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Exploring Life & Business with Sarah Kim of The Refill Effect

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Kim.

Hi Sarah, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
In 2018, after years of slowly cutting back on our household waste, I’d made a firm commitment to myself to replace household products with sustainable options when we ran out. I had heard of refillers in other cities, so I went searching for St. Louis’.

Much to my surprise, there were no businesses devoted solely to refilling existing containers and supplying sustainable household supplies, and woefully few options. I had recently stopped asking my children “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and was asking, instead, “What problems do you want to solve?” It quickly became clear that I wanted to solve the problem of the lack of local access to low-waste household supplies in our community.

I started with farmers’ markets and pop-ups, then moved to online ordering, curbside pickup, and local delivery during the pandemic. On Earth Day 2022, I opened the first brick-and-mortar location of The Refill Effect, making the experience of shopping for low-waste household supplies more accessible and efficient.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Like most small business owners right now, the pandemic has been an obstacle. Before it started, my customer base was growing quickly, I was partnering with a local restaurant for curbside pick-up, and sales were increasing steadily.

When the pandemic hit, I felt limited on how I could offer my products, the restaurant with which I partnered closed, and I needed to come up with a new system. That’s when I built my website, introduced online ordering, and offered local delivery. Since there were no in-person events happening, customers could no longer fill products into their own containers.

Instead, I built a system of repurposing containers, filling orders in them, and accepting them back for reuse that allowed me to offer household products to my customers without burdening them with added waste. This closed-loop system continued to allow me to fulfill my orders waste-free.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
I’m very proud of being a certified woman-owned business. I’m very proud that, since its founding, The Refill Effect has saved more than 80,000 pieces of plastic from entering landfills, waterways, and recycling bins. I’m proud that we’ve planted more than 125 trees.

I’m proud that I’m working every day to teach my children how to go about making the difference they want to see in the world. I’m proud of my customers who are bravely making changes, big and small, in their shopping and consumption habits.

One of my proudest moments came recently when a woman came into my shop to tell me that she opened her own zero-waste business in her hometown because she watched me do it and believed that she could do it as well. And she did. That IS The Refill Effect. Every choice we make impacts the people and planet around us.

Every decision ripples out to others. Together, we’re making a difference.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
My advice to those just starting out is to remember why you want to do what you’re doing and take steps in the direction of your goal every day. Don’t give up.

Your work is important. Some days feel overwhelming, or the tasks are ones with which you are completely unfamiliar, but you’ll learn, and your life and your community will be better for it.

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Image Credits

The Refill Effect and Sarah Kim

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