Photo of gravity dispensers at a zero waste refill store

How to shop at a refill store

09 Jun 23 3 minute read

As people strive to live more sustainably, refill stores are becoming increasingly popular as a means of reducing single-use packaging at home.

But, if you’ve never shopped at a refill store it can seem like a complicated process.   

We headed along to Locavore’s Partick location to see explore how easy it is to shop at a refill store... 

What to bring

Before you go, check your cupboards and write a list of what you need so that you know what to look for when you get there. It’s also a good idea to match the size of the container to the amount you normally buy.

Containers don’t need to be Pinterest-worthy. An assortment of takeaway containers, reusable food bags and glass jars will all do the job as long as they are clean and dry. If you are using glass jars, keep in mind that they can be quite heavy when filled if you need to carry them a distance.

For household cleaning products, like fabric detergent or washing up liquid, reusing bottles you already have is a great way to give the packaging an extended life.

If you get to the store and find that you’re a container short, many locations will have a box of empty ones handy that you can use.

Weighing your containers

This is the bit that many shoppers will find daunting on their first visit, but refill store staff are there to help and will happily run through what to do. There are often signs with step-by-step instructions on what to do if you’re ever unsure too.

In general, the first thing you need to do is pop your empty container (with lid) on the weighing scales and select ‘empty container’ on the screen. This will print out a sticker with a barcode and weight, which will be subtracted from the filled container weight once you’ve finished shopping.

If you reuse the same container on every visit, you’ll often only have to weigh your empty container once if the barcode is still visible.

Photo of gravity dispensers at a zero waste refill store

Filling your containers

Filling your containers can vary slightly from store to store but most have:

  • Gravity food dispensers for items like pasta, rice and other dried foods – just pop a funnel on your container and hold it up to the dispenser. Pull the handle and pour in what you need. Be ready though, as it can come out fast!
  • Scoop bins – use the scoop to fill up your containers.
  • Jars with spices or teas – use the spoons or mini scoops.
  • Bulk containers with pumps or taps for household cleaning products.

Check with your local store to find out their process for using scoops, funnels and spoons. Some will have dedicated utensils for different products, while others will have a place for used items so they can be washed once done.

The great thing about refill shops is that you get to buy only what you need so you can fill up your containers with an exact amount rather than buying too much which could end up wasted.

Photo of cleaning product dispensers at a zero waste refill store

Weighing your filled containers

Once you’ve finished filling up your containers it’s time to head back to the weighing station. Scan the barcode showing the empty weight then pop your filled container on the scales and select the product on the screen.

This will print out a label with the price and the barcode which will be scanned at the till.

Top tip: If you can, stick the price barcode to the opposite side of the container to the weight barcode to make it easier to scan at the till.

Photo of a shopping basket with filled containers at a zero waste refill store

Quick recap on using a refill store

  1. Fancy containers aren’t needed – just use what you have.

  2. In the store, first weigh all your containers.

  3. Fill your containers with any products you need.

  4. Weigh your containers again – the container weight will be subtracted from the filled weight.

  5. Head to the till.

Remember, the store team members are there to help, so don't be shy about asking questions - there's nothing they won't have heard before.