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The Firehouse Market Refill Station: Small Businesses Lead the Way

At school, we were trained to "Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!" It's a catchy saying, but somewhere in the mix, we stopped talking about reducing consumption and reusing resources. We learned to overestimate the power of recycling when we could have been discussing the end to single-use packaging. Small businesses, like those in our Circular Economy Leaders Network (CELN), play an important role in shifting the conversation. In true circular fashion, they inspire and educate their customers, fellow local businesses, and our team while benefiting from the returned support of each.

Plant Chicago re-emphasizes those first two Rs and present recycling as a last resort. Imagine the possibility for the future of sustainability if we shift gears from reactively deciding how to process our waste and instead make efforts to proactively eliminate it altogether. This was the type of thinking that inspired Plant Chicago to introduce a refill station in our onsite Firehouse Market.

Our move to the firehouse and subsequent build out of a Plant Chicago retail space made for perfect timing. In 2021, our Small Business Manager, Elise O'Malley, and her intern, Cami Jaramillo, took a field trip to CELN member: Eco & The Flamingo. This local, woman-owned, zero-waste shop and grocer provided the perfect model. Elise and Cami returned inspired and just a little mesmerized by Eco & The Flamingo's jar wall for bulk shopping. We discussed sanitation protocols, jar drives, and of course vendors!

A collection of other CELN members recently took the leap to go package-free with support from our team. Plant Chicago's summer farmers market proved to be the perfect opportunity to test out BYOC (bring your own container) products before committing to stocking at the refill station.

Quinn Mines-Taylor of Soap Junkii Bath and Body began offering her body scrub by the scoop and Jazmin Curiel of Piel Bella by Jazz expanded her inventory of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bars. Both of these vendors are featured at our refill station alongside fellow CELN members Dinobi Detergent, Meliora Cleaning Products, and Back of the Yards Coffee.

We shouldn't underestimate the power of small businesses when it's precisely their size that allows for a level of transparency, flexibility, and innovation unmatched by big businesses. "The businesses selling through our refill station are proving that small businesses can be leaders in the local circular economy movement.” - Jonathan Pereira, Plant Chicago Executive Director

Our team is incredibly grateful to partner with organizations like these to cultivate local circular economies.

"As a small business owner that takes sustainability & the ecosystems that we live in very seriously, Plant Chicago has been the organization that has helped me the most to achieve my sustainability goals. Kathleen & Elise both helped & encouraged me to offer my products package-free during the farmers market season & have also stocked their zero-waste station with some of my products, helping me with exposure & educational opportunities for my clients." - Jazmin Curiel, Piel Bella by Jazz Founder and Formulator

It was encouraging to see customers' excitement and willingness to go package-free. Previously used and sanitized containers continue to be provided by Plant Chicago, but the demand for them is dropping off as our neighbors have made a habit out of package-free shopping.

The station itself was crafted by Eric Weber, our Circular Economy Project Specialist. They made (re)use of an old cabinet for the shelves and back board. If you look closely, you can see the casters are mounted to beams, which they found in our alley! "A key part of the design stage was making sure it could handle big 5 gal. jugs of product as well as tiny jars." We wanted to be sure that the structure was both sturdy and flexible enough to handle whatever we might want to stock in the future. After an Instagram poll went out asking what folks would want to see featured on the station, we realized the options were practically endless!

We are excited to continue building out the station, looking to add consumables like granolas, nuts, legumes, tortilla chips, and much more.

Single-use plastic is just one facet of the crisis we as a global community now find ourselves in. With all forms of linear consumption affecting human and planetary health, refill stations like the one at Plant Chicago and small businesses play an integral role in reimagining our future. You can help cultivate local circular economies by supporting small businesses in your own neighborhood and here at the Firehouse Market - just don't forget to bring your own container!


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