Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
President Biden is expected to speak from the White House at 8:15 tonight regarding the school shooting in Texas. Radio IQ will join NPR's coverage and All Things Considered at 8pm.

Virginia Stores Offer New Ways to Go Green

For decades the environmental movement has urged people to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Now, two stores have popped up in Charlottesville to offer a fourth R.

"Bring your plastic bottles in, because that’s one less plastic bottle you’re going to buy,” says Erin Staebell, manager of Refill/Renew at McIntire Plaza.

Straws and Bottles
Refill/Renew and Dogwood Refillery offer reusable straws and glass bottles made from recycled material.

“The other great thing is that when you’re refilling it, you don’t have to fill the whole container, so if you come in and you want to try something, we’ll have a bottle library of free bottles. You can get just an ounce or two of a product and try a shampoo, try a dish detergent, try a new laundry detergent.”

Her shop began in Staunton after that city stopped collecting plastic for recycling.

“People were outraged and started a little pop up at one of the local stores," she recalls. "They very quickly realized that they were going to need a storefront.”

Over the last two years, that storefront has become a destination for residents of the Shenandoah Valley and beyond.

Shops in Staunton add to the mantra of sustainable living: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- and now, Refill.

“We have people who traveled from New Market, Front Royal, Roanoke, Lexington, Charlottesville," Staebell says. "Charlottesville seemed like the obvious place to go for the next store.”

A few miles north, in the Seminole Square Shopping Center, Alex Theriault opened a similar enterprise – the Dogwood Refillery. She had worked at the wind and solar energy company Apex and was excited to spread the gospel of green.

“I started realizing that a lot of the Charlottesville community didn’t know about sustainability," she explains. "I just wanted a way to help educate people and be like a welcoming source .”

Both stores offer a surprising array of home health and cleaning products to replace plastic and paper – like silk dental floss, toothpaste and mouthwash in tablets, toilet paper made from sustainable bamboo, cotton cloth coated with beeswax – a reusable substitute for plastic cling wrap and dehydrated detergent that looks like paper.

“They’re strips that you can use for laundry detergent," says Staebell. "They’re great for travel. College students won’t have to lug a jug of cleaner down with you. It’s not going to get all over everything.”

Even before they opened, Refill/Renew had customers waiting – among them Barbara Galbraith.

“My children are just very much concerned about the environment," she told RadioIQ. "They see what’s happening with global warming, and so they want us to make changes. I started paying attention to how much we’re actually throwing away, and it was striking to me that at the end of the week my trash bin is completely full.”

Alex Theriault
Alex Theriault left a job in corporate finance to help people live sustainably. Her store at the Seminole Square Shopping Center in Charlottesville allows customers to reuse, recycle and refill.

And one week into her new business, Theriault was seeing repeat business from grateful buyers.

“A lot of people are saying thank you, which catches me off guard. I’m like, ‘I want to thank you for coming in,’ but they’re so happy to have a place like this. A lot of them do online ordering for cleaning products and would rather support local and reduce our carbon emissions instead of having them shipped.”

Dogwood Refillery is sticking with eco-friendly products, but Refill/Renew is also catering to those who are not yet ready to abandon their favorite consumer products. Again, Erin Staebell.

“We carry Dawn. We carry Shout. It doesn’t have to be all natural to be here in the store.”

These shops are popping up in other places, and while they’re small Theriault – whose background is corporate finance – predicts they will make a big difference.

“I know that voting with your dollar is a real thing. A company is not going to change what they’re doing if you keep buying from them.”

But if enough customers start buying from new businesses, she says, big companies will notice and make changes.