At Brooklyn Fare, a sizable grocer on Manhattan’s west side, Common Good products aren’t with the other dish soaps, detergents and cleansers. Instead, they occupy their own station, with empty glass bottles at the top, a shelf of filled bottles in the middle, and a big jug standing ready to pump out refills.
Common Good was started by Sacha Dunn and her husband Edmund Levine out of their personal desire to have a refillable and eco-friendly option when it comes to cleaning supplies. Their company is based in Brooklyn, and their first refill station opened in Dumbo.
Before starting Common Good, Dunn and Levine spent a year researching what ingredients would go into their formula, and discovered that they actually weren’t particularly comfortable with many of the things found in the products they previously used—although they always tried to buy the greenest option.“We found green chemists, who we worked with to design the formulas,” said Dunn. “After all of this research, we could go to them and say we really don’t want to use synthetic fragrances.” Instead, they used tea tree and lavender essential oils. The products are also formulated without sulfates, to be biodegradable, and are certified cruelty-free.
Today, over a dozen stores around New York have Common Good refill stations, and there are more shops further afield. Among their offerings are laundry detergent, hand soap, dish soap, all purpose cleaner and glass cleaner.
On my trip to Brooklyn Fare, I decided to buy a Common Good bottle, because I didn’t have a satisfactory spray bottle at home. The bottle cost $8.49, and if this seems a bit steep—that’s the point. It’s not disposable. Dunn said they encourage stores to allow customers to fill any vessel that they have handy, regardless of whether or not they initially purchase a branded bottle. The refill at Brooklyn Fare costs $4.49.
While recycling is a good way to keep materials out of the landfill, it’s not as resource efficient as refilling. “We all thought recycling was really the end of the conversation,” Dunn said, yet a depressingly low percentage of most plastic containers are actually collected and successfully recycled. “We need to shift the conversation from recycle to reduce and reuse.”
Going forward, creating an infrastructure that allows the refill stations themselves to be refilled is the next big challenge as the company grows. “When we started out, we could hand-deliver stuff,” said Dunn. Now that the company is growing, they are redesigning to use less packaging and less plastic themselves. “Distribution is one of the big challenges that we face.”
The refill policy makes it more difficult to track what percentage of initial Common Good buyers come back for refills, but Dunn did know that the refill stations allow stores to sell more Common Good product. And the demand is growing: grocery and home goods stores are now approaching Common Good about carrying their products.
“Brands have to be more responsible for offering a solution to a busy customer who actually wants the product,” said Dunn. “I do think customers are actually ahead of us in terms of what they’re willing to do.”