Refill shopping 🛍🧴🍋
Updated: Apr 13
Earlier this summer I went to my first ever refill shop. I've known about this store in Lee for a little while now, but I kept putting off going there. If I'm honest I felt daunted and overwhelmed, I was worried I'd do it wrong or that it would be way to expensive. But I finally plucked up the courage (and took a friend 😂). It was way easier than I thought, the staff were so friendly and helpful, and I wanted to buy everything... In this blog post I'll give you all the tips on how to shop at a refill store, and hopefully give you the confidence to try it yourself!
What is a refill shop?
A refill shop, or zero waste store, is basically what it says on the tin. Generally they stock items in large quantities, you bring your own containers, fill them up and pay. Easy as that (tips on what to bring and what to do when you get there below!).
These kinds of stores are really important because they show us that it is possible to shop differently, that it is possible to imagine shopping without plastic, that refillable options are actually a viable business model. Now of course most of these zero waste stores are small, local businesses. There are loads of reasons to support local businesses, and the Guardian states that local businesses are often more ethical. So you're helping the environment and small business owners.
The store in Lee (you can find their address and website here) is stocked full of great plastic free alternatives. They sell a range of products to help you on your plastic free journey, including water bottles, metal lunch boxes, soap dispensers, jars and loads of stuff. The store has quite a big food section, including dried goods (think lentils, pasta, spices etc.) and fresh goods (fruit and veg). It also has a selection of hand soaps, dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners, shampoos, conditioners, body wash and other home items that you can refill. Lastly, they have a small beauty range, including micellar water (woohoo!), creams, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and cotton wipes.
The store was deceptively big, and they had way more than I thought. I found it all pretty exciting to be honest 🙈.
What do I need?
You do need to be prepared before heading to a refill store. You need to bring your own containers, although if you haven't got any the store has some donated jars and they also sell a range of soap dispensers and nicer jars etc. I took a jar, an old water bottle and a soap dispenser, and Abby brought an empty fabric softener bottle and an empty dishwashing liquid bottle. It doesn't have to be fancy, whatever you have is perfectly fine!
How does it work?
When you get to the store, you weigh your containers on their scale. You write the weight on your container, so that when you checkout they only weigh the product inside without charging you for the weight of your container.
Then you shop. Ask for help if you're unsure, the staff at Lee were really friendly and helpful. Abby and I refilled some bottles of fabric softener, dishwashing liquid, and hand soap. Then I asked for help choosing some cream, and they showed me the different ones they had.
How much does it cost?
So that is a hard question to answer simply. But Abby's fabric softener and dishwashing liquid came to a total of £3, which I think is incredibly reasonable.
Their beauty items seemed to be a bit more expensive than those on Acala, I would recommend buying your toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap bars etc. online instead. However, this shop did have some items that I haven't found on Acala (hello micellar water 👋🏻). So it's a bit of a learning curve. I bought some moisturiser, and then regretted it because it turned out to be pretty expensive. But hey, we live and learn.
I didn't look at their food items too closely, however I'm going to do a recipe price comparison in the next few weeks. So if there is a specific family classic that you'd like a price check for then let me know! I'll buy the ingredients plastic free, between the refill shop at Lee and possibly a farmer's market, and let you know how much it costs to do that. That way it'll be easy for you to compare the price.
Shopping at a store like this can feel really daunting and like a big change, but honestly it was quite fun.
If you'd like to know more about the impact of plastics on the earth then check out this previous blog post, and if you'd like to look at some sustainable lifestyle swaps you can start making right away then check out my product reviews (shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable make up wipes) or this post with a big list.
I hope I've answered all your questions about shopping plastic free, but if there is anything else you'd like to know then just let me know! And do let me know if you decide to give it a try.