Community Online Shop Helps Portland Go Almost Zero Waste

Utility offers environmentally friendly home and personal care items.


(Courtesy Utility)

Two women on a mission to green their city is the best way to describe the founders of Utility, Portland’s low-waste, refill and reuse company. Rebecca Rottman and Nadine Appenbrink are deeply committed to sustainability and supporters of zero waste.

That’s why, according to Tree Hugger, they believed that their green-minded Oregon city was missing something that was essential to sustainability. "We couldn't believe Portland didn't already have a zero waste shop before us," Rottman told Tree Hugger.

So, they started one (that is almost zero waste) as a second job for both. It started as a personal journey, looking for clean products that didn't come in plastic. How can we make sustainability a way of life, when it's not how we grew up?" said Appenbrink.

Their mission is to reduce the amount of single use plastics by allowing people to bring their own reusable containers when they make purchases of environmentally friendly home and personal care items.

Utility started in January 2019 and held its first pop-up retail shop in April. Every week the women teamed up with local stores to sell their bulk items and to refill products for returning customers. Now they are operating only online for pickup or local delivery in the Portland area.

It’s really easy, the company said. Just shop online and choose a container. Then select pickup or delivery. Over 1,000 customers already have according to the owners.

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HOUSEHOLD CLEANING, DELIVERED. ???? As you might have guessed, we will not have any pop-up refill events for the next several weeks, at least. And our pick up locations are closed for the time being. But we are now offering FREE DELIVERY for all Portland addresses. So you can stock up on all of our hard working household cleaning products, planet friendly hair and body care, and plastic free goods. You can order online and choose delivery. We are waiving the normal $5 delivery fee and eliminating the minimum order size. If you want a refill but don’t need a container, choose the option “free reused container” when ordering, and we will use a repurposed jar or container. To keep all containers clean during the refill process, we will be wiping down bulk containers before and after filling, and washing hands before and after filling, and using hand sanitizer between deliveries. All of our efforts to be environmentally responsible and reduce plastic usage couldn’t be more urgent. If there is anything else we can do to make refilling products more convenient for you at this time, please let us know via direct message on instagram or at We appreciate all of you so much and know momma earth does too. ????

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The products include all-natural laundry detergent, dish bar soap – that is locally made, vegan and biodegradable –, house made deodorants, and a wide variety of durable plastic-free kitchen tools and utensils. The hope is to increase the number of products they sell but since they personally test each one, it is a labor intensive proposition.

While not completely zero waste, Utility is striving to get incredibly close. We're all on a journey," Appenbrink told Tree Hugger "And we want to be as approachable as possible. Utility is an on-ramp to raising awareness about this lifestyle."

When the pop-up shops were up and running (and they will be once the coronavirus pandemic ends) the women were able to build community with other like-minded environmental activists and they planned to do community engagement activities like park cleanups this spring.

There are also plans to start some DIY classes on how to make natural products like the face cream and deodorant they sell.

They are focused on careful growth because Utility will never ship products because of the carbon footprint involved in shipping.

There are zero waste or as close as possible stores in other communities, like Clean Kilo in Birmingham UK, but they are real brick and mortar buildings. Utility’s concept is so simple that it can be replicated almost anywhere.

Zero waste markets are the way to go to transition into the circular economy that is needed to stop plastic waste, reduce our carbon footprint and have a sustainable future.

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