Boulder entrepreneur Brittney LaGesse is dedicated to changing the mindset around waste and consumerism by giving consumers a way into the zero-waste movement. LaGesse started Refill Revolution in the last quarter of 2017, as a reaction to the trash she began noticing in the world and how consumers often don’t value their belongings.
What started as a series of local pop-ups turned into an e-commerce and store-front business. Refill Revolution allows customers to purchase bulk items – such as all-purpose cleaners, shampoo and laundry powders — as well as other sustainable products, including beeswax cloth wraps and bamboo toothbrushes.
The Start of the Revolution
“The overall goal,” LaGesse explained, “is to contribute less to the landfills.” In the effort to help people do just that, she is on the mission to find the most sustainable way to ship products – bulk or otherwise. LaGesse ships bulk liquid products in pouches that come with pre-paid postage. When customers empty the pouch in their own reusable container, they send it back for LaGesse to reuse, reducing the plastic waste that is typically associated with laundry detergent and shampoo bottles.
In addition to bulk household goods, Refill Revolution also has various bath and body products, kitchen products, aromatherapy oils and vintage goods. But LaGesse isn’t stopping there. She dreams to turn Refill Revolution into a one-stop-shop for low-waste consumers. She’s currently working on sourcing bulk food items – pastas, spices, cooking oils to name a few — from local companies.
Nevertheless, LaGesse is constantly facing challenges with her business model. She’s working with food brands to package their products in reusable containers. “If I’m carrying [a brand], we’ve had that conversation about what [they] are using for packaging,” LaGesse explained. And while she’s found a number of great companies to carry in her store, the commercial world is simply not set up for a low waste lifestyle.
“It’s really difficult to maintain a business like this because it’s not a standard business,” LaGesse commented. She continued on to explain that though zero-waste stores are popping up across the country, there is not a mold or business model to follow in establishing a refill store for items in bulk. “I kind of throw together what I can and do the best I can, but I think that if we keep doing these things that we’re doing,” she added, “we’re only going to give companies and manufacturers incentives to make changes.”
Finding Joy in Waste Reduction
LaGesse’s alliance lies with local companies for a number of reasons as she grows her business. Refill Revolution’s initial success is due to the support of the Boulder community. But she also recognizes that in the age of big business and same-day shipping, “we’re really stepping away from supporting small businesses and people in our local communities.” Not only is supporting local business good for building communities, LaGesse also pointed out that “when you keep your dollar local, you’re definitely reducing waste as well.”
While LaGesse has built her business upon the low-waste concept, she doesn’t believe people should give up the things that make them happy. “If you find joy in something, I don’t think you should remove it from your life,” she commented. But taking a look at the Refill Revolution website proves that you can easily find happiness in a low-waste lifestyle. They offer vegan chapstick in paper tubes and package-free bath bombs made out of natural and plant-based ingredients.
Though LaGesse knows some people “find joy in brushing your teeth with a bamboo toothbrush” because it’s compostable after its use, many people seek pleasure in other activities – like eating a bowl of ice cream. Which is exactly the reason she’s been partnering with Best One Yet. Every couple of months, this vegan ice cream company comes to the Refill Revolution storefront in Boulder. People line up with mason jars and other reusable containers to fill up on a delicious no-waste dessert. She doesn’t want to take people’s joy away, she wants to make these pleasure even more joyful by decreasing the impact on the environment.
Taking Small Steps Forward
“My big thing is we are never going to be zero waste,” LaGesse claimed, “so I will try and do my best to help you reduce your waste.” She gives hope to the average consumer who wants to reduce their waste because she truly believes that it is impossible for an individual to eliminate their waste altogether. But so many people see low-waste lifestyle as all-or-nothing.
LaGesse hopes to change the mindset around zero or low-waste lifestyles. “If everyone picked one thing they were going to do to reduce waste, it would have such a huge impact,” she mentioned, commenting on the effect an individual has to change the system. While she has faced challenges and discouragement, LaGesse is excited to continue on in her work, especially after TerraCycle started offering a circular delivery service for consumers.
Called Loop, the program replaces single-use packaging with reusable packaging that customers can send free-of-charge back to get cleaned and sanitized. Brands like Pantene hair care and Tide laundry detergent are participating, as well as Häagen Dazs, which will use a double-wall stainless steel container to ship ice cream.
This new circular delivery program gives LaGesse a lot of hope in making real changes towards the waste we create as consumers. And while some people in the zero-waste movement are critical of supporting these big businesses in the first place, LaGesse recognizes the importance behind the program. “It’s really cool because these companies saw that there was a demand for something like this,” she commented.
The excitement comes along with knowing that consumers don’t want to give up the things in their life that bring joy. People aren’t going to stop eating ice cream – and LaGesse says they shouldn’t – just because that habit creates waste. But changes are coming that allow consumers to choose a different option. “It made me feel like this whole thing is worth something,” LaGesse explained, “even when it feels so far away sometimes.” But while LaGesse encourages consumers to make a few changes in their life to reduce waste, she knows that waste is inevitable, adding, “I’ll be the first one to admit: I make trash.”
The Refill Revolution storefront is located at 3350 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder and is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To order online, visit the website.