Choice: the key to consumer waste reduction

When my business partner, Dax, and I decided to open Refill Therapy in 2021 we were motivated by two things: reducing food waste and tackling the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives.

We’ve always believed that choice is central to empowering our customers to make small changes for the better. The strength of our business two years on is testament to how much customers value choice when trying to shop in more environmentally friendly ways.

The concept of our shop was actually inspired by my business partner’s six-year-old son. He raised concerns about the staggering amount of plastic waste the family was creating in daily life, but when they tried to cut down on single-use plastics, it became quickly apparent it was no easy feat. Many food items and household essentials are packaged in plastic. So, we decided to take matters into our own hands, and create a shop dedicated to being entirely plastic-free.

Our customers bring their own containers to fill with whatever they need from our shop, from shampoo to flour and everything in between, thereby eradicating the need for single-use plastics. We also wanted to create a space where customers can shop mindfully – hence the name Refill Therapy. We want people to think intentionally about what they need for their household and purchase the amount of product they will actually use; this significantly reduces their food waste and their ecological footprint.

This is where the element of choice comes in. You can preach to people to reduce plastic waste as much as you want, but if going green means having to completely change which foods and products you buy, that really isn’t feasible. What’s sustainable for the planet also has to be sustainable for your lifestyle, after all.

We want our customers to find items that align with their values and their wallets

That’s why we’re curating a diverse range of products that cater to various budgets and preferences. For example, we stock organic loose beans you can pour into your own container alongside a more affordable canned option. We want our customers to find items that align with their values and their wallets. We also take pride in offering premium products that come with captivating backstories, ranging from cashew nuts sourced from small-scale farmers in Goa to kombucha which comes straight from a local brewery here in Hackney.

We actively seek out local makers and producers to build connections within our community. In addition to our locally sourced kombucha, our vegan cheeses are made by local artisans and our coffee comes from roasters in Leytonstone, who personally deliver the beans by bike. These partnerships not only enhance our product range but also contribute to the local economy and reduce transportation emissions.

We’ve found that choice has been essential to us as a business too, and never more so than through online wholesale marketplace Faire. As any small business owner knows, cash flow is a constant concern for SMEs, and Faire’s generous 60-day payment terms have made a big difference to how creatively we stock the shop. We are able to get stock and pay for it once we’ve sold it. This has empowered us to experiment with alternative options – such as liquid shampoos versus bar shampoos – meaning we can trial them with our customers and gauge demand before committing to larger orders. This flexibility not only reduces the risk of excess inventory and unwanted waste, but also allows us to respond to customer demand effectively and dynamically.

Our journey is far from over, and we’re always looking to expand our range of products and price-points, as well as venturing to new locations to bring sustainable shopping to as many doorsteps as possible. But one thing is for certain, as we grow and look to open new stores, providing choice for customers will always be at the heart of everything we do.