Reuse & Refill: 3 Zero-Waste Shops to Know

June 14, 2023 | Published by Julie Buchanan

Reduce, reuse and recycle. It’s been the mantra for years.

Many of us are in the habit of recycling. We toss cans, bottles, cardboard and more into a container that is regularly emptied for us. The material is then recycled into new items, often through a chemical process.

When it comes to the age-old concepts of reducing and reusing, however, we’ve had a tougher time adapting.

Blame it on the convenience of modern-day life — goods are easy to buy and use briefly, then throw away.

According to the EPA, packaging alone makes up 28% of our municipal solid waste.

In the Richmond area, eco-conscious entrepreneurs are working to change that. They’re operating businesses based on the reuse and refill business model. This involves customers reusing containers that they bring back to refill again and again.

The model works with a variety of goods, from cleaning products to food. It minimizes waste and moves us toward a circular economy in which goods and materials are reused and repurposed. Prices are based on the amount of product purchased, minus the weight of the container.

It’s good for the environment and the economy. About 1,300 reuse and refill shops are operating in the U.S.

The business owners below all started as mail-order or pop-up shops. They switched career paths entirely to fulfill their dreams of helping others adopt zero-waste habits.

Through word of mouth and social media, each has expanded to brick-and-mortar stores, where every day they introduce new people to the reuse and refill concept.

Eco Inspired
2624 Buford Road, Bon Air 23235

Eryn Cook started her zero-waste journey years ago while living in New Jersey. Shopping at a co-op, Cook would bring her own refillable containers to buy household cleaning products.

“I was on a budget, so I only bought small amounts,” said the 37-year-old. “Then I started looking at other ways I could reduce my waste.”

Refill and reuse became a passion that Cook — who spent years working in college athletics — decided to turn into a business. She launched Eco Inspired in June 2021, selling plant-based and cruelty-free shampoos, laundry detergents and more.

As soon as she made her first sale, she knew this was going to work.

“There is a real appetite for these products,” Cook said. “People want to support something bigger than themselves. They want to support local and women-owned businesses. They want to use less and buy less.”

After running Eco Inspired as a popup for nearly two years, Cook recently opened a storefront in the Bon Air Shopping Center. She’s excited about reaching customers who haven’t previously considered reuse and refill.

“If people just start with one item, like dish soap or hand soap, then they’ll come back for other products. One small change leads to other changes.”

Less Than
1 N. Lombardy St., Richmond 23220 | 4740 Commonwealth Center Pkwy., Booth G5, Midlothian 23112 (inside Painted Tree Boutiques)

Chris Simmonds started Less Than three years ago at the height of the pandemic. The goal was to provide sustainable alternatives for the non-food staples people typically buy at the grocery store.

The first shop opened in Norfolk, and today there are six locations — including two in the Richmond area.

Less Than refill stations allow customers to fill their own containers with eco-friendly products for the kitchen, laundry and bathroom. The stores also offer a variety of goods made from non-plastic materials, such as deodorant, ear swabs and toothbrushes.

“Once people come in, they’re kind of shocked to see something they’ve only seen in larger, denser types of areas,” Simmonds said. “They’re excited.”

Locating near college campuses and within walkable neighborhoods has helped Less Than reach its core customers.

“Consumers are realizing they don’t have to buy what big-box stores are selling,” Simmonds said. “What Less Than is doing is bringing sustainable goods to the neighborhood level. More and more people are interested in coming in and seeing what we’re about.”

Sun Theory
1321 ½ E. Main St., Richmond 23219

Megan Althoff started Sun Theory five years ago based on a love of DIY candle making. Sun Theory’s hand-poured candles are non-toxic and phthalate-free. The flat, cotton wicks are also free of zinc and lead.

“I love making candles,” Althoff said. “It’s very therapeutic.”

Soon after launching the business from a Fan District apartment, Althoff realized that offering a refill service would be an eco-friendly move — and keep local customers returning for the natural soy wax candles they love.

Since 2020, Sun Theory has refilled more than 500 candles.

Althoff will also upcycle other containers into one-of-a-kind candles.

“It doesn’t even have to be a vessel from me,” Althoff said. “If they bring it in, I will turn it into a candle. It’s really fun, and people get a kick out of it.”

Refill prices are based on container volume.

Althoff began selling candles at popup events and markets between Charlottesville and Williamsburg. Today, Althoff shares a storefront in downtown Richmond with Maven Made, a plant-based skincare and fragrance shop owned and operated by Bethany Frazier.

With a good deal of customer overlap, the two will join their brands this summer, creating a new line called Maven Theory.

Maven Theory candles will be available for refill.

“We even have a refill program for local businesses where we will pick up empties and replace with a new candle for them to burn in their space,” Althoff said.

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