Using refillable bottles, Sustain LA Refill Station, which launched in June, provides customers with zero waste alternatives for purchasing household cleaners, body care products and bulk goods from sustainable sources.
Sustain LA is a certified woman-owned and small business social enterprise. Founded in 2009 by Leslie VanKeuren Campbell, the company offers services such as zero waste and sustainable event planning.
“I felt that there was a need for a refill station in Los Angeles, especially in the northeast L.A. area,” says VanKeuren Campbell. “To my knowledge, there wasn’t a refill station for household and body care [products] with this large selection that we’re offering in Los Angeles at all.”
Noting that there is an active zero waste community in the area, VanKeuren Campbell put out feelers and a survey to see if the idea of a refill station would be welcome. “The response I got was really overwhelming, in a good way,” she says.
The Sustain LA Refill Station is located at the Highland Park Farmers’ Market and the Altadena Farmers’ Market on alternating weeks, as well as at retail stores, fundraisers and zero waste workshops. In September, Sustain LA plans to have a semi-permanent refill station pop-up once a month at the vegan shoe store MooShoes in Silver Lake.
The refill station currently offers household products, including all-purpose cleaner, laundry detergent, oxygen bleach powder, dish soap, dishwasher gel and powder, baking soda and distilled white vinegar. It also offers beauty and body care products, such as shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, shower gel, bar soap, body lotion, hand soap and bulk ingredients for making cosmetics such as beet powder, rose petals and beeswax. In addition, the refill station sells bamboo toothbrushes, stainless-steel straws and containers, metal lunch boxes and other everyday products.
“The list is growing as our customers tell us what they are looking for,” says VanKeuren Campbell.
Customers can bring their own reusable bottles or purchase one at the station, then buy as much or as little as they want; products sell by the ounce.
Sustain LA tries to find the balance between bulk availability and locally based companies, but transparency in ingredients is essential to everything it sells. “[Our products] are chosen with care,” says VanKeuren Campbell. “We look to source from companies that have a people and planet component to their business model before profit. All of our companies are sustainable. We try to source as close to home as possible.”
In addition to serving the local zero waste community, the refill station has served to introduce new people to the idea of refilling and reusing packaging, while also using more sustainable products. At the farmers’ markets where the station is located, people often stop by to learn more, giving VanKeuren Campbell the chance to inform and educate. People often return with containers of their own to purchase products they need—such as soap—and then try something new as well.
For the future, the plan includes expansion. Sustain LA wants to open a retail location in northeast Los Angeles, in a space where it can also hold zero waste events and workshops. Incorporating her background in restaurant management, VanKeuren Campbell hopes to also create an ongoing program by collaborating with chefs and food rescue organizations to offer a restaurant experience for food insecure community members.
The refill station aims to change the way people consume, even if it’s just a little at a time. The initial goal was to find a solution for single-use plastic and to help people eliminate toxic chemicals and ingredients from their daily use and their lives, says VanKeuren Campbell.
“As we expand through workshops and collaborations with others, we hope to show how a zero waste lifestyle can be acceptable, enjoyable and an improvement to a lifestyle that was perhaps filled with single-use and disposable items,” she adds.