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Why we should all be shopping in refill stores

If you’re looking to reduce single-use plastic, save money and minimise your waste, it’s time to step through the doors of one of Wiltshire’s best refill shops

The world of refills has been quietly bubbling away for a few years, with refill shops popping up on local high streets here and there, piquing the interest of the sustainably minded. If you’re yet to get on board, here’s your need to know.

Inside The Blueberry Den

What is a refill shop?

Also known as zero waste shops, refill shops aim to cut out unnecessary packaging by storing products in large containers which customers fill up their own containers from home with.

You simply weigh your empty container in store, fill it with your product of choice, re-weigh the container once full and pay for what you’ve taken.

They’re making a big difference too, as Tom Bowerman, from the Wild Food Company, a refill shop in Malmesbury, tells us. “Over the last year, we’ve saved over 26,000 pieces of packaging waste, which works out at over 500 a week and over 85 a day based on our six-day opening week.

“We’re only one small shop in a small town so it just goes to show how much of an impact shopping this way can have on saving waste!”

This is a sentiment Wendy and Andrew of The Courtyard Marketplace in Wilton can get on board with. Above the entrance to the refillable Eco Den inside their store a sign reads ‘all it takes is one small change to make a huge difference.’ “Now is the time more than ever to make the necessary swaps to improve the future of our planet,” Wendy says.

What can you buy in refill shops?

More than you might realise! Aside from pasta, rice, dried fruit, nuts and cereal, you can also stock up on made-in-store peanut butter (yum!), porridge, cooking oils, fresh juices, oat milk, tahini and wine, as well as spices.

Cleaning-wise you can refill washing up liquid, hand soap, dishwasher rinse aid, shampoo and laundry products.

“Many people come in thinking that we only offer cleaning products but once they realise that we actually have every possible essential item as a refill, they recognise that moving to zero waste is easier than they think,” says Celeste Skinner who runs Blueberry Den in Salisbury.

What are the benefits of refill shops?

1. Reduced plastic waste

This is the biggie! Refills are a sure-fire way to reduce single-use plastics. “I personally think refills are the easiest and most straightforward way to reduce plastic waste,” says Celeste.

“Everyone uses washing-up liquid, surface cleaner, shampoo, body wash, etc. Once empty, you can just refill the bottles and never have to buy a new one again.”

2. You waste less

“When you’re refilling you can buy as much or as little as you need (perfect for recipes, travelling or to manage your cash flow),” says Celeste.

3. Superior quality goods

“People are often impressed that the quality of everything that they get is so much better,” Celeste says.

4. You can try a little bit of something

How many times have you bought a bottle of shampoo only to find it doesn’t work for your hair, or purchased fabric conditioner then realised you hate the smell? With refill shops you can buy a small amount, try it and then buy a bigger bottle safe in the knowledge it works for you.

Are refill shops more expensive?

Many people are put off refill shops through fear it will end up being costly, but this is the opposite of the case.

“Nearly everything in our shop works out less expensive than buying the same product packaged in a supermarket,” says Tom. “Most customers find they are saving money on their shopping basket with us. A good example would be herbs and spices where the customer can fill up their spice jar for pence.”

Some might be more expensive, Hayley from zero waste shop Packaging Not Included in Marlborough says, but the quality is generally superior. “For example, pasta can be pricier bought from a refill shop but the quality and taste may be worth that little bit extra.”

Are there any downsides to refills?

Only that you need to be a bit more organised and have containers with you to stock up with, but it soon becomes second nature, like taking your reusable bags out shopping with you.

Refilling your containers does take a little longer than grabbing something off the shelf, but the refill element is all part of the fun!

What kind of container can I fill up?

You don’t have to have perfect Tupperware boxes to fill. “People can bring in plastic tubs, tins, glass jars, fabric bags, plastic bags, silicone pouches, metal lunch boxes and take away cups. Anything goes really as long as it’s clean and dry and will fit on the scales,” says Hayley. “Somebody once filled some socks (clean!) with hazelnuts, which was very entertaining!”

Unusual containers are par for the course with refill shops. Tom tells us someone once filled their woolly hat to the brim with pasta and another time a customer asked to have their washing up bowl filled with rice.

“My most memorable containers have to be a ketchup bottle for shampoo and a mayonnaise bottle for conditioner,” Celeste shares. “As long as customers are happy reusing what they have and we label the products correctly, we love every effort towards zero waste.”

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