Cleenland, a shop that sells bulk household and personal care products with little to no packaging, wants to make a low-waste lifestyle accessible to everyone—even those just joining the sustainability bandwagon.
“It’s just a nice place to be, it’s just a place that you want to be,” explains founder and owner Sarah Levy. “And then the reducing waste, and the thinking about the connection between the way we consume and the impact on the environment is almost secondary. This is really just about making it easier, making that less of a barrier to make those changes and learn.”
Levy opened the Central Square storefront in June after her curated selection of bulk household and self-care products became a hit at the Union Square Farmers Market this spring. Levy encourages customers to fill their own reusable containers with products from the store’s bulk supply, which is priced by weight, but offers glass jars and bottles for beginners looking to get started. Alongside bulk dispensers of dish soap, laundry detergent, and shampoo, Cleenland also offers a selection of sustainably packaged deodorants, toothbrushes, and even sunscreen.
Levy was inspired by similar businesses in Canada and a desire to reduce her own waste.
“My first step was really just reaching out to companies that sold products that I liked to find out if they would even sell me things in bulk,” Levy says. “I want to reduce my waste, but it’s hard, and I think that was the other really big motivator for me to open the store. This is a store that I wanted to exist to make it easier for myself to reduce my waste, and so I figured there must be a lot of other people who are in the same boat, who want to make these changes or take these steps. That’s the idea, to have this be your CVS or your Walgreens.”
The store’s primary goal—to be a low-waste, no shame space—is an attempt not only to introduce wary customers to a more sustainable lifestyle, but also to change patterns of consumerism and build environmental awareness.
“A lot of the low-waste movement, or what’s called the ‘zero waste’ movement, is super shame-y and negative, there’s sort of this in-group, out-group,” Levy explains. “I want people to feel welcome here and included. Just do one thing—refill one bottle, buy one toothbrush, and if you just do one thing at a time, and you feel good about it, that just naturally engenders continued reflection about that thing that you got.”
“Definitely there’s an element of the business that is around behavior change and is around culture change,” she adds. “It is slightly less convenient, you have to remember to bring your bottle and refill it. If we could make that as convenient for people as possible, I think that’s how we sort of see the more wide-scale adoption of this kind of model.”
Cleenland offers an array of essential home and body basics, from all-purpose cleaner to lotion, rather than selling solely high-end goods.
“I started with really the things that I thought most people need, versus sort of more of a boutique like store of things that are cool but that you don’t maybe need,” Levy says. “Everyone needs to brush their teeth, whether they want to or not. Everyone needs a toothbrush, most people shower, most people do laundry, wash dishes. And then some more kind of treat-yourself items, I have clay masks, bath salts, things that I thought would be nice items for folks to get a little special thing for themselves too.”
Cleenland’s bulk products are free from parabens, phthalates, and artificial fragrances, among a handful of other commonly used ingredients and chemicals. Levy listens to her customers, stocking their requests and keeping an eye out for new and popular items, including products for different hair and skin types.
Beyond catering to locals with her shame-free, easygoing introduction to sustainable shopping, Levy also tries to shop consciously when selecting Cleenland’s products.
“The other piece of it is trying to support family owned, small businesses, folks that treat their employees well, that are thinking consciously about their supply chain,” Levy explains. “And trying to support as many local, women-owned, people-of-color-owned businesses as possible. I definitely still have a long way to go on all of that stuff, but it’s definitely in my mind when I’m trying to think about suppliers, actually stocking their stuff.”
Cleenland is located at 89A Norfolk St. For more information, call (857) 228-4595 or visit cleenland.com.