Zero Waste Refill
Key Players in the United States Zero-Waste Refill Market
Precycle, The Refill Shoppe, Zero Market, Loop, Protea Zero Waste, and Down to Earth are six of the key players in the zero waste refill market in the United States. An overview of the products and services of each of these key players is provided below. As requested, players based in Hawaii were included.
- Precycle is a store in Brooklyn, New York that sells package-free bulk food, home goods, and local produce. It has been featured in at least 52 news and media articles.
- The normal shopping process at the store is for consumers to bring their own clean containers or buy reusable containers in-store, weigh their containers if tare weight is unknown, fill their containers with the products of their choice, and bring the filled containers to the counter to be weighed one more time. The tare weight is deducted from this final measured weight to determine the amount to be paid.
- However, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Precycle has temporarily limited its services to online orders and curbside pickups and delivery only. Purchased dry goods are packaged in recycled or compostable paper bags, while purchased liquids are packaged in returnable glass bottles. A $1 deposit is requested for each glass bottle.
- Precycle stocks the following products in bulk: beans or legumes, grains, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, pasta, flour, spices, loose-leaf tea, oils, vinegar, honey, snacks, and cleaning and laundry products. It also sells fresh produce and refrigerated products such as pickles and kimchi. It has fresh bread too on weekends.
The Refill Shoppe
- The Refill Shoppe is a store in Ventura, California that allows consumers to choose their preferred products, bring or select their preferred containers, and choose their preferred scents and scent strengths.
- The store, which sells bath, body, home, and cleaning products, has made nearly 49,000 refills so far. Refills are sold by the ounce.
- Since it was founded in 2010, it has received several awards and recognition, including the Best Eco-Friendly Store Award in 2012 and 2013, the Small Business of the Year Award in 2016, and the Best Eco Retail Shop Award in 2020.
- It received B Corporation certification in August 2015. This certification establishes that The Refill Shoppe is a "company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems."
- The Refill Shoppe has both an online shopping process and an in-store shopping process. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the store is currently open for online and phone orders only. Orders are either shipped or picked up.
- Empty refill pouches can be sent back to The Refill Shoppe for refills using the provided pre-paid postage. Before refilling, The Refill Shoppe will clean the pouches thoroughly.
- Consumers who order at least two zero-waste refill pouches are eligible for a Sudscription. Subscribers will be given a reusable prepaid postage envelope where the refill pouches can be placed.
- Zero Market has two stores in Colorado. One is in Aurora, while the other is in Edgewater. Its tagline is "good things come in no packages."
- Zero Market uses the following terms to describe the products it sells: bulk, ethical, local, organic, plastic-free, and toxin-free.
- It has more than 150 products in its online store and more than 1,200 products in-store. Consumers who shop in-store can bring their empty and clean containers for refills. Consumers who shop online, on the other hand, can rest assured that their orders will come in environment-friendly packaging.
- Zero Market categorizes its products into Body + Hygiene, Clean + Home, Drink + Container, ToGo + Grocery, Tea + Herbs, Kid + Fun, and Gift + Kit.
- It has been featured by the following media outlets: The New York Times, Westword, Elephant, The Wall Street Journal, and 5280.
- Apart from selling products, Zero Market also offers workshops and consulting services to individuals who wish to open a zero-waste business or lead a zero-waste lifestyle.
- Loop, a TerraCycle company, offers consumers a way to shop waste-free with its nationwide online store. Unlike other zero-waste refill shops, it does not have its own brick-and-mortar store, and it does not promise locally-sourced, natural, or organic products.
- It, however, claims that its service is "circular from coast to coast" and that consumers can get the products they know and love in "zero-waste packaging that is cleaned and refilled to be reused, again and again."
- Loop creates zero-waste versions of consumers' favorite products and lends the zero-waste packaging to consumers in exchange for a 100% refundable deposit.
- It distinguishes itself from other zero-waste refill shops by making the delivery waste-free as well. It does not use bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, and ice packs. Instead, it uses its own reusable Loop Tote.
- Loop products or containers are delivered or retrieved by the United Parcel Service (UPS) in these Loop Totes. Consumers seeking refills can have these Loop Totes picked up for free from their homes, or they can return the Loop Totes to a UPS location. They can also schedule a pickup such that it coincides with the next delivery.
- Loop's products in its online store are categorized into beauty, grocery, health and personal care, and household essentials. Loop has numerous brand partners and two retail partners, namely Kroger and Walgreens.
