There is a pandemic of plastic. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists, which is a pretty overwhelming concept. But what is just as frustrating is how hard it is to find convenient eco-friendly replacements for the plastic we use. It was out of this frustration that our family decided to start a new business. There was only one problem… we forgot to plan for a pandemic.
In May, as small businesses across the country were shuttering due to COVID-19, we opened Sage Refill Market, a low-waste refill store providing sustainable and package-free options for household cleaning and personal care products. Opening a business is perilous under normal circumstances, but the pandemic added an extra layer of anxiety. We also realized that plastic pollution was growing exponentially during this time, with stores banning reusable bags, and medical waste and personal protective equipment piling up. We decided our mission – to help people consume less single-use plastic – couldn’t wait.
Like many entrepreneurs, our story started in our home, born out of our desire to find ways to reduce our plastic consumption. Our family has always recycled, diligently filling up bins each week and carting glass off to the recycling center (insert pat on the back). We thought we were doing a fairly good job. But one day we heard a report on NPR that a mind-boggling 91% of plastic was not being recycled, and that by 2050 oceans across the planet were expected to have more plastic than fish. We realized that this isn’t a problem that we can recycle our way out of.
There is plastic is almost everything these days. And it’s not just the obvious water bottles. It has become such a part of our experience that we don’t even notice much of it. Look around your kitchen and bathroom to see how many everyday items are single-use plastic. The plastic pollution we create out of our need for convenience is enormous, and our planet is paying the price.
Our family decided opening Sage Refill Market was our answer to help families like ours make more sustainable choices. We had zero experience, and no idea how to run a business, but we had a passion for our mission. In a remarkably short amount of time, a business plan was written, a lease was signed, and we were off and running, ordering inventory, designing a logo, and renovating the space.
And then COVID-19 hit.
No business plan can prepare you for something as monumental as a global pandemic. We had to grapple with how to open when everything around us – literally – was closed. Still, we were fortunate in some ways. Because we sold essential products, we were allowed to open. We made a quick pivot and quickly posted everything online so we could “open” with curbside pick-up and local delivery. We even prefilled bottles with our bulk products to get them into people’s hands so they could start using them. We hoped they would bring the containers back later to refill.
Now, two months later, people are slowly discovering us. We can have customers in our store, filling (and refilling) containers and purchasing more sustainable products. It’s an extraordinary time, and we are all still feeling our way along as we create a new type of “normal.” But we’re optimistic that this new normal is a more thoughtful one, much less reliant on single-use plastics. This is a real opportunity to make small changes that can positively impact our planet. Every single-plastic item we help someone replace adds up, and together we can make a lasting difference.
Sage Refill Market is located at 1214 Wedgewood Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212