Over the past two weeks I’ve seen dozens of heartbreaking pictures of the recent flooding in Kwa-Zulu Natal, and there’s one image I can’t get out of my mind: a shot by photojournalist Jacques Nelles of a Durban beach piled high with plastic waste. Apparently many of the flash floods in and around Durban — which killed hundreds of people — were caused by storm drains choked with plastic. Single-use plastic is killing us, yet we keep voraciously consuming it because there seems to be no alternative.
That was a sad and serious opening paragraph. But I promise the rest of my news is positive: I’m here to tell you, on the eve of Earth Day, that there is a wonderful plastic-free/packaging-free grocery store in Joburg: The Refillery. Shopping at the Refillery will help you feel like you’re doing something, however small, to reduce the massive amount of deadly plastic floating around this world.
I’ve known about the Refillery for a couple of years and ordered online from them once or twice during the 2020 lockdown. Initially all of the Refillery’s branches were in what I call “the far north” (Fourways, Morningside, Hyde Park, and Pretoria), where I rarely venture. But last year the Refillery opened a location in Linden, one of my favorite suburbs, and after a glowing Instagram review by fellow blogger the Scribs and Nibs, I finally went in a couple of months ago.
My love affair with the Refillery started the moment I walked through the door and I’ve returned at least once a week (sometimes several times a week) ever since.
What is the Refillery?
The Refillery concept is simple: They sell food, cleaning supplies, and personal care items in bulk, and encourage customers to bring their own containers. The Refillery also sells plastic-free containers — glass jars and bottles, mostly — at reasonable prices, and provides brown paper bags for people who forget their own containers. A Refillery staff member weighs your containers, then you fill them with whatever you want to buy, then you pay for your items by weight.
The Refillery has every food, cleaning, and personal item imaginable that can be sold in bulk — pasta, grains, cereals, baking supplies, herbs and spices, coffee and tea, dried fruit, olive oil, candy, nuts, shampoo, etc. — all plastic-free. Here are some of my favorite things to buy at the Refillery:
- Chickpea pasta (my new favorite food — so much tastier and healthier than regular pasta)
- Olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- Dried sorgum, dried lentils, dried chickpeas
- Household cleaners and laundry detergent
- Hand soap
- Easter candy
- A hundred other things
Why I Love Plastic-free Shopping at the Refillery
In addition to the surge of smugness that I feel every time I buy food without packaging, I love shopping at the Refillery for two other reasons: 1) The beautifully designed, aesthetically pleasing interior; and 2) The knowledgeable, engaging staff. Jo and Ayanda, the two women who manage the shop, are particularly helpful and fun to talk to. I look forward to seeing them every week.
I like that going to the Refillery makes me think carefully about everything I throw away. I’m less likely to chuck away that plastic yogurt container or jam jar than I was before, because I know I can use those containers at the Refillery. Lastly, I like how shopping at the Refillery has inspired me to experiment with new recipes using all the interesting grains and pastas they sell.
I think stores like the Refillery are more common in America and other parts of the world. But it’s the only store of its kind in Joburg, as far as I know, and sorely needed. All the other Joburg stores I shop in, from Pick-n-Pay to Woolworths to the local fruit and veg shops (I’m looking at you, Impala), use huge and unnecessary amounts of plastic and other packaging. This has to change before we all drown in it.
You might be wondering how the prices at the Refillery compare to regular grocery store prices. I tried to figure that out but it’s difficult for people who aren’t very good at budgeting or math, like me. I do know that some items are definitely more expensive at the Refillery, since the quality is higher and the sourcing is more difficult. Other items are similarly or even lower priced than the same items at Woolworths or Spar. Either way, I’m personally willing to pay a bit more for the privilege of shopping at the Refillery.
Final note: There is a really nice coffee shop next door to the Refillery, which is in the process of changing ownership and doesn’t have a new name yet. But I went in there yesterday and the coffee is fantastic. Highly recommend.
Do yourself (and the planet) a favor and check out the Refillery nearest you. The locations are listed here. The Linden address is 65 7th Street in the Denmyr Court building.