- Well-known brands such as Clorox, Colgate, Crest, Dove, Gillette, Häagen-Dazs, Oral-B, Pantene, Tide, and Tropicana are among its brand partners.
- Loop has received widespread media attention and has been mentioned in more than 150 media articles.
Protea Zero Waste
- Protea Zero Waste Store claims it is the first zero-waste refill store in Hawaii. Owner Lori Mallini founded Protea in response to the unsustainable business practices of the beauty and cleaning industry.
- The store eliminates plastic packaging and enables consumers to buy in bulk and support locally-produced natural products. It has both an online store and a brick-and-mortar store.
- Its refill store, located at 35 Kainehe Street in Kailua, allows consumers to bring their own clean container or buy one in-store. Its refillable products include mainly cleaning and personal care products and a few miscellaneous products.
- Its refillable cleaning products are categorized into all-purpose cleaners, liquid Castile soaps, dish soaps, dishwasher detergents, plant-based disinfectants, glass and surface cleaners, hand soaps, hand sanitizers, and laundry detergents.
- Its refillable personal care products, on the other hand, are categorized into body lotions, body oils, body washes, conditioners, cream deodorants, face oils, facial cleansers, facial moisturizers and makeup removers, facial serums, facial toners, leave-in hair treatments, shampoos, toothpaste tabs, and suncare products.
- The rest of the store's refillable products are categorized into baby massage oils, essential oils or miracle botanicals, pet shampoos, and low-waste makeup or cosmetics.
Down to Earth
- Founded in 1977, Down to Earth is Hawaii's leading retailer of organic and natural products. Though not a refill store in its entirety, it has a Bulk Foods department where consumers can bring their own bags or containers and buy products in bulk.
- It has the broadest assortment of organic and non-organic bulk foods in Hawaii. Included in this selection are beans, cereals, flours, grains, herbs, nuts, pasta, specialty items, sweets, and trail mixes. Herbs and spices are sold by the ounce, while the rest are sold by the pound.
- Down to Earth has five stores in Oahu and one store in Maui. Its stores in Oahu are located in Honolulu, Kailua, Kakaako, Kapolei, and Pearlridge, while its store in Maui is located in Kahului.
- In 2020, Down to Earth was awarded the People's Choice Award for Best Health Food Store in Hawaii by Star-Advertiser for the 14th consecutive time.
- Down to Earth is included in both Literless's zero-waste grocery shopping guide for Hawaii and Zero Waste Oahu's bulk food shopping guide.
Reception of Zero-Waste Refill Shops in the United States
Surveys of zero-waste refill consumers in the United States could not be located in the public domain, but news articles and customer reviews and testimonials indicate that zero-waste refill shops in the country have been generally well-received by consumers in recent years.
Reception of Precycle
- According to Katerina Bogatireva, the founder of Precycle, which opened in December 2018, "her business has been very well-received and people have come from all parts of New York City to shop."
- Julia Ridges, a customer, described Precycle as "a total gem" and "a simple, straightforward way to buy locally/responsibly sourced real foods and basics without all the plastic trappings." Nancy Wu, another customer, said the selection of beans, grains, and spices was great.
- Rikisha Ward, another customer, had the following to say about shopping at the store: "Well, I love it. I like buying things 'package-free,' so that's big for me."
- On Yelp, there were a few complaints about some products (e.g., fresh produce) being pricey. One customer said she would not buy vegetables and fruits from Precycle.
- Precycle has a rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 on Google based on 103 reviews and a rating of 5.0 out of 5.0 on Yelp based on 17 reviews.
Reception of The Refill Shoppe
- Customer ratings indicate the positive reception of The Refill Shoppe. The Refill Shoppe has a rating of 4.8 out of 5.0 on Birdeye based on 155 reviews, a rating of 4.8 out of 5.0 on Facebook based on 103 reviews, a rating of 4.5 out of 5.0 on Yelp based on 87 reviews, and a rating of 4.7 out of 5.0 on Google based on 60 reviews.
- Kate B., a customer, wrote that The Refill Shoppe is brilliant and that "there are so many wonderful things about the store."
- Maggie M., another customer, said The Refill Shoppe is one of her favorite stores, while Maya P., yet another customer, said The Refill Shoppe is her "favorite place in Ventura."
- Recent customer reviews indicate that most customers were happy with the customer service and the product selection. Very few customers complained about the customer service or the price.
