Thursday, April 10, 2014

First Eco-soap Self-serve Refill Store in San Diego

This article was run in the OB Rag and referenced on the cover page of the The Peninsula Beacon print edition (April 10, 2014).

What happens when a lawyer leaves Corporate America to get in touch with her inner hippie? She opens San Diego’s first eco-soap self-serve refill store in Ocean Beach to do her part to keep our world plastic-free.

Blue Dot Refill bottles for sampling and refill.
In February, Deidre Prozinski opened Blue Dot Refill next to Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op on Voltaire Street. Within days of hanging out her shingle – and without any marketing or advertising – she hit her first milestone: $100 in sales in a single day, thanks, in part, to being right next to a co-op with like-minded customers.

Her business model is simple. Customers bring in their empty single-use plastic bottles for refill rather than throwing them away. They can sample any of the soaps and lotions and customers pay by the ounce. The best part is not only are customers keeping the plastics out of the environment but Prozinski said they are saving 10% – 40% over retail. For customers in a rush, Blue Dot Refill also offers a “drop and shop” option. They can drop off their empty “single-use” bottles and return later to pick them up.

“Recycling isn’t enough,” said Prozinski as she pointed out what most people don’t think about, “If you recycle a plastic bottle, it still exists on our planet. It doesn’t go away. Every single piece has to go somewhere.”

“Sixty percent [of plastics] don’t get recycled,” said Prozinski. The reasons are complex and she broke it down in simple terms, “At the end of the day, recycling is a business. Certain polymers can’t be mixed and someone has to be at the other end to buy the recycled plastic.”

Prozinski is passionate about reducing plastic waste. About a year and a half ago she began wondering why she hadn’t seen a soap and lotion refill store. “Stores buy rice and beans in bulk, why not this?” she asked herself.

Her idea was validated in November, on a trip to Placerville, about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, when she saw S.O.A.P (Save Our Ailing Planet) doing exactly what she envisioned. “I went from idea to doors open in three and a half months,” she said. Customers, excited to see what she’s doing, continue to drop in and give her ideas such as selling yoga mat cleaners, organic pet shampoos, and massage lotions.

There’s a small irony in that her industrial sized plastic containers used to refill customers bottles can’t be refilled by her suppliers. But Prozinski hasn’t let that stop her. She’s partnered with a permaculture business that will use her empty containers for composting bins and aquaponics. “There’s always a way to make a difference,” she added.

With the growing popularity of her little shop at 4799 ½ Voltaire Street she’s decided to expand with refill shops in Cardiff and South Park/Golden Hill. After that, she wants to have a refill truck she can drive to events just like a food truck. In the meantime, Prozinski offers a 10% Farmer’s Market Discount Day on Wednesdays.

“Refill is the new recycle,” she said. It’s not just her company’s tag line, but her vision for the future.

Author: Joe Moreno

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