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Q. Dear Umbra,

I’m trying to cut back on plastic waste and am wondering if you know of places that offer things like cleaning supplies in bulk, so that I can refill and reuse my old containers?

Thanks!
Lyda L.
Harlem, NY

Refill BarA bottle walks into a bar and asks for a refill …Photo: Dave PinterA. Dearest Lyda,

I like the way you think. What better way to clean up our acts than with cleaning supplies? The message in the bottle in this case: It’s practical and saves resources.

The reusable bottle goes back to the days before plastic, when old-school glass milk bottles were returned to the milk man and Coca-Cola bottles were exchanged for a refund and refilling.

One way to reuse bottles, of course, is to make cleaning supplies at home with simple ingredients like water, castile soap, vinegar, and baking soda. That way your cleaning supply bottles can be refilled ad infinitum with your own kinder, gentler window cleaner, tub-scrubber, and more. Watch my video instructions for how to make your own cleaners here.

If you want to use products you’re not concocting at home, reusable containers are an option too, Lyda. More savvy businesses are embracing the “Refill Bar.” I’m not much of a barfly, but you can find me hanging out at one of these joints every time I run out of dish soap.

I rinse my empty plastic dish soap container and take it for a refill at Green Depot’s refill bar in New York City. They have a refill station complete with bulk supplies of dish soap, glass and window cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, and an all-purpose cleaner too. Gives happy hour a whole new meaning.

This will fill your refillable heart, Lyda: There are more places popping up across the country that offer refills. Common Good, a company based in Brooklyn, makes “biodegradable, dye- and fragrance-free cleansers” for laundry, dishes, and everything else. They have locations throughout New York City, which you can locate here.

Another replenishing option is the Restore Refill Station. Based in Minneapolis, the Restore Refill Station claims to reduce “costs for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers while keeping plastic out of landfills and reducing water consumption.” Restore estimates that if one of their stations were added to each Walmart in the country, it could “save 22.5 million pounds of plastic from reaching the landfill each year.” Find a refill station near you.

If you can’t find a refilling station close to home, there’s also the concentrated refill option. Though you won’t get to saddle up to a cleaning supplies bar, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you’re using less packaging. Check the Good Guide to find refills on the cleaning products of your choice.

Hope that fulfilled your refill needs, Lyda!

Fill ‘er up,
Umbra