When I first read an article on NPR about Oregon's refillable beer bottle system, where heavy bottles can be washed and reused by any brewery without being recycled, I thought I'd write about containers that used to commonly be refilled but no longer are. I started thinking about containers like milk bottles that the milkman would pick up when he dropped off your milk or Charles Chips tins that could be taken to the deli and refilled with potato chips.
Then I realized that's just nostalgia. There's nothing wrong with it, but nostalgia doesn't do us any good if we aren't using those memories to spur us to action now. So, I decided to write about the things that we can refill now.
The waste that's created from single-use coffee pods grows each year. The pods are convenient, but when the amount of trash they produce reaches astronomical numbers — circling the earth 10 times in one year — it's time to rethink things. Enter the refillable, reusable single-cup coffee filter. You can pack it with your favorite coffee, rinse it out when you're finished, and use it again and again. You'll not only be helping the environment, you'll also be saving a lot of money.
Laundry detergent and dish soap
There are stores that sell laundry detergent, dish soap and more in bulk. You can bring your own containers to fill them up or buy a container there and bring it back every time you need to refill it. That means far fewer plastic bottles that end up in the recycling bin, or worse yet, the trash. If you're not sure where to buy bulk liquids and other household items without packaging, start with the Zero Waste Grocery Guide from Limitless.
You're committed to taking your reusable grocery bags, but do you take refillable produce bags with you when you go to the store or the farmers market? There are many reusable produce bags for sale that can refilled over and over. Make sure you buy ones that are washable and lightweight so they don't add to the cost of the produce.
The days of the milkman dropping fresh milk off on your front porch and taking away your empty bottles may be over, but you can still get your milk in refillable bottles. There are some farms that will deliver milk with a community supported agriculture (CSA) subscription, but you'll likely need to find a dairy farm or a store that sells milk in reusable bottles. Then you'll need to take the empties back yourself.
With the growth of craft breweries and local wineries, there are many producers that sell refillable bottles called growlers. You wash them at home and take them back to the brewery or winery to be refilled with beer or wine. You'll know you're getting something fresh to drink, and keeping many bottles out of the waste stream.
If tap water isn't your thing, you don't have to buy cases of plastic, one-time-use bottles. You can buy a water cooler for your home and get the bottles delivered or you can take the water bottles to get filled, which also saves you money. It may even be simpler and more convenient to buy a water pitcher with replaceable filters. Just keep it in the refrigerator and you'll have fresh water to fill up your glass or your refillable water bottle when you're on the go.