When Shara Ertel was thinking about opening her own business, she was not thinking about sustainability. But, Ertel wanted to incorporate her love of food into her profession, which led her friend to suggest a refill bar.
“People can go in and just buy however much or however little they want, and so it’s great if you’re cooking and you’re trying recipes,” Ertel said. “But now I’m like … realizing just how many ways there are that you can reduce waste.
Ertel’s shop, Fulfilled Goods, is the only store of its kind in Newton, according to its website. The shop carries hygiene, toiletry, and food products in bulk, and customers bring in their own reusable containers to fill up with the store’s products. This approach to shopping minimizes the use of plastic packaging in a way that is accessible to the average person, according to Ertel.
“Why I kind of opened and the kinds of products I stock are to provide options for people to switch from plastic and repackaged things that are not sustainable to ones that are more sustainable, and trying to do it in a way that is as least disruptive to people’s usual habits,” she said.
Sustainable practices from businesses play an important part in general sustainability efforts, according to Leeann Sullivan, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.
“If we can cut down on the amount of non-disposable plastics that are used in those products, then it takes that burden off of consumers to have to be, like, trying to navigate already the rising cost of food and the rising cost of all products, while also trying to make those sustainability decisions,” Sullivan said.
There is also a health benefit to minimizing single-use plastics in food packaging, according to Sullivan.
“We consume so much plastic, our bodies are made up of plastic at this point,” she said. “Not having all of that in our lives is inherently better for us than it is otherwise.”
In terms of accessibility, Ertel said she hopes to partner with food pantries in the future to supply spices and other products. She also plans on adding 20 percent discounts for seniors, teachers, and college students.
“Something I’ve been very mindful of is trying to source things at price points that are affordable for people, so that you can make the switch and it’s not just a ‘doing it for a sustainable reason,’” Ertel said.
Fulfilled Goods has also helped with Ertel’s own growth, she said.
“I’m a little bit of a perfectionist, and so I wanted the store to be as perfect as possible before I opened it,” Ertel said. “And then I finally just was like, ‘I’m just going to open it and it’s going to be a work in progress over everything else.’ That’s my whole thing: an attitude of progress over perfection.”
This attitude is reflected in Ertel’s attitude toward sustainability, which she said she shares with her customers through the store.
“So it’s the idea of just do what you can, and the more people that can at least, you know, do something, starts to add up and make a difference,” she said. “So people just try different things and it’s all about integrating new things into your habits.”
The mindset of collective change in refill bars makes them valuable to broader sustainability efforts, according to Sullivan.
“These refill bars are happening also to be spaces of community gathering—it feels like an important bridge between individual behavioral change and a kind of willingness to engage in these kind of bigger sustainability actions,” she said.
Ertel’s personal experience with Fulfilled Goods has highlighted human connection, she said. She pointed to customer interaction as her favorite part of owning the store.
“I think the community is in general what I really like and I guess especially coming from the pandemic, there was so little interaction with people. It’s been really nice having those conversations again.”
Ultimately, Ertel said, she believes that this store is a good project for herself, giving her a sense of fulfillment in her work life.
“It’s really about finding stuff satisfying,” she said. “Like [your job] doesn’t really matter if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. It’s really just you want to feel like you’re making a difference and enjoying stuff.”