At the front of a Lower Mission refill shop, on a chalkboard that marks milestones of plastics saved, Gabi Dubland lifted her blue chalk and wrote: 10,000.
On a slightly bigger chalkboard at the sunny entrance of a refill store in Vernon, Teresa Sanders raised her blue chalk and scrawled: 100,000. To the owners of both stores — FILL Vernon’s Refill Store and FILL Kelowna’s Refill Store — every one of those zeroes says so much.
“It takes me back to how it felt in the beginning when I was helping people fill their bottles and seeing the high that they would get in refilling and the impact we were making together,” said Dubland. She was among the first team of ‘fillers’ when the Vernon FILL store opened in December 2019. “I was so passionate about what we were doing and so excited, people would always ask, ‘Is this your store?’”
But it wouldn’t be long before Dubland could give a different answer to that question: The Vernon store had only been open a few weeks when Dubland and Sanders began to dream of opening a Kelowna store as partners. In November, that dream became a reality.
After completing significant lease-hold improvements in the span of just a month, in November FILL Kelowna’s Refill Store opened on Lakeshore Road’s Mission Park Shopping Centre, offering 1,250 square feet of opportunity to refill everything from dish soap and deodorant to shampoo and hand sanitizer across price points. Three months later, the store has already celebrated a major milestone: 10,000 plastics saved.
“We’ve had a really positive response from the community. People have really embraced it and it’s encouraging to see the plastic we’re keeping out of landfills,” says Dubland.
She and Sanders identify as ‘sustainability stewards’ and they remember every photo at the chalkboard.
“We were saving so much plastic, the thought of being able to bring that to another Okanagan community was a no-brainer,” says Sanders. When she opened the doors to the Vernon store — several months after winning first place in Enterprize Challenge, a startup boot camp that culminates in a Dragon’s Den style pitch to judges — she says it was like “a rocket ship took off.”
Even during COVID-19, FILL has been thriving. The store went online, offered curbside pickup or delivery and began selling surface and hand sanitizer, which arrives in one of three 210 litre drums that circles back and forth from the manufacturer so no new plastic is created. FILL even went through the Health Canada process of creating a new lavender-scented hand sanitizer that’s being used throughout Predator Ridge.
“We never considered postponing our plans to open in Kelowna,” says Sanders. They wanted to ensure if people wanted to refill, they could.
“Right from the beginning I felt, I have to make refilling more affordable,” says Sanders, who opted to have FILL carry plant-based and regular grade safe blends as well as organic. “We just want to support people in refilling, so our approach is to find out what someone’s needs and price point are, and then help them find the product that’s a fit for them.”
In the spirit of inclusivity while doing something good for the earth — and collectively contributing to all those zeroes — Sanders says FILL has really created a community of passionate supporters, and those relationships have grown even stronger during COVID, despite sometimes shorter, distanced visits and digital communication.
“Coming in to FILL is an experience. There is a sense of community and fun and a joy in what we’re doing. I think people find it very rewarding. Everyone leaves with a smile and I love being able to say to customers at the till, ‘Thank you for making the world a greener place.’”