Reception of Zero Market
- If customer ratings are any indication, Zero Market has been well-received by the public. Zero Market has a rating of 4.7 out of 5.0 on Google based on 160 reviews and a rating of 4.5 out of 5.0 on Yelp based on 36 reviews.
- Reviews of this store were mostly positive. Most reviewers appreciated the broad product selection, the helpfulness of the staff, and the fact that the store enables them to make eco-friendly choices. There were only a few complaints, and they were about some hidden prices and some store staff being overbearing or condescending.
Reception of Loop
- Loop's model has so far been well-received by the public. According to Tom Szaky, Loop's founder and chief executive officer, Loop scaled up as fast as possible because consumers across the United States wanted Loop to be available in their state. Since its launch in May 2019, Loop has been able to grow its customer base to more than 100,000 customers.
- Loop is not without criticisms, however. Though Olga Kachook, a project manager at GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition, praised Loop's packaging design, durability, and aesthetic, she questioned Loop's product selection, particularly the fact that most products in Loop's online store are mainstream products, not the organic, natural, and locally-sourced products that concerned consumers are typically drawn to. She also found the Loop Tote too bulky for a city dweller.
- Szaky admitted that "people actually are attracted to Loop first for design, second for reuse." He revealed that he never thought the design would be that important to consumers.
- Some consumers seem to find the deposits for Loop's zero-waste packaging too steep. One Huffington Post writer shared that she shelled out $32 in deposits for just six items.
Reception of Other Zero-Waste Refill Shops
- Protea Zero Waste in Hawaii has a rating of 5.0 out of 5.0 on Yelp based on 14 reviews and a rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 on Google based on 7 reviews. Down to Earth, another store in Hawaii, has a rating of 4.4 out of 5.0 on Birdeye based on 137 reviews.
- Destiny Delapaz, a customer of Manor Market Refillery, a newly opened zero-waste refill shop in San Marcos, Texas, shared that since she started going to the refillery, she's been recycling more and making less waste. In a way, she was motivated by the store to recycle more.
- According to Teresa Mazey, the owner of Empty Bin Zero Waste, a zero-waste refill shop in Ohio, there were differences in reactions from the younger generation and the older generation. Younger people were excited about her store, but older people were a bit confused. Older people thought the store was a step backwards in time.
Performance of the United States Zero-Waste Refill Market
While there are no comprehensive reports on United States zero-waste refill market in the public domain, news articles about zero-waste refill stores in the country indicate that the market is growing but not as fast as the European market, Loop's business model is more resilient than those of other zero-waste refill stores, and some zero-waste refill stores had closed due to lack of profitability and low sales.
Growth of the Market
- Zero-waste refill shops are finally gaining traction in the United States. The market for zero-waste refill shops in the country is finally growing, but not as fast as the market in Europe where zero-waste refill shops have been sprouting in the past 15 years.
- There are numerous zero-waste refill shops in the United States, based on the Zero Waste Grocery Guide of Litterless.com. Some of these shops, however, are just small specialty stores and bulk food sections of supermarket or big box departments.
- Litterless lists, by state, the stores that allow or encourage consumers to bring their own bags, containers, or jars.
- Its website shows that, in New York alone, there are more than 50 stores that allow or encourage consumers to bring their own bags, containers, or jars.
- It also shows that there are over 100 such stores in California and 9 such stores in Hawaii.
Resilience of Business Models
- Loop's business model proved to be more resilient than those of other zero-waste refill stores.
- Loop thrived during this pandemic when most other zero-waste refill stores experienced a decline and many people questioned whether it is safe and timely to use reusable packaging.
- Its online portal and rigorous cleaning protocols gave it an edge over other zero-waste refill stores that rely on consumers to do the cleaning and refilling and do not have e-commerce and professional cleaning capabilities.
- Unlike many other zero-waste refill stores that took a hit during the pandemic, Loop experienced a 5% surge in sales and a 25% surge in monthly usage.
- Tom Szaky, the chief executive officer of TerraCycle and Loop, believes the difference in performance comes down to what he calls consumer-driven refill and professional refill.
- He calls the process where the customer brings his own clean container and refills it at the store a consumer-driven refill. In contrast, he considers Loop's process where brands, customers, and retailers pay them, a third party, to perform both the cleaning and refilling a professional refill.
- According to Szaky, "if it's professionally cleaned and filled, the risk of reuse is exactly the same as the risk on single-use, which is also professionally packed." For him, "consumer-driven refill is really where the big question mark is."
