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In a world drowning in plastic, this Oakland refill shop stands out

Customer Lee Logan stocks up on spices and cleaning supplies at Re-Up Refills in Oakland on Thursday. | Ida Mojadad/The Standard

With each wildfire, damning United Nations report on climate change, or record heatwaves, more people are moved to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle.

As Saturday is Earth Day, Re-Up Refill Shop co-owner Matt Zimbalist expects his Oakland store to be packed with potential converts and repeat customers this weekend. Re-Up is often slammed on regular weekends as it is.

Located on College Ave in Rockridge in a small, bright space, Re-Up urges its shoppers to ditch single-use waste and to stock their homes with needed supplies in more sustainable ways.

Instead of buying things in new containers, customers—conscientious plastic haters and doom-scrolling eco-pessimists alike—can load up with previously used containers like Mason jars that they can bring back again and again.

Customers stock up on household supplies at zero waste lifestyle store Re-Up Refills in Oakland on Thursday. | Ida Mojadad/The Standard

Where bringing reusable tote bags is more the norm in sustainable-minded regions like the Bay Area, customers are slower to adopt bringing reusable containers to a store that sells in bulk to refill with staples.

But more people than ever are willing to make the effort. Zimbalist said the store has seen significant growth since opening in 2020.

“It’s clear for a lot of people: Each year the problem is getting worse,” Zimbalist said. “That’s the goal for us, to just get more people to use our service more regularly and reduce more waste at home. I’m trying to provide people with a different way of consuming.”

The store carries pantry items like oats, olive oil, vinegar and spices, and toiletries like shampoo and toothpaste tablets, in bulk for refill. But it also has a wide selection of zero-waste items, like reusable coffee filters, bamboo-made pot scrapers, food wraps made of beeswax instead of single-use plastic, floss refills, reusable silicone food baggies and produce bags to preserve vegetables.

Pots of oil, vinegar, honey and other items line the shelves at zero waste lifestyle store Re-Up Refills in Oakland on Thursday. | Ida Mojadad/The Standard

People often come in to restock laundry detergent and dish soap, the more obvious items that waste plastic, Zimbalist said. (Pro tip: For those not married to liquid soaps, bar soap and laundry powder alternatives are abundant and reduce the need to lug big jugs around.)

A handful of stores like Re-Up are found throughout the Bay Area, like Fillgood and the Ecology Center in Berkeley, or San Francisco’s worker-owned Other Avenues and Rainbow Grocery, which have an emphasis on food, as well as a new zero-waste store in Noe Valley called Simple. Sprouts Farmers Market, a grocery store chain that sells bulk pantry items and some reusable products, has locations in Oakland and Daly City. 

Lee Logan, found buying up pantry items like cinnamon and cleaning supplies at Re-Up on Thursday, says the store is the best zero-waste store in the area. The Oakland resident and his girlfriend made the switch to refilling household goods in 2021 and aren’t breaking a sweat about it by now. 

“There’s no hard parts,” Logan said. “Maybe just a little less convenient. But people are doing this for a cause.” 

Zero waste lifestyle store Re-Up Refills had carried pantry items, bathroom and cleaning supplies in bulk, in addition to reusable items, since 2020. | Ida Mojadad/The Standard

For those who might find the changes overwhelming, Zimbalist recommends starting small with trying alternatives to obvious items you may be less picky about when it comes to brand or type of product. You could start with bathroom items like floss and toothpaste, then move onto the kitchen with supplies like dish soap, for example.

“There’s still a lot of different categories that I think it’d be great to rethink in terms of how we consume right now,” Zimbalist said. “It’s a little bit more thinking in advance.”  

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