WeFill: Solving the World’s Single-use Plastic Problem
Would you rather . . .
Spend a year scuba diving at the world’s greatest coral reefs OR tackle the world’s single-use plastic problem?
In 2018, Cristin Salaz found herself in just this predicament. After her father passed away, she had a decision to make. Was she going to use her inheritance money to fulfill her dream of traveling the world and see all of the disappearing coral reefs? Or, would she launch a store that would provide an alternative for single-use plastics and potentially change the way people shop forever?
Although she had no background in retail, she took a bold leap. On December 15, 2018, WeFill was born.
WeFill is Southwest Colorado’s first refilling station for household and personal products. This concept is incredibly simple, yet incredibly effective.
Here’s how WeFill works:
- Rinse out your empty bottles and containers.
- Bring them to WeFill.
- Weigh the containers upon arrival and write the tare weight on a label.
- Refill the containers with soaps, shampoos, detergents, or anything else you need.
- Pay at the station (Cristin will weigh the newly filled containers and subtract the original weight, so you only pay for what you fill).
- You’re on your way.
What are single-use plastics?
Single-use plastics are plastic containers that you only use once . . . then throw away.
What’s the problem with single-use plastics?
According to a blog from Nature’s Path Organics, ”Most of our plastic ends up in landfills, our oceans and waterways, and the environment. Plastics do not biodegrade. Instead, they slowly break down into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics.
“Research shows the effects plastic has on the Earth as well as on humans. It can take up to thousands of years for plastic bags and Styrofoam containers to decompose. In the meantime, it contaminates our soil and water. The toxic chemicals used to manufacture plastic gets transferred to animal tissue, eventually entering the human food chain. Styrofoam products are toxic if ingested and can damage nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.”
Doesn’t recycling help?
Nature’s Path Organics explains that while recycling helps reduce single-use plastics, it is simply not enough to eliminate the problem: “Single-use plastics may represent the epitome of today’s throwaway culture. The U.N. Environment reports just nine percent of the world’s nine billion tonnes of plastic has been recycled.”
Where did you get the idea for this alternative to single-use plastics?
Cristin is a biologist who has been studying birds since the mid-1990s. Several years ago, her company’s contract was pulled, so she began searching for a new career. She was cleaning condos every day near Purgatory Ski Resort, but she quickly realized that this line of work wasn’t fulfilling. “I cried every day,” she says, “and every time I had to open a new bottle of cleaning products, I cried even more. It was really the cleaning products that spurred the idea for WeFill. After my dad passed away, I figured I could go diving for a year and go see all of the reefs before they are destroyed, or I could do something where I was giving back and make a living for myself.”
Now, she runs WeFill: a store that creates an alternative for consumers, allowing them to reduce their use of single-use plastics.
“It’s been quite a project. Having never worked in retail, it’s the biggest puzzle of my life. Apparently I’m good at it.” She laughs, “When I was a kid, my brothers always hoarded the good food, so I developed this fear about always having enough. It has made it so I don’t ever run out of things in here. I always have what people are looking for.”
What types of products does WeFill provide?
“The big thing is to really have good products—as organic as I can get. We started with the cleaning products and have continued to grow.
“We try to avoid palm oil, although, with many shower gels, we can’t help it. We really encourage shoppers to try using castile soap. It’s 100% organic, and it’s better for our open pours, better for our waterways, better for the soil . . . better for everything. There are so many different ways you can use it.”
WeFill also carries vinegar, oils, lotions, facial products, reusable containers, cloth diapers, and more.
Was there anything that “you didn’t see coming”?
“The education part has been more than I anticipated. Not everyone knows why plastic is bad.
“Last year, I had an intern from Animas High School for three weeks. Instead of having her work in the shop, I had her create a slideshow, and she reached out to teachers at the elementary schools. We gave presentations about reducing plastic. We did eleven presentations in eight days.
“The kids were so excited and interested, especially hearing it from someone who is only sixteen—they were more apt to listen to her. A lot of kids are now teaching their parents, and their parents are coming to WeFill.
“The education piece will be ongoing. We need to get away from ‘convenience.’ The hard part is that everyone has second and third jobs, and we are all trying to make ends meet. I understand that people have to make an extra stop out of their day to shop here, and I’m so grateful that people would do that (the really nice parking helps!).
“In just twelve months, we are up to 10,006 single-use containers not in landfills and waterways today. I’m just grateful for people who actually care.”
What events has WeFill hosted?
