Quitting our societal plastic habit can sometimes seem like an insurmountable challenge, especially when faced with the onslaught of plastic packaging that guards everything from new electronics to toothpaste.
Even if you're the type of person to buy food in bulk and use real dishware at parties, your kitchen and bathroom cabinets are still likely populated by an assortment of cleaning products and cosmetics in disposable tubes and bottles.
While most of these plastic containers will probably be thrown away or recycled once empty, Amy Harmon, owner of the newly opened shop Soap Refill Station, hopes Santa Fe residents will reuse them.
"Plastic isn't inherently bad, you can use it multiple times so there's actually no reason for plastic to be so disposable," she tells SFR.
The concept behind the shop is simple: we don't need to trash the earth to keep our bodies and homes clean. Essentially, this is the stainless steel coffee mug option for home and beauty products—bring a reusable container, refill with your favorite product, and voilà! One less plastic bottle in the landfill.
Bulk drums and jugs, up to 55 gallons in capacity and containing products such as shampoo, stain remover and dish soap line the walls of the storefront at 1925 Rosina St., Ste. H. Tables in the middle of the room hold large aluminum tubs of powdered laundry detergent, slabs of hard soap, and bath bombs Harmon makes in-house.
There's even an "oil bar" at the back for customizing one's product of choice with essential oils and exfoliants.
All the soaps are plant-based and free of synthetic dyes and fragrances. Products are priced by weight, with discounts on larger quantities.
"I find that having this option and being able to cut down on my waste—even if it's just 20, 30, 40%—that's very helpful," says Harmon. "I think that if you try to tackle the problem all at once and go 100% zero-waste overnight, especially if you have a family and a job, that is too burdensome. But there are choices you can make along the way, and this model definitely changed my perspective on waste."
For the individual, "zero-waste" entails lifestyle choices that eliminate products that ultimately get thrown away. Think handkerchiefs instead of Kleenex.
For society, according to the Recycling Council of British Columbia, "achieving Zero Waste depends on designing products and industrial processes so that their components can be dismantled, repaired and/or recycled."
The concept of ditching the trashcan completely may sound daunting. But disposable plastic didn't enter the mainstream consumer market in the US until after World War II. Plastic first became widely used by the military for making parachutes, ropes and plexiglass airplane windows. Saran wrap was invented in 1933, the first plastic spray bottle was developed in 1946, and garbage bags were first sold for commercial use in 1950.
Humans survived well into the 20th century without this conveniently disposable man-made material. People like Harmon are re-imagining a modern lifestyle without it.
Harmon is a recent transplant from Springfield, Missouri, where she helped a friend open a similar soap refill station last year. When she arrived to Santa Fe in June, she set her sights on replicating the model here.
When SFR came to replenish the office dish soap supply, we chose the most affordable option and were surprised to discover that even after adding a pricey $.60 of lemongrass essential oil to the unscented soap, we still got a better deal than if we had bought the product at any other store in Santa Fe.
For comparison, the same product, 24-ounce ECOS Pro Free and Clear Dish Soap, costs $3.99 at both La Montanita Coop and at Albertsons. Without the added scent, the same quantity at the Soap Refill Station cost us $2.98.
"I try really hard to have a variety of price points, because I don't want anyone who wants to adopt this model to feel like they can't afford it," says Harmon. "I don't want to alienate anyone."
The affordable price point is part of it—in addition to very high end and expensive soaps and cosmetics, she carries an affordable option in each category of product.
Yet, even if her products come in bulk containers, they still come in plastic. This is where Harmon hopes the community at large will step in to help find innovative solutions. She says she'd like to partner with someone who would re-purpose the 55-gallon drums into rain barrels, for instance. "If you have an idea," she says, "I'm open to suggestions."