refill store would give her the opportunity to educate the community about things people can do individually to make a more sustainable environment.

Martin-Haley believes the Denver market has an appreciation and responsibility for the environment — particularly because of its access to the mountains and outdoor adventures.

“Being able to support that through everyday endeavors can make a difference in something that we love so much as a community,” Martin-Haley said. She recommends making one product switch at a time. “Start with something you are passionate about. This excitement will branch out to other products and practices.”

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