Retailer Spotlight: Urban Bulk & Refill

Urban Bulk and Refill Toronto, small business, zero waste, refill depot

Our retailer spotlights have become a fan favourite and we have loved bringing them to you!  This month, we have URBAN BULK & REFILL, a beautiful shop in Leslieville that carries just as its name suggests: bulk and refills!  We love to supply you with destinations for refills and this is a keeper to add to your list!

Urban Bulk & Refill transitioned to a new owner this year and it has become a go-to spot for green living and zero waste.  Here's a little interview we had with the new owner Karen!


Karen, thank you so much for your time.  Please tell us a bit about how you became the owner of Urban Bulk & Refill.  What was the journey that brought you here?

I was first inspired by a zero waste refill store in my neighbourhood in Vancouver, where I was living last year. I absolutely loved the concept and the community of dedicated BYOC-ers (Bring Your Own Container-ers) it created. When I moved back to Toronto, it was clear that the zero-waste trend was gaining momentum and that there was a gap in stores that catered to communities looking to reduce their waste footprint. I was lucky to find Urban Bulk Emporium for sale in Leslieville. Urban Bulk Emporium was a four year old bulk food store oriented towards better quality products, local and organic (when possible), with a small refill section in the corner that I knew I’d be able to expand. 

The stars were aligned with timing and with finding a location that already had a really great community of customers who were already trying to live more sustainably. Since I took over on April 1, 2019, we’ve rebranded as Urban Bulk & Refill and have steadily been increasing our non-food refillables to include over three dozen household and personal care products!

 Urban Bulk and Refill, zero waste, small business Toronto, refill depot

In your opinion, why are refills so important at this time?

Right now, it’s the norm in Canada for products to be sold in single use containers. Reusing containers is one of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of packaging consumed in a household. As consumers, our actions speak loudly and by demanding products in more sustainable packaging (or none at all), larger corporations will comply. Consumers vote with their dollars every day. We’re already seeing plenty of news coverage about large CPG companies experimenting with ways to offer delivery for refillable products, and products in bulk. 


And right along with refills, why is bulk a better option right now for folks?

Bulk has always been a great way to buy - there’s the simple math of cost savings by buying in bulk, but also less food waste as a result of the ability to buy only what you need. There are definitely some products we carry that you’d only ever need a tablespoon or two of, which is a quantity you can buy when shopping bulk. Because we also offer BYOC for our bulk food products (containers must be clean, dry and food safe), it’s a great way to reduce packaging in your household.

 Urban Bulk and Refill, zero waste, small business Toronto, refill depot

Please tell us a little bit more about YOU and why green living is so important to you.

By no means do I live anywhere close to a perfect, eco-friendly lifestyle, but I’m a firm believer in continual improvement. Every little bit counts. My goal with Urban Bulk & Refill is to make green living more accessible, with the hope that eventually every neighbourhood will have a refill shop. 

I’m a big outdoors person, and an avid gardener, and I think being outside so much has really taught me the importance of living greener. There’s nothing worse than going on a hike and finding an empty water bottle tossed on the side of the trail. If we all take a few steps to live greener, and encourage others to do the same, our communities will benefit.


In your opinion, what is the best way for our readers to start bringing more bulk and refill options into their homes and lives?

Start small! Pick an item in your kitchen or bathroom and once it’s finished, opt to refill it rather than buy a new one. There’s no need to throw out what you already have to shift to refilling. Do some research and find a place in your neighbourhood that offers bulk or refills. There are tons of places popping up that are specifically geared towards zero waste refills, but also lots of big box stores that offer bulk and are often receptive to bringing your own container. If you need inspiration there are Facebook groups such as ‘Zero Waste Toronto’ with helpful tips and resources.

 Urban Bulk and Refill, zero waste, small business Toronto, refill depot

What 5 tips would you give our readers to help them work towards a greener lifestyle and low waste home?

  1. Repurpose and reuse what you already have. Refill containers, cut up old shirts to become rags, reuse old buckets for the garden or for DIY projects. Reusing a plastic container just once doubles its life!
  2. Shop local. Local products require less transportation, and often contain less packaging.
  3. When possible, switch to more natural products for the home or body. They don’t always need to be more expensive. Simple recipes for cleaning solutions with vinegar, baking soda, lemons - things you already likely have at home - are all over the internet!
  4. Make one small switch at a time, so it’s easier to make living greener a part of your routine.
  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself! There’s no perfect way to have a low waste home, any step you’re taking is a step in the right direction.


Where to find URBAN BULK & REFILL:

1380 Queen St E, Toronto


instagram: @urbandbulkandrefill

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