BYO The Only Refill Shop in So-Cal Is Making Waves

by Shawn Binder on 08/12/2019 | 6 Minute Read

Julie Darrell launched her Long Beach-based shop BYO back in 2017 as a response to the political climate shifting. 

“I knew that the person elected was going to be doing away with a lot of policies that protected the planet, so I thought it was time to put my money where my mouth is,” Julie says.

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BYO’s flagship store sits nestled next to Ballast Point Brewery, surrounded by boats in the harbor and a smattering of restaurants. At first, it seems like an unlikely location for a shop focused on sustainability, but it's precisely that unexpected foot traffic making waves. 

Upon entering the shop, you're greeted by an adorable rescue dog named Roux, as well as a striking mural made by local artist Thom Lacie. “We get a lot of people walking to and from the bars who will stop in and ask if we have gum, then stick around and ask questions once they see what we’re all about,” says Julie.

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BYO is one of the only refill shops in the Los Angeles area, and their namesake encourages shoppers to bring their refillable containers for necessities like body wash, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, tea, lotion, and more. These items, priced at market value so they're accessible to all, encourage shoppers to look around their homes and consider their environmental footprint. 

Forgot to bring your own container? The shop offers a selection of donated packaging available to past customers, free of charge. 10% discounts apply to those who come to the hop via bike, walking, or other means of transportation that isn’t a car, a direct reward for those attempting to lessen their carbon emissions. 

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Darrell’s dedication to sustainability extends beyond just making a sale, but to also educating her customers. While BYO has two locations, one in Long Beach’s downtown arts district, their flagship store remains a permanent pop-up at Algalita, a non-profit dedicated to enlightening people to the effects that plastic pollution has on the oceans, and their mission to keep plastic from entering our waterways. The partnership has been healthy for BYO, as Julie has a sounding board for discussing the full life-cycle of the products she purchases with her Algalita cohorts. For each product brought into the store, Julie weighs the pros and cons with her Algalita family. 

“If an item has a horrible end-of-life solution, we’ll discuss how we can help remedy that,” says Julie.

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One of the products they decided to pass on? Silicone straws. “We couldn't find a manufacturer that guarantees an end of life solution," she adds. "Silicone is difficult to recycle and not accepted in Long Beach or LA county that I'm aware of for recycling. So we chose to decline that product for now until we can find a responsible solution.”   

The end of a life cycle for a product is critical to understanding sustainability. It begs the consumer to ask: what will happen to this product once I throw it away? Where does it really go to die? 

Each item placed into a BYO store must follow three tenants: 

  1. It should be sourced locally, if possible. This means California first, and if that isn’t possible, the closest state, and so forth. 
  2. It must have the highest quality ingredients for the wellbeing of the people who use them. 
  3. The item must have the lowest impact on the planet. 

The shop sells an array of sustainable items, but primarily focuses on hygiene and personal health products like shampoo and conditioner bars. But beyond those refillable goods we all know and love, BYO is on a mission to prove that sustainability is not only a topic that’s approachable but one that you can tackle at the local level.

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Long Beach itself serves as the battleground for what Julie describes as a complex web around sustainability. 

“You have the east side of Long Beach that’s affected so deeply by the oil industries that are there,” she says. “People have lower quality air and living conditions as a result. Then, you have the northern part of Long Beach that’s slightly less affected, but we still see results of the plastic problem washing up on our shores every day.” The conversation hints at a class disparity around the conversation of sustainability, and how those who are less financially well-off can view current trends around living plastic-free to be unobtainable, something Julie is keenly aware of. 

“I don’t want sustainability to just be for rich white people, that is why we do everything we can to offer multiple price points,” she says. “I want people to see sustainability as a bunch of little steps that add up to something great. You may not be able to conquer the world immediately, but at BYO, you can start small and build up the confidence to make those impactful life changes.”

Darrell sees the miseducation of lower-income communities as an opportunity for education and takes every chance she can to set up small pop-ups where people can benefit the most, that way she can motivate people to look at how they could potentially make a difference. These pop-ups are less about making a sale, and more about showing these communities that being sustainable is less time-consuming and costly than one who is new or unfamiliar to the movement might think. And to do that, you have to meet your community where they are.

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“We have people come in who are well-versed in sustainability, and you have people come in who don’t know where to start," Julie says. "That’s when I’ll ask them questions usually, and get to know a bit more about where they can cut out plastic in their life." The pop-ups are meant to be deeply informative and help people not only understand their environmental impact but the small ways they can reduce their carbon footprint. 

For Darrell, BYO is a passion project that fits snugly in the grassroots rung of the sustainability movement. While she doesn’t have a media budget or support like a massive corporation that claims to address sustainability at her disposal, she is trying to make an impact on her local community. 

Through education and providing affordable options for sustainability, Darrell is tackling single-use plastic on a local level. As someone who understands the unique needs and challenges of the Long Beach community, it is shops like BYO that begin the conversation around going plastic-free neighbor-to-neighbor, where the most impactful changes happen. 

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When it comes to reducing our plastic waste, it can’t just be the massive brands making a shift. If we rely on these major corporations to reduce single-use plastic we’re waiting for corporate greed to be swifter than our local humanity. By waiting around for major changes we’re ignoring the systemic problem with product production — production is fast and legislation is slow. 

This is an all-hands-on-deck situation, one that needs to transcend brands, federal and state regulations, and initiatives. BYO is the most grassroots it gets outside of making individual changes, reminding everyone that there are solutions to the plastic problem that they can be working towards every single day. 

By keeping the conversation alive, and truly listening to the needs of those around her, Darrell has put into motion a team of advocates on-the-ground, ready to answer questions and be a catalyst for change. 

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