It's fitting that the inspiration for Tonia Soteros' Santa Monica, Calif.-based earth-friendly business Recontained came to her organically. In 2009, the former garment industry professional popped into a Borders bookstore. While waiting in line to pay for her purchase, she grabbed a small book about green lifestyles on a nearby shelf and flipped it open to a random page.
“I saw a statistic that if every person in America would stop using body wash it would save 2.5 million pounds of plastic going into landfills every year," she says. “I couldn't believe it."
The next morning, standing in her shower, she noticed all of the plastic around her—body wash, shampoo, conditioner.
“Body wash was an easy fix; you can switch to bar soap," she says. “But when I went into my kitchen and saw all of the plastic, I started having panic attacks. What about laundry soap, dish soap, and cleaners? What impact were all of these things making? I couldn't get the numbers out of my head."
Finding a better way
Soteros wondered if there was a way to have her products refilled instead of disposing of the plastic bottles and buying new ones. But at the time, there weren't many resources. In 2012, she wrote a business plan for an ecofriendly business where customers could refill products with reusable containers. That plan sat on a shelf until 2018.
“I got super busy and sucked back into my career in the garment industry," she says. “Finally, I came back around and decided if I didn't pursue this, it would be the biggest regret of life."
Recontained was launched in 2019. The retail bar offers a variety of refillable items, including cleaning and personal care products, consumables, and reusable containers.
The timing for her green business couldn't have been more perfect. A 2019 study from Accenture found that 72% of consumers were actively buying more environmentally friendly products than they had five years ago. And 81% expected to buy even more over the next five years.
It's not easy being green
While consumer demand is building, launching an ecofriendly business has challenges. Part of the delay in launching her store was due to the obstacles. Without a background in chemistry or environmental science, Soteros had to educate herself.
“It was overwhelming," she says. “I had to do research on not only saving the planet from plastic but on making sure what I was selling was earth-friendly and human-, dog- and family-friendly. It took a long time to pull all of the products together."
Another big challenge in operating a green business is working with vendors to get final packaging to a minimum.
“I came from the garment industry, which is highly wasteful," she says. “For the most part, every garment is shipped in individual plastic bags. Having that background, I was able to communicate with my vendors and get in front of the shipping."
For example, Soteros wanted to purchase reusable straws but the vendor was going to ship them in individual hard plastic containers. “After much back and forth, I got them to wrap them individually in lightweight paper," she says. “I'm receiving items with as zero waste as can get them."
Advice for aspiring green business owners
Starting an eco-friendly business can be personally and professionally rewarding.
“Recontained's mission is to protect the environment and the world we live in," says Soteros. “The business was born out of my passion and concern for the planet."
In fact, the best place to start a business is in the mindset of the customer, says Soteros.
“This started for me as a consumer," she says. “I was seeking out the stuff I wanted to buy. When I couldn't find it, I knew I had to launch it. We are our best consumers."
After you tap into your passion, Soteros says the next step is making it come to life.
“Finding the right products can be the biggest challenge," she says. “Start collecting the types of things you'd want to buy and sell. This will take time, so be prepared. Staying open to new ideas and being willing to change is key to achieving success."