In July, WeFill hosted the showing of Albatross at the Animas City Theater. The movie vividly shows the impact that single-use plastics are having in the Pacific Ocean. “When the lights came on, everyone was crying,” Cristin says. “We hope people may be able to tell their friends.”
“The movie also seems to have spurred others in the community back into action. About five years ago, a local family tried to get plastic sacks banned from Durango’s grocery stores. Now, it has come up again, and the same family is spearheading the initiative for the second time.
“The Albatross helped get that ball rolling. I’m seeing that with this business—maybe others are being inspired to do other great things,” Cristin hopes.
Who are WeFill’s current customers?
“Our customers are conscious, informed, and so nice,” Cristin says. “Because we are next door to the Telluride Bud Company, about five to fifteen people per day stop in looking for weed. Of that, seventy-five percent stop and ask what we are doing. Most are like, ‘Wow, this is really cool. I wish my town had this.’”
Many customers now bring their refillable containers every time they come to town. WeFill even has customers from Farmington and Albuquerque.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
“The most challenging part is having serious conversations all the time about the world’s problems. We try to keep politics out of here. I’m happy to talk about climate and environmental stuff all day long, but it’s draining.
“I’m so grateful to get to do this venture with my mom. When she sees that I’m up to my neck talking about serious stuff, she sends me home to take a nap. You don’t realize how much of an emotional toll it takes on you. I go home exhausted. Who doesn’t go home with climate fatigue and everything fatigue?
“The part that hurts the most is how many environmentally conscious people haven’t stopped in. I think about it every day—what can I do differently? I’m taking a poll to try to figure out what do.”
What are your long-term goals for WeFill?
“The whole goal is to franchise. In order to work in the way we want it to, WeFills have to be convenient and accessible for people. The store/business is really the product I’m selling. I am streamlining the process right now to make it ready to franchise. If I don’t do it, someone else will.”
What’s the most important thing you want people to know?
“We don’t need a handful of people doing this perfectly. We need millions doing it imperfectly.”
“It starts with small choices and refusals at the grocery store, such as picking a regular potato versus one wrapped in plastic (you’re going to wash it anyway!) or buying peanut butter in a glass jar. The more little choices you make, the easier it gets.
“We know people get intimidated coming in here. Messes get made, and it’s okay! The whole point right now is to make people comfortable to try something new. The other day, a woman came in with her coffee cup and said, ‘This is all I have, but I need detergent.’ I was like, ‘That is so awesome!’
“We do recommend using something similar or cleaning out your containers really well (if you try to put shampoo in a 409 bottle, I cannot help you!). That said, we do have a release of liability on all of our stickers,” Cristin says.
The point? Come on in and give it a try! After your first visit, you will want to come back again and again.
What’s the next “big thing” for WeFill?
“I have a VW bus. Over the winter, I’m going to try to put it in the shop to get it decked out with paint and a custom inside, so we have a mobile unit. I’m hoping that by spring or summer, we’ll be able to service Dolores, Pagosa, and other surrounding areas.”
What’s the outlook for WeFill?
“This business will succeed. When I get complaints from the big plastic makers, I will know that I have succeeded. Greta Thunberg is one of the top five biggest threats to the oil and gas industry right now. Maybe one day WeFill will be a viable competitor as well.”
What is your favorite part of the business?
“How nice people are! Lucky for me, I’m always surrounded by like-minded people. It’s kind of dangerous . . . I get out there in the real world and forget. My customers are so nice. They’re grateful, and I’m grateful for them. I love learning from them too. My friend just made me chapsticks. When they’re empty, I give them to her, and she refills them.
“Also, my mom is seventy-four, and I feel like I’m doing a really cool, important project that is fulfilling for both of us. Together, we are a really good team. We hang out every day. That is awesome.
“Every day, I go home happy. It’s huge. I don’t cry every day. It’s the quality of life. I really wanted to be active in something. It was Edward Abbey who said, ‘Find what you really love and give it your half. The other half is for you.’ This is a business that I can really do that with.”
“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; you will outlive them.”
― Edward Abbey
WeFill is an absolutely brilliant concept, and Cristin has done a marvelous job bringing the idea to fruition. I was so nervous the first time I walked in, but she immediately made me feel right at home. The atmosphere is clean, warm, and inviting. Now, I am a regular customer. If you haven’t been to WeFill, you need to check it out.
Learn more by visiting WeFill!
3465 Main Avenue
Durango, CO 81301
Hours: Noon to 6:00 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday