On a hot summer Friday, a Toyota RAV4 rolls into the parking lot of Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis. It’s there for an outdoor festival with live music, cornhole, and, of course, beer.
Trailing just behind the car is a bright green shed. The driver parks it right in front of the beer garden.
“I am setting up Sally Sud Shed. She is one of the ladies of Green Road Refill. The other one is me, Jess Georges,” the driver said.
For the last three years, Georges, Sally, and Sally’s predecessor, a converted school bus named Betty, have travelled to farmers markets and fairs all across the Cape and Nantucket. As the founder and sole employee of Green Road Refill, Georges is selling eco-friendly and plastic-free products: everything from bamboo toothbrushes to biodegradable deodorants. But the heart of her business is refills.
“So the whole idea is, 'Why do we need to buy a bottle with our product every time? How do we solve that?’ And I was like, ‘Well, why can't we just refill?’” she said. “And this was about three years ago.”
From her mobile shed, Georges and her refills have helped reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in our oceans and in our waste streams. It’s a small victory in a much larger battle. This is especially true because the problem with single-use plastics has recently gotten even bigger.
Plastic Use Surges During COVID-19
“So there's a couple of new things that have occurred through COVID over the last few months,” said Kari Parcell, a recycling and solid waste expert with the Department of Environmental Protection and Barnstable County's Cape Cod Cooperative Extension. “One is that increase on PPE, the personal protective equipment, that we're seeing on the ground: the masks, the face shields, the gloves, things like that.”
Unfortunately, Parcell said, none of that PPE is recyclable. It’s all trash. And in fact, we’ve been throwing out a lot more of everything lately.
“So we’ve seen a huge increase in household trash. Around Massachusetts it's been 10 to 15 percent on household trash.”
When it comes to plastics, recycling is not the answer that most of us want it to be. Of all the plastics produced in recent years, only about 9 percent got recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
On top of that, in the next decade, the production of plastics could generate more than 1.3 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. That's roughly equivalent to the emissions released by 295 coal plants.
This is the problem Jessica Georges is trying to solve, one bottle at a time.
Green Road Re-fills a Need
“Hi there! How are you doing?” she called to a customer at Cape Cod Beer. “Have you refilled before?”
Even with a big sun hat covering her red hair, she stands around 5 feet tall. On this day, Georges quickly pulled boxes, bottles, and buckets out from every corner of the mobile shed as the beer festival got into full swing and a young guitarist started playing covers nearby.
But soon, people wandered over to the Green Road Refill. They gingerly examined wool dryer balls and refillable floss, until, finally, they looked up. They saw shelves with dozens of colorful jugs full of eco-friendly shampoo, lotion, and dish soap.
“I didn’t realize that you had sunscreen, so I’m very intrigued by that,” one woman said to Georges.
Some of these customers brought their own bottles that once held perfume or laundry detergent. Others browsed through a bucket of donated and sanitized bottles. When they made their choices—locally made hand sanitizer or clove-and-peppercorn conditioner—they handed their containers to Georges.
“How much do you want?” she asked. “It's two dollars an ounce.”
She measured by squirts, often counting to herself… 23… 24… 25.
“How about half full?” suggested an older male customer.
“Half full,” Georges agreed.
She weighed the bottle and tallied up the total.
“Beer and sunscreen,” Georges noted as he paid. “Who would have thought you'd be buying these two things together, right?”
Consumers Drive Change
Georges said she’s refilled more than 1,000 plastic bottles since she first started the buisness.
To Kari Parcell, efforts like the Green Road Refill are part of consciousness raising that leads to larger change.
“That's how we can be more accountable,” Parcell said. “Most of us don't have that ability to decide what shows up on our shelves, but to some degree we do because if we stop purchasing that en masse, they're gonna stop producing it, because it's not going to make them money anymore. And that's what's really important, getting that catalyst going for that change.”
Jessica Georges’ dream is a brick-and-mortar shop for refills, but until that day comes she’ll keep taking Sally, her bright green shed, to farmers’ markets and, yes, beer festivals.