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Reno entrepreneur’s passion is helping customers use less plastic

Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon

A spell of inspiration six years ago turned into reality when Melinda Brown followed her passion for sustainability and opened Replenish, her own “refillery” shop in Reno, in 2021. 

At Replenish, customers can fill up on laundry detergent, lotion and bath salts — with their own reusable containers — as well as find bar shampoo, conditioner and deodorant products in plastic-free packaging. Brown said the “cozy” store, located near Downtown Reno, also incorporates merchandise and products from other small businesses with similar goals. 

“My sole purpose for the business is to help the consumer put less plastic out into the world,” Brown said. 

Melinda Brown, owner of Replenish Refillery & Gift inside The Basement in downtown Reno on Dec. 16, 2022. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines zero-waste as going beyond recycling and composting at the end of a product's life cycle, to use materials in ways that preserve value, minimize environmental impacts and conserve natural resources. The practice involves “no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.”

Brown does not consider herself “zero-waste” but “low waste,” which has been a slow process throughout the years, especially because there wasn’t a “refillery” in Reno before Replenish came around. As she switched to more environmentally friendly and sustainable products her inspiration and lifestyle needs brewed into an opportunity.                   

When considering making the switch with certain products, Brown said she has to weigh the pros and cons.

“I have a five year old, so for me, switching to a bidet and having cloth toilet paper is not going to happen,” she said. “That's going to turn it into a squirt gun or a fire hose all over my bathroom.” 

But she has replaced paper towels for “un-paper” towels made of cloth that are washed and reused. 

According to the blog Litterless, which guides readers on how to generate less waste in their shopping, there are more zero-waste or bulk food stores in Reno than in Las Vegas, with four options in Reno and just one in Las Vegas. Minimal Market in Downtown Las Vegas, announced last month it will be closing its brick and mortar store at the end of the year after five years, citing that “multiple factors” contributed to keeping the location open “increasingly challenging.” 

Brown attributes the stronger presence in Reno to Northern Nevada’s outdoor culture, a hyper awareness of environmental issues Lake Tahoe is nearby, and habits that may have leached from California, Brown’s home state.  

“I think that the concept behind the store is so much more of what we need in this world today. That's really what keeps me going. And I love it. I love having this store. And it makes me feel good,” Brown said. “I'm part of a tiny bit of a change.”

Melinda Brown, owner of Replenish Refillery & Gift inside The Basement in downtown Reno on Dec. 16, 2022. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

When customers come in eager to make a change for the environment but don’t know where to begin, Brown said, her job is to make the process approachable and manageable while educating them on the products as well as other services in town, such as composting.

“It's a lot of educating and kind of just getting to know your customer, which is nice because then you're building that community,” Brown said. 

Being one of the first zero-waste shops in Reno and taking on a new project was terrifying, Brown said, but being an entrepreneur for over a decade, she knew she just had to “bite the bullet and do it.”

“I don't think it's ever a question if the store is the right move, because I really truly believe in the business and I really truly believe in Replenish,” Brown said. “I think when you're a small business owner, your time — all of your time — is often spent here … So it's more of, ‘Oh gosh, am I spending too much time at the store and not enough time with my kid and home life?’”

Since opening, she has found that the community of small businesses and sustainability enthusiasts welcomed her. In the coming year, one of her many goals is to continue growing her relationships by organizing community cleanups and supporting other businesses.

“You need a community around you to kind of just spitball ideas with,” she said. “Because if there's more of us, that means that more people are buying into the idea of doing refill and that they're changing their habits and that they're willing to make a change.”


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