Refill stations and zero
In L.A., most of us have some experience purchasing things by weight. Nuts and dried fruit at Sprouts. Last-minute meals from the hot bar at Whole Foods. Weed at the weed store.
At a growing number of places around Los Angeles, there’s a new category of bulk products: personal care and home cleaning items such as hand soap, moisturizer, toothpaste tabs, shampoo, laundry pods and all-purpose cleaner.
They’re called refill stations. Almost all of them are woman-owned small businesses. And they all want you to rethink what a trip to the store looks like.
Here’s how it works: You bring your own containers from home. Glass or plastic are OK, as long as they’re clean. If you forget them, stores offer a few options for sale. Many also have a basket of donated jars from other customers that you can use.
An employee will weigh your container and mark that number, known as the tare. Fill up with as much or as little of a product as you want, then bring it back to be weighed again and pay for what you bought. It’s a great way to sample new products and reduce the amount of plastic packaging you consume.
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People who are accustomed to picking up the cheapest hand soap at a big-box retailer might balk at some of the prices: 40 cents an ounce for unscented hand soap at BYO Long Beach, 25 cents an ounce for dish soap at Re_ Grocery in Mar Vista, $9 for a cube of solid deodorant at the Well Refill. But Julie Darrell, the owner of three BYO (short for Bring Your Own, as in containers) Long Beach refill stations, said it’s “apples and oranges” in terms of what you’re getting. She said all of her products are made with high-quality, environmentally-friendly ingredients and are produced locally by companies that treat their employees well.
“It’s a very different product you’re buying,” she said, comparing it to “voting with your dollars.”
A number of stores now also sell pre-filled “grab and go” containers of the refill products on offer. Darrell said it helps first-time customers get an idea of what they’re meant to do: “A lot of that first visit is about education.”
Ready to try it for yourself? Here are refill stations located around Los Angeles. Happy pumping!