A tall, young person stands in front of a row of liquid soap dispensers on tap mounted on a blue-tiled wall.
The Filling Station in Berkeley’s North Shattuck district. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

“Less waste, more filling!” is the slogan behind Berkeley’s second refill shop, The Filling Station, which opened June 9 in the heart of the North Shattuck district. 

The store’s cheeky name is an appropriation of the original term for a place where you gassed up your car in mid-century America. The store turns that concept on its head by seeking to reduce single-use plastics — most of which are made by fossil fuels — by offering bulk supplies of household soaps, health and beauty products and pantry items.

“Every neighborhood needs a refill shop,” said owner Mandy Ladin. “If it’s not convenient, you’re not going to refill.”

A former rep in the natural products industry, Ladin has wanted to have a refill store for the past seven or eight years. She decided the time had come after discovering the 700-square-foot commercial space on Vine Street, amid a lively strip that includes Fava take-out, Bryn Walker boutique and newcomer Stay True Bikes

The Filling Station joins Fillgood, Berkeley’s first refill shop, or so-called “zero-waste store,” which was also the first in the East Bay when owner Stephanie Regni opened it as an online business in 2017. 

Fillgood moved into a brick-and-mortar shop on San Pablo Avenue in Albany in early 2019 and 18 months later to a Solano Avenue storefront in Berkeley, where it remains. Fillgood has continued its online business to accommodate a number of longtime customers who prefer shopping that way. 

Back in 2017, when Regni initially started the business, her customers’ awareness of refill stores and plastic pollution “was very limited.”

“The concept was more prevalent in Europe,” said Regni, who is French, “and many people I talked to the first year failed to comprehend Fillgood’s mission.”

Many of her customers believed that plastic was easily recyclable and not a pressing concern.  (According to the EPA, only 8.7% of all plastics are recycled in the U.S.) So she had to create presentations to increase awareness. In 2022 alone, Fillgood’s customers prevented the use of more than 190,000 single-use plastics, she said. 

A tall man and a woman smiling stand in front of white shelves with bulk containers filled with soap, detergent, and other cleaning goods
Derrick Chao, who created a system that makes it easier to ring up bulk purchases and Stephanie Regni at Regni’s store, Fillgood. Courtesy: Filljoy

The Bay Area now boasts about a dozen refill stores, not including locations like Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods that offer a limited number of bulk offerings, most of them food. Bringing your own containers for such bulk food purchases is a legacy of 1960s and ’70s food consciousness, in which the ecology minded demanded that their food co-ops and “health food stores” offer bulk offerings to cut down on packaging. 

Even if potential customers are on board with the ecological benefits of shopping at refill stores, doing so does require an additional trip. So the stores try to make the process easier and more convenient in a couple of ways. 

Typically, customers bring along their own containers to refill, but if they forget to or don’t have any at home, they can use one of the donated containers the store provides or purchase a glass container “for a low price so people aren’t deterred from filling up,” said Ladin.

In addition, the stores offer a variety of items across the product category spectrum so customers can fulfill more of their needs — not just soaps — at the shop. 

In addition to all kinds of cleaning products, for example, The Filling Station also sells makeup, bath, menstrual and dental products, including compostable replacement heads for Sonicare toothbrushes. One of the store’s pricier items is a Nutr ($169), an electronic machine for making milk alternatives, avoiding the typical single-use milk packaging (with plastic screw-on spouts) that end up in landfills. 

A row of glass and wood dispensers filled with toothpaste tablets.
Toothpaste and mouthwash tablets dispensers at the Filling Station. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight
Closeup of a stainless steel table with a scale, a pencil cup with colored markers, a tape dispenser, and tin cans.
The Filling Station offers bulk supplies of household soaps, beauty products, and pantry items. Customers can bring jars, containers, and bags to pick up goods but can use donated containers or buy low-cost jars. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

An assortment of plants, flower pots and pantry items round out the mix. Ladin likes to feature local vendors when possible, including Seka Hills olive oil (60 cents an ounce), local honey (60 cents an ounce) and gluten-free Cult Crackers ($1.88 an ounce) made by Diana Dar, who lives in the neighborhood. 

“We try to offer products so you won’t have to buy any unnecessary packaging every time you go to the store,” Ladin said. 

Fillgood has similar offerings and has grown substantially in six years. It started with 20 bulk products and now offers more than 130. In addition, the store collaborates with eco-friendly organizations and businesses, like The Silo, which offers “plastic free home delivery” of its baked goods and produce through Fillgood. 

The store also offers delivery of its own products ($25 minimum) and pickups at eight Bay Area locations besides its Solano Avenue store. And Regni has also added a service in which the store will refill customers’ containers while they tackle other errands. 

Like Ladin, Regni believes that refilling should be a part of the regular shopping experience, no matter where it takes place.

“It’s crucial that every neighborhood has convenient access to refill options for everyday products,” she said, “whether it’s through stores like ours, local grocery stores or farmers markets.”

The Filling Station, 2112B Vine St., Berkeley. Phone: 510-616-6533. Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram.

Fillgood, 1579a Solano Ave, Berkeley. Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Connect via Facebook and Instagram.

Joanne Furio is a longtime journalist and writer of creative nonfiction. Originally from New York, she has been a staff writer, an editor and a freelance magazine writer. More recently, she was a contributing...