The Re-Up Refill Shop, based in Oakland, California, offers zero-waste solutions for most of the stuff that you might need for your home. It opened in April 2020, just as the Covid lockdown began, so it escaped my notice at first. (Also, it initially opened in West Oakland and then later moved to Rockridge, a neighborhood closer to me.) I’m sure the timing was tough on business but things seem to be to taking off now that the students are back in town. It may be just my echo chamber speaking but I think there are at least a few people who are sick of all the packaging waste that was generated during lockdown. Perhaps the pendulum will swing the other way now…
By the way, I haven’t been blogging as much this summer as I’m working on a book. To give you a preview, I’m going to use an excerpt of my chapter on waste for the next section. It summarizes some of the reasons for cutting down on plastic packaging, as much as possible.
The footprints of plastic waste
Plastics, polymers made from fossil fuels, took off in the 1950s and production has risen steadily since then. In the US, the amount of plastic waste has risen 100-fold since 1960 and now occupies around 12% of all municipal solid waste. The amount of plastics annually disposed of in America (35 million tonnes in 2018) weighs significantly more than the American population (around 26 million tonnes). So, on average, each US resident dumps more than their own body weight in plastic waste every year, and about half of it is packaging.
On a global scale, around 400 million tonnes of plastic was produced in 2020 – more than the weight of the entire human population. Of the plastic waste generated globally to date, only around 10% has been recycled; 14% has been incinerated, and 76% has been disposed of in landfills or released into the environment.
An estimated 19-23 million tonnes of plastic waste enters aquatic systems (around 8 million of which ends up in our oceans) every year – that’s about 5% of annual production going directly into our water systems! This plastic pollution includes microplastics, fragments that are small enough to get into all kinds of unexpected places, including our bloodstream. It’s estimated that around 1.5 tonnes of microplastic waste ends up in the ocean each year, so it’s a significant contributor to overall plastic pollution.
The annual carbon footprint of synthesizing and incinerating plastic is estimated to be close to 1 billion tonnes of CO2, almost 2% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Industrial manufacturing is responsible for around one third of global GHG emissions and, of the major materials we manufacture, plastics are growing the fastest. At current growth rates, cumulative GHG emissions from plastic could exceed 56 billion tonnes by 2050 – that’s more than 10% of the remaining GHG budget for limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
Re-Up Refill Shop – supplies
The main reason for my first visit to the Re-Up Refill Shop was to replace many of my herbs and spices that had become depleted during lockdown. I already have bottles and jars for herbs and spices, so I didn’t want to have to buy new containers. Refilling them was easy – weigh the empty jars yourself, fill them, and bring to the counter. I appreciated that all of them were organic and that prices were reasonable. I refilled my dried basil jar for less than $1 and the others (organic turmeric, coriander, ginger and cumin) cost around $2 each, on average.
The photos below will give you a good idea of the kind of stuff that the Re-Up Refill Shop stocks. I think I could buy most of the stuff that I need there, except for fresh fruit & veg and wine & beer.
It’s frustrating to see stores that focus on ethical goods (minimal waste, vegan food, fair trade items) open up and then eventually close down. I think a good part of it is that we develop habits of shopping in larger stores that eventually become locked in. Well, hopefully the end of lockdown will help us unlock that habit and create new ones 😉 The other issue is that many of the items at these stores simply cost more than we are willing to pay. I found that most of the things I bought at the Re-Up Refill Shop were reasonably priced, with some exceptions. I think it’s worth considering that good low-waste stores like Re-Up don’t just stock bulk items, they select items that meet certain ethical criteria.
Re-Up Refill Shop – ethics
Here’s a list of Re-Up’s own set of standards:
We prioritize local
We prioritize circular (our vendors take back their containers, washing and reusing them)
We prioritize minority–owned businesses
We prioritize b corps & businesses invested in their workers and community
We prioritize package free & plastic free
We prioritize high quality products that work well
We always choose non-toxic for all our cleaning products and certified organic for all our food products.
The Re-Up Refills website provides a short profile on many of the brands that are stocked in the store. For example, here’s the description of Sappo Hill Soap:
Sappo Hill remains true to their old fashioned master soapmaking values, using cold-process methods to make plant-based castile soaps. Sappo Hill’s Soap is all natural, animal free, cruelty-free, and uses only organic ingredients. Each soap is hand-crafted, wire-cut, air-dried, and aged to create a long-lasting hardworking soap; kettle made and cut by hand daily in Ashland, Oregon.
The Re-Up Refills founders have worked in waste reduction projects for more than a decade, including ecological farms and an eco-hauling company.
The Re-Up store has just started a loyalty card program – on your fifth visit you get a free bar of Sappo Hill soap! You also get 20% off on your tenth visit and a 10% coupon for signing up to the mailing list. I’d recommend checking it out.