Rural Cape Breton general store offers refills with zero waste

Inside a general store in Inverness County, a zero-waste refill station — one of only a few in Cape Breton — gives residents the opportunity to bring in their own containers to stock up on household products like soap and spices. Karen Allen, the owner of Brook Village Grocery, says she is committed to eliminating single-use plastics and waste.

Customers can use containers from home to fill up on household products

Inside a general store in Inverness County, a zero-waste refill station — one of only a few in Cape Breton — gives residents the opportunity to bring in their own containers to stock up on household products like soap and spices.

Karen Allen, the owner of Brook Village Grocery, says she is committed to eliminating single-use plastics and waste.

"Limiting plastic and being as environmentally friendly as possible has always been a core value of mine," Allen said.

She stocks Dartmouth-made Down East Cleaning Products, which are dispensed from 20-litre totes through plastic spouts.

Customers can fill up on hand soap and body wash, dishwashing liquid, laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaner. The products are fragrance-free and have low environmental toxicity.

"Anybody that has switched to this hasn't gone back to their old way of doing things," Allen said. "Once you start using the refill stations, I feel like people tend to stick with it."

Assistant manager Kathryn McIntyre agrees. "We really turned some people onto it," she said.

The refill station has been a convenient way for Mabou resident Hilary Müller to buy laundry detergent and load up on spices while reducing waste.

"For the last many decades, our modern culture has pretty much been a disposable culture of buying," Müller said. "And with that comes so much garbage, and all of that garbage has to go somewhere."

Müller said she didn't like the small plastic bags that held her spices. She said they were messy, disposable and typically replaced with more plastic.

She and her daughter brought 24 Mason jars down to the store to restock their spice cabinet.

"If we want to preserve our beautiful spaces, we have to reduce the amount of garbage that we produce," Müller said.

A worldwide problem

Kathleen Aikens, executive director at environmental non-profit group ACAP Cape Breton, says small changes can make a difference.

"One of the best ways we have to reduce plastic is to actually switch over to reusable systems, where we have bottles that we refill every time and we reuse 40 to 50 to 100 times," Aikens said.

She said single-use plastics are an "enormous problem" across the globe. She said Canada uses 4.6-million metric tonnes of plastics every year, roughly 125 kilograms per person — a number that is expected to grow.

Allen has noticed repeat customers bringing containers to the store.

"There's really no downside," Allen said. "You're saving money, you're cutting back on waste," Allen said. "It's a win-win."

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