Seeing how plastic pollution riddles our oceans during their worldwide yachting travels prompted Sam and Dom Moleta to start planet-friendly grocer, The Refillery.
Zero-waste and plastic-free shopping isn’t a trend – it’s a lifestyle.
So says Sam Moleta who, alongside her hubby, Dom, founded The Refillery, a store that makes buying groceries without single-use plastic packaging such an easy lifestyle to maintain – and not-so hefty on your pocket.
It’s a business built with heart, as Sam and Dom – who spent 10 years living outside of South Africa, during most of which they worked at sea and travelled the world – witnessed the devastating effects of plastic pollution. ‘We travelled through South-East Asia for three weeks by sea and chose not to swim in many places due to plastic pollution,’ Sam explains.
‘We always tried to “do our bit” as best we could, but after having our two kids, it changed how we saw working, how we saw life as a whole and the point of it may be not working just to work, but to leave something worthy behind and leave less of a footprint behind. Let our kids have the option of travelling the world to these amazing places that aren’t destroyed by trash.’
Their big turning point came when the husband-and-wife team decided to take on the ‘plastic-free July’ challenge to replace using some single-use plastics – think straws, takeaway containers and cutlery, coffee cups, water bottles and plastic wrap – with reusable materials. ‘With two small kids under the age of two, we survived and thought… What next? The biggest amount of single-use plastics that we accumulated was from my weekly grocery trips and we found stores that focused on zero packaging and organic products out of our price bracket as a young family of four.’
Sam and Dom have two ‘little hurricanes’, four-year-old Jackson and three-year-old Stevie.
Having seen stores that promote zero-waste lifestyles using sustainable, ethically-sourced products while on their travels, Sam and Dom decided they wanted to bring the concept to South Africa ‘in a stylish, convenient and accessible manner’. Within five months – on March 15 last year, they had opened The Refillery in Cedar Square. Then on March 5 this year – just before lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic – the couple opened their second store – this time in the Morningside Shopping Centre.
‘Our concept revolves around refillable, single-use plastic-free, ethically-sourced products that are sustainable and less harmful to the planet.’ With the concept of refilling at the centre of their business, Sam credits her copywriter dad – who’s ‘fantastic with names’ – for cleverly coming up with ‘The Refillery’.
Family is at the heart of their business, and Sam and Dom – who’ve worked together for the majority of the time they’ve been together – even opt to use smaller, family-owned suppliers ‘over the big dogs’. The notion of the importance of family extends throughout their business as Sam explains, ‘We have not created a customer base but rather a family.’
Sam says they have some loyal supporters who they see regularly and they also see new people daily who want to try zero-waste, plastic-free shopping. ‘In general, most people do want to make more planet-friendly changes, they may not be aware of some – such as tea bags that contain plastic and therefore never degrade – or find it too difficult to do so. We offer over 400 products all plastic-free in one place.’
Sam believes lockdown has been a time for some to see they need to make some changes by choosing sustainable, local and small businesses. ‘We know as lockdown eases we will continue to grow.’ Like many businesses, Sam explains The Refillery has ‘suffered greatly’ during lockdown – especially as they had just opened their second store three weeks before the lockdown began.
‘Expenses and rentals were crippling, but we kept our online store open and shortened our in-store hours to manage expenses and try our best to battle the storm. It has been tough for sure but we have tried to stay positive, keep smiling, we have worked so hard to show our customers – new and old – how much we appreciate their business and show the care taken in every order, message and email.’
For those considering how to begin living a zero-waste lifestyle, Sam and Dom’s advice is to do what’s feasible and maintainable right now. ‘Everyone’s journey is different and there should be zero-judgement in zero-waste. Any plastic-free swap is a win for the planet and that’s the main aim. Small changes by millions make a huge impact.’ Details: therefillery.co.za or call 011-465-4426 for the Cedar Square store or 010-495-7476 for the Morningside Shopping Centre store.
Text: DANIELLA GRAHAM Photographs: CALLUM HILTON