The Soap Dispensary: Community-based eco-champion helps consumers reduce, reuse and refill

The Soap Dispensary is a retail store dedicated to reducing the plastic footprint of consumer products by refilling household cleaners, personal care products and DIY ingredients. Customers bring in their own clean containers or pay a small deposit fee to use one from the store, and reuse them over and over. The products they source are chosen for their low impact on human and environmental health, and contain no toxic chemicals, fillers, dyes or synthetic perfumes. They also carry a wide range of plastic-free lifestyle products. In early 2015 the store will expand to refilling edible liquids (olive oil, honey, soy sauce and more) and will definitely be sourcing from local made and local owned for many of these products.

SoapDispensary_ByTheNumbersQuestion: How are you supporting other local businesses?

Answer: We try very hard to source local products first, and then Canadian and US products. We are deeply rooted in the community, and that’s very important to us! Sometimes local businesses approach us and we try out their products in our store, or we see products at the farmer’s market that we really like and bring them in. We also take into consideration recommendations from our staff and customers. We’ve helped a number of small local producers get off the ground. For instance, companies like Ulat Pure Wool Dryer Balls and Sayula approached us when they were just starting out and our orders helped them get off the ground. Now they are distributing across Canada. Most often we source direct from the business, but some products like carrier oils and soap nuts can’t be sourced locally, so in that case we buy from distributors, 57% of which are local.

Question: What social practices are you proud of?

Answer: We are proud of our hiring practices and that we pay wages higher than the industry average. Our staff is our best asset! Everyone we’ve ever hired has been a customer first; they share our passion for what we do. We put a lot of time into training them, and we work very hard to retain them. We have five part-timers and we would love to make some of them full-time but they don’t want more hours due to other commitments and so we work around their schedule to ensure they stay. We also donate to many environmental and social causes. We donated to Surf Rider when Jack Johnson committed to doubling donations, and we asked a supplier to crochet wool poppies to donate to the poppy fund this past year. We help raised money and also provided an eco alternative to the plastic poppy. We also regularly hold workshops in the store to empower customers to make their own products. During the holidays we offer gift-making workshops such as soap and candle making as an alternative to the rampant consumerism of the season. We’ve also partnered with David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, and SPEC (the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation) and contribute gifts and door prizes to local events and fundraisers.

Question: What environmental practices are you proud of?

Answer: In the first two years of operation, we helped our customers divert about 12,000 containers. That’s a lot of petroleum that wasn’t used to create more packaging! We sell lots of glass containers and offer a take back program if customers opt for plastic packaging. We charge a deposit fee to use plastic but will refund the fee when they return it. It ensures that it comes back to us to be reused. And we not only help eliminate packaging but also consider the product’s end life. We’ve avoided bringing in e-cloths for example because they aren’t recyclable or compostable after the customer is finished with them. We are also proud that we are helping reduce our customers’ exposure to toxins. We cater to people with sensitivities or have children and need healthier alternatives. We source products that are as non-toxic as possible. We do a lot of research, and also learn from our staff and customers about toxicity and ethical sourcing practices.