What do dish soap, coconut oil, shampoo and body lotion all have in common? They’re all sold in plastic containers.
With each new purchase of a beauty or household item from almost any store in the country comes a new box, bottle or bag, many of which are made from plastics or other inorganic materials. Many are labeled as recyclable, but recent reports by environmental officials estimate only 5% to 6% of the 46 million tons of plastic waste generated annually in the U.S. actually gets recycled.
The solution? Don’t buy plastic at all.
It’s a lofty, almost impossible goal for most Americans, but two South Shore women are working to make it a little easier.
“I think it’s important people look at it outside of the extreme,” said Charissa Wade, owner of the ZERO Refills store in Cohasset. “People think going zero waste has to be this big, dramatic moment. There’s a lot of pressure to be perfect, but we don’t need to be perfect. We just need to try.”
Wade opened her shop in October 2021, and a year later, Hanover’s Julia Traggorth opened Four Corners Supply Co. on Broadway. The stores, called “refill shops,” provide in bulk the items commonly used in most households: dish soap, dishwasher tabs, laundry detergent, shampoo, conditioner and more. Customers fill their own containers with the product. The containers are weighed before the product is added, so customers only pay for what they get.
A teacher by trade, Traggorth said she hopes to use Four Corners as both a place to shop and a place to learn.
“It’s really hard to check all the boxes. I try really hard, but plastic and chemicals are everywhere,” she said, remembering when she started buying in bulk and running a refill station from home before opening her Hanover store. “I feel honored that people look to me for advice.”
Wade said the inspiration to open her Cohasset store came in many forms. She was a mother looking to raise her daughter using clean products whenever possible. She was the daughter of a Philippine woman who believed processed foods and chemicals led to her cancer. And after moving to Hull, she was not only shocked by the amount of trash on the beach but about how hard it is to recycle in some communities, and how many products end up in the landfill even when you do.
“I’ve always been conscious about the amount of plastic in my life and I felt like you just couldn’t go anywhere without it,” she said. “It was really wearing on me. Then, I visited a refill store in Las Vegas and it just blew my mind. To just not have the plastic in the first place is obviously so much better than trying to recycle. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind how badly we needed one here on the South Shore.”
In addition to the sale of refill items and other environmentally friendly products, Wade’s store has a gift-wrapping station stocked with plastic-free items open for use and several “community” recycling boxes for hard-to-dispose-of items like plastic grocery bags, toothpaste tubes, Brita products and razors. Both shops also have a “take one, leave one” container section of washed bottles and jugs that customers can use for free.
In addition to contributing less waste, Traggorth said there are other benefits to buying in bulk. She said it allows for more experimentation when a shopper doesn’t have to buy a whole bottle of something just to try, and often is a money saver. Dishwasher pods at her store cost 25 cents each, for example, as opposed to brand-name tabs, which come in a plastic container and can cost upwards of 30 cents each.
“Whatever fits into your lifestyle is great,” Wade said of making the switch to plastic-free products. “It shouldn’t be inconvenient to be eco-friendly. The goal is just to get people to shop and live a little more mindfully.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.