Napa, Marin, Sonoma entrepreneurs offer alternative to empty bottles in recycling bin

Feel good about recycling so packaging doesn’t end up in landfills or end up in our oceans?

But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, less than 10% of single-use packaging is recycled. This is a business opportunity: The Refill Shop. And it’s one that several North Bay entrepreneurs are pursuing.

Refill madness Sonoma

Jana Wang’s T-shirt reads “Plastic Enemy No. 1,” illustrated with noir-style drawings taken from the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film Reefer Madness. Only thing she advertises in block letters is “Refill Madness,” the name of her refill and zero-waste shop, which opened in Sonoma in February 2021.

The concept of a gas station (also called a refill store and refill station) is simple. Bring your clean container from home, weigh it before filling, refill the container from a supply of, say, laundry detergent, and pay by weight or ounces for what you’ve bought.

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“People tell me that every time they toss a heavy plastic detergent container into the recycling bin, they feel awful. They know there’s no point in recycling a flawless container,” says Wang. “Recycling takes resources and you need to find a market for this plastic. We replace what we recycle to keep the plastic alive. It simply breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, polluting our waterways and being ingested by fish and shorebirds. If something is reused, eliminate a new plastic item.”

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Refill Madness Sonoma at the Sonoma Valley Center is the sister store to Refill Madness Sacramento, which was founded six years ago by Wang’s business partner Sloane Read.

The owners say both stores are thriving. The Sacramento store has done over 100,000 refills since it opened. Company records show that the Sonoma store has refilled 14,000 containers since it opened a year and a half ago. That’s about 1,000 containers per month that didn’t end up in the waste stream.

“Last year we made just over $100,000 in sales,” says Wang, “and this year total sales are already over $100,000. I know that two new stores have recently opened in the Sacramento area. It’s a growing sector.”

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Refill Madness was named Sonoma County’s 2021 Small Business of the Year by Senator Bill Dodd. On Earth Day this year, April 22, Mayor Jack Ding presented the store with a Sustainable Business Award from the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Maison Verte in Napa Valley

When Ailene Chene Brisoux, who was born and raised in France, moved to California after 15 years in Montreal, she was surprised and disappointed to find limited opportunities to refuel in her city. Brisoux decided to open her own refill station.

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