Tina Solak is planning to open The Refill Market on Haddon Avenue this spring. It will be the first retail outlet in the area dedicated to selling household goods in bulk via reusable containers.
By Matt Skoufalos | February 11, 2021
“It started because I, like so many other people, just wanted a place to shop that would allow me to bring my own containers,” said Tina Solak.
Solak, who said she’s “always been environmentally conscious,” grew up one of four children, the daughter of a Korean immigrant father and a homesteading mother.
“[Mom] was always growing vegetables and canning the food that she grew,” Solak said.
“She was recycling back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when it was pretty limited,” she said. “We never wasted anything in my house, especially not food.”
In her new venture, the Haddonfield resident is marrying her deep environmental streak and retail background to create The Refill Market, offering bulk household and personal care goods in reusable vessels.
Her goal is to cut down on the amount of containers and packaging that end up in landfills as a result of consumptive culture. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these materials comprise “a major portion” of municipal solid waste (MSW), accounting for 82.2 million tons in America in 2018.
Of that, 66.2 million tons, or nearly 81 percent, was paper and paperboard (41.9 million tons), plastic containers and packaging (14.5 million tons), and glass containers and packaging (9.8 million tons).
Those figures have likely only increased since then, amid shifting policies from Asian countries that have set strict contamination limits upon recyclable materials, diverting more of it into waste streams.
Local governments in Camden County have already begun to reckon with the impact of these changes, with residents finding some of their previously accepted recycling materials sent back to them to sort more closely or dispose of as trash.
Solak is hopeful that The Refill Market will help refine some of those consumer behaviors that put more waste into local landfills by changing the way people shop for certain products.
“A lot of the time, people don’t make the environmental choice because it’s not convenient,” Solak said. “That happens to me still, all the time.
“What I would love to do is make it easy for other people in the area to do,” she said. “If I can make it easy, then I feel like more people will want to participate.”
Solak is still determining the specific inventory of products The Refill Market will carry, but they will include a variety of household goods and cleaners, from liquid soaps, conditioners, and shampoos, to laundry detergent, all-purpose home cleaners, and other personal care products.
She’s looking to stock reusable goods and things made out of sustainable materials, as well as those that are biodegradable, free from harsh chemicals and toxins, cruelty-free, “and vegan when possible.”
“I have an idea of what I want to stock, and I’m also open to suggestions,” Solak said. “Most of the companies that I’m targeting right now are all small and family-run; I’m hoping to get at least one or two brands that are a little more well known.
“It’s going to be a delicate balance between doing what’s right for the environment and what’s right for your pocketbook,” she said.
Shoppers are invited to bring their own containers to the store, and Solak hopes to collect some other reusable vessels for those who come empty-handed.
She’s also considering local delivery, as well as a drop-off and pick-up service for call-ahead customers.
“I’m hoping between all those different ways that people can use the store that we’ll have a lot of people interested,” she said.
Only a handful of similarly themed stores catering specifically to zero-waste bulk purchases exist across the country, from co-ops, to health food stores, to dedicated shops like Good Bottle in Maplewood, which was a particular inspiration for The Refill Market.
Solak hopes to be open at 10 Haddon Avenue in Haddon Township by the spring—just in time for local farmers markets and green festivals—but hasn’t settled on a definitive date yet.
Retrofitting the former office of optometrist Samuel Tilonsky will take some doing, but once it’s complete, Solak hopes it will spark local conversations about green consumerism.
“My goal is for this to be a friendly, welcoming environment,” she said. “There’s no judgment whatsoever. Every little thing that you do, every switch that you make is going to make a difference to the collective.
“People say it all the time: we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing zero waste imperfectly,” Solak said. “We need this kind of shopping to be mainstream.”
The Refill Market will be located at 10 Haddon Avenue in Haddon Township. For more information, follow the shop on Instagram.
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