The Earthway Refill Shop, Midleton, East Cork.

The first thing that strikes you about The Earthway Refill Shop is all the natural colours. Jars and dispensers full of organic produce line the shelves. What’s on display here is quality products. Not Branding. It feels warm and calm. Various goods are laid out for refill. Vats of fresh olive oil sit waiting for receptacles to be refilled: soaps, nuts, pulses, cleaning products, shampoo’s. It’s got it all. 

These shops, where products are commonly sold in bulk and consumers are encouraged to bring their own reusable containers give us a practical retail model that supports and operates higher up the waste hierarchy. 

Amidst growing concern over the extent to which products are packaged, often in single use formats, packaging free shops, like this one, are the answers to our circular economy prayers. Refill shops are becoming more and more popular around Ireland. In fact, the packaging free sector is seeing huge growth in Europe. Long term forecasts, whilst speculative, present a mid –estimate EU market for bulk good of 1.2 billion in 2030, with best case potential being significantly greater [1].

Wendy and Andrea opened the doors to their Refill store in the summer of 2020. Four years previous, whilst on a trip to Italy, Wendy noticed how the local health food shop there had refills as standard. ‘Not only detergents but food refill dispensers too, I suppose that is where the seed was planted’ said Wendy.

As a family of 6, Wendy and Andrea found it challenging to shop consciously, and were struggling especially with the amount of single use plastic going in their domestic bins.

‘We wanted to reduce our impact on the environment while at the same time giving that option to others too and making good quality, organic food available to all budget types. There was nothing like it in East Cork and we felt it was something really needed, so we decided to take the plunge’.

Wendy was no stranger to the idea of refill, having refilled her shampoo bottle and laundry detergent for some time and Andrea having been born in Italy saw refill shops  as standard in towns and cities across his home country.

When asked why refill is so important they quoted Edward Everett Hale;

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do”.

Although small businesses like these are the obvious answers to our plastic and packaging crisis more can be done to support them to get off the ground. According to Wendy ‘we are categorised under the umbrella of “Retail” and so no funding was open to us’. 

‘Coming from the Green, Sustainable, Innovative business we didn’t fit into any category. In this Ireland this is very much way behind our European family. So we feel there needs to be support for businesses that promote a greener more sustainable way of shopping and living’.

For Wendy and Andrea refill is a calling, but it’s not just for them;

‘Policies need to change to put pressure on the bigger companies to change their ways regarding single use plastics’, even as high up as government buildings, all their paper should be recycled, hand soaps refilled etc.’

We are asking individuals, businesses and elected officials to take the #WeChooseReuse Pledge and support Earthway and reuse heroes like them all over Europe.

[1] PackagingFree Shops In Europe An Initial Report (Executive Summary) Zero Waste Europe