- Even though scientists and doctors have released a signed statement that reuse-refill systems are safe to use as long as basic hygiene is employed, several retail partners of Loop are already reassessing the long-term viability of their refill stations.
Profitability of Zero-Waste Refill Stores
- There are no clear indications in the public domain of how profitable zero-waste refill stores in the country are. A few older news articles only indicate that some zero-waste refill stores had closed due to lack of profitability and low sales.
- One example of a zero-waste refill store that had closed is In.gredients, the country's first zero-waste refill store.
- Located in Austin, Texas, the 1,400 square-foot store opened in 2012 and closed in 2018 after more than five years in business. It started with a 70% package-free rate and had the goal of increasing this percentage each year.
- General manager Erica Howard Cormier knew there was a problem 18 months after the store opened. She knew they "weren't changing shoppers' habits." Customers would go to another store because they forgot to bring their containers or they needed to buy other items that were not available at their store.
- In.gredients eventually decided to withdraw from their package-free mission, but even that decision was not enough to save the store. Co-founder Christian Lane said they decided to close the store in April 2018 because of "low sales and lack of profitability."
- A more recent example is The Filling Station in New York. The store recently announced its permanent closure after more than 10 years in business. Its last Instagram post indicates that the store was still open in April 2020.
Financials of Zero-Waste Refill Shops in the United States
There is very limited information in the public domain on the financials of zero-waste refill shops in the United States. This is perhaps due to the fact that the shops are privately held companies that are not obligated to disclose their financials. The few relevant insights that were gathered from news articles and business information databases are presented below.
Cost of Setting Up and Operating a Zero-Waste Refill Shop in the United States
- The average costs associated with setting up and operating a zero-waste refill shop in the United States could not be located in the public domain. An older news article only shows that The Fillery, a zero-waste refill shop in Brooklyn, New York, started with a funding of over $117,000. Owner and founder Sarah Metz disclosed that she got more than $100,000 in funding from two personal investors and an extra $17,000 on Kickstarter.
- Company insights provider Crunchbase also shares that Package Free Shop, a zero-waste refill shop that opened in Williamsburg, Virginia in 2017, received a total of $4.5 million in a seed funding round that was completed on September 26, 2019.
- Package Free Shop said it will be using this amount to create its own sustainable products. It began in 2017 as a pop-up shop where sustainable consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands could display their wares for a fee ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 and earn 100% of the profit. The participating brands broke even by the end of the first month and reported that Package Free Shop had become their primary revenue driver by the end of the third month.
- For added perspective on the cost of setting up a zero-waste refill shop, Chloe and Robin Masefield, the owners of Natural Weigh, the first zero-waste refill shop in Wales, United Kingdom, spent over £40,000 to set up their store. They opened Natural Weigh in March 2018.
- The Zero Waste Shop in the United Kingdom published a guide in 2017 for setting up a zero waste shop, but unfortunately, this guide only lists the cost components. It does not provide the amounts. According to this guide, a budget has to be prepared for the following cost items: scale systems, food dispensers, shop fitting, branding and website design, marketing or advertising. stock, rent, legal fees, business advice, business registration, wages, insurance, and miscellaneous items such as stationery, cleaning supplies, accessories, and decors.
Sales of Zero-Waste Refill Shops in the United States
- The average sales or revenue of zero-waste refill shops in the United States could not be located in the public domain as well. Estimates of the revenues of some shops are available, however.
- Lauren Singer, the owner of Package Free Shop, which opened in 2017, shared that her year-on-year sales had quadrupled in 2018. She added that the demand was so high that she needed to increase her employee headcount to 30 and she had to convince her suppliers to scale up as well.
- ZoomInfo estimates the annual revenue of Package Free Shop at $4 million.
- RocketReach estimates the annual revenue of The Refill Shoppe at $24.80 million.
- Owler estimates the annual revenue of Zero Market at $1.2 million.
- Unfortunately, estimates provided by ZoomInfo, RocketReach, and Owler may not be reliable or may be far from the actual amounts.
- Not all zero-waste refill shops are as fortunate as Singer's Package Free Shop. As previously mentioned, In.gredients, the country's first zero-waste refill shop, had closed due to lack of profitability and low sales. The Filling Station in New York had permanently closed too in 2020.
- According to Greenpeace, zero-waste refill shops worldwide are typically hindered by slow adoption rates.
- For perspective, zero-waste refill shops in Italy take about three years to break even.