The Refillery isn’t your typical BYOB establishment. Customers arrive with empty bottles, fill them with personal care and home essentials (such as shampoo, lotion, makeup, dish soap and laundry detergent) and then pay based on weight and volume.
Its owner Larissa Russo’s mission is to reduce single-use plastic and packaging by making reusing easy and affordable.
After a series of pop-up events throughout town, Russo opened the brick-and-mortar store in late October in Squirrel Hill. Located at 1931 Murray Ave., it’s stocked with sustainably made, zero-waste products to help lessen Pittsburgh’s impact on the environment.
The public can bring any kind of clean, empty container from home — Russo says glass kombucha bottles are popular — or can purchase one from the shop. The Refillery also carries glass and plastic bottles and jars made in Pennsylvania.
An employee will weigh your container and send you off to peruse the selection and choose the amount that you want. During checkout, the weight of the empty receptacle is deducted from the weight of the filled container. Patrons can also order online and let the store staff handle the process.
Everything in the store is made in the U.S. and Russo strives to source local materials when possible to support the city’s other small businesses. Less shipping means lower carbon emissions.
Covid-related supply chain backups have made sourcing difficult. But it was the pandemic that prompted Russo to launch the business.
The Strip District resident wasn’t always a zero-waste warrior. An engineer by trade, Russo was often too busy to pay much attention to what went into her trash can. A few years ago, she started to make a few easy switches, including bringing her own mug to coffee shops and reusing plastic bottles and bags.
“Like many of us during the last year and a half, the pandemic shifted and confirmed my personal and professional values,” she says. “I was at a point in my engineering career where I could no longer consider my role to be impactful or meaningful. I was unfilled and started asking questions such as ‘How can I truly make a difference?’ ‘What can I do to help my community?’”
Russo found inspiration on TikTok. The social media app is teeming with 45-second videos related to the climate crisis and refilleries in different parts of the world. The businesses are common in Europe, Canada, California and New Jersey. Peach + Park provides the service in Beaver County.
Last April, Russo resigned from her job to devote her attention full-time to The Refillery. The first of 37 pop-up events was held on June 13 at The Neighborhood Flea in the Strip District. The concept was an instant hit.
After a whirlwind summer, Russo is happy to put down roots in Squirrel Hill.
“I believe that individuals have the power to influence great change,” Russo says. “The Refillery will continue to be a driver and agent of change within the Pittsburgh community and beyond.”