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The Soap Dispensary + Kitchen Staples

About Us

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About Us

The Soap Dispensary

Opened in 2011, The Soap Dispensary is Vancouver's first dedicated refill shop. We specialize in premium bulk soaps, cleaners, hygiene and beauty products as well as the DIY ingredients to make all of these essentials at home. 

Our products are selected for minimal impact on human and environmental health. For those who have sensitivities or care for children, there are many options that are gentle and scent-free.

Kitchen Staples

With a large percentage of household waste coming from groceries, we started to refill food in 2015. Two years later, we expanded next door to open Kitchen Staples, a packaging-free specialty grocery store that emphasizes locally-made and organic ingredients.

We proudly stock about 400 bulk food products ranging from pantry staples like spices and grains, to hard-to-source packaging-free items such as tofu and chips, to innovative developments like plant-based proteins and cheese. 

Sourcing

Today, we refill over 800 bulk products and stock 1000s of unique and high quality lifestyle tools to help our community live more low waste.

We are grateful to partner with many environmentally and socially responsible companies, from down the street to across the ocean. We especially feel lucky to be based in beautiful British Columbia where at last count, 65% of our soap suppliers and 73% of our grocery suppliers call home!

Refilleries can have a reputation for being expensive. If you are comparing apples to apples, meaning same product and brand, refilling will almost always be more affordable! If we compare against mass produced or single-use plastic options, than we can definitely be more expensive. To us, sourcing with our values is to balance economy with uplifting local or artisan companies and stocking high quality, natural products, while operating as low waste as possible.

Some of our local suppliers make fresh batches to order and send them to us in reusable containers. We wash and return the empty ones which they in turn refill and send back to us in this beautiful closed loop system. As micro producers, they cannot compete with big multinational corporations that dominate the shelves of regular grocery stores. It is a David and Goliath story. Often corporations either have the scale of economy to manufacture more cheaply or they cut corners and cost with inferior ingredients, or poor work and environmental practices. Sometimes all those things.

When we support a local company, we strengthen our local economy. The money that our suppliers earn is reinvested back into our shared local economy through the taxes they pay, the local suppliers they in turn support, the shops they patronize and the jobs they create. Together, we build a strong independent economy that keeps our community diverse, dynamic and resilient.

When we source products, we take into account: reusability, longevity, packaging, ingredients, human and environmental health, craftsmanship, labour, recyclability and their end-of-life. We do our homework so our customers can trust that what they purchase has been vetted.

We understand that our customers come from diverse economic backgrounds and not everything in our shop make financial sense for everyone. We try very hard to provide economical options and recommend that customers pick and choose what is within their budget and supplement what isn't at the bigger shops. We are always evolving and fine tuning our inventory to meet the needs of our customers. We welcome suggestions and feedback so we can further improve. 

Refill

Just as our customers refill their containers, we also strive to refill ours. Wherever possible, our suppliers take back their bulk containers and help us close the loop! This requires extra time, labour and cost for the washing, storage and transportation of containers but we feel it is essential. We are so grateful to our partners who have changed their operations to accommodate a reuse model. Some were already working towards zero waste in their operations, others converted quickly and others took time but we eventually figured a way. Most of our suppliers would gladly reuse and refill if the demand existed and the logistics were possible.  


Refilling is a pragmatic and direct way to reduce waste and consume sustainably. It is more valuable to keep the containers as a reusable resource than to downgrade them using energy intensive recycling systems or to discard them on land and water as waste or to burn as dirty energy. As a company we apply the values of the Circular Economy throughout our operations. 

Reuse

Our bulk containers and excess packaging go through our hierarchy of reuse. If we are not able to refill our packaging, we find use for them in our shop. The practice of reuse and repurpose is a pillar of our operations. Whether they are plastic pails or bags, cardboard boxes, packing paper and peanuts, strings, elastic bands - they have a secondary useful life. If we cannot reuse all materials within our operations, we redistribute them into the larger community. Drums become rain barrels, mini ziplock bags are reused in bead shops, packing peanuts and bubble wraps are shipped around the world by shipping companies, cardboard boxes help with moving and pails provide a myriad of solutions in gardens, pantries, ceramic studios, development projects abroad and beach clean ups. As we help normalize refilling, we also want to shift people's mindset to see waste as a resource. 

Recycling + Compost

Recycling is the last resort of salvaging materials. We partner with Vancouver's oldest recycling company, Recycling Alternative to divert the packaging and materials we cannot reuse or share. Excess cardboard, mixed paper and clear soft plastic are picked up and recycled. While it is not desirable, downcycling of packaging is still important to capture whatever value is in the material and prevent it from becoming waste and pollution. 


We compost what minimal food waste we generate in the city's green bins. Before we get to this point, most of our food is donated to staff or the local buddhist temple or to the community fridge outside our doors.

Waste

Yes, we also generate trash. As a business that uses and sells lots of glass containers and products, broken glass is the source of most of our waste by weight. Here in Vancouver, we cannot recycle broken glass as it poses a danger to recycling facility workers. Prevention is always top of mind but accidents happen.

We also produce waste from the backing of labels, tape from shipping boxes and mixed plastic packaging from a small number of suppliers. When we have to order from them, we always order the biggest size possible to minimize waste. We also always keep a dialogue with them and let them know how important the issue of waste is to us. We sometimes have had to end partnerships or discontinue products but more satisfying is when our supplier finds a way to shift to a reuse format or recyclable materials. Sourcing is always evolving and we continue to keep searching for products and suppliers who tick off every box for us. Along the way we hope to help shift the practices of the suppliers we work with.

Waste is an ongoing conversation that we have internally and with our community and the world at large. It comes up in every aspect of life if we choose to look deeper!
- Linh Truong, Founder

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