Bulk/Refill Programs in YOUR Store

Since we launched our zero waste refill programs, we’ve been asked several times by our retailers about how to implement such a program. Here are some hints based on my own experience with a refill program at our local farmers’ market and the insights I have gained from our retailers who are early adopters.

First, if you are working with skin care products only and NO FOOD ITEMS, there appear to be no special regulations governing handling of cosmetics (unlike food handling, which DOES have specific regulations). There ARE, however, laws governing labeling of cosmetic ingredients. Products should have the ingredients visible on the product container and customers should be able to obtain a written copy of the ingredients. For soap in particular, laws require that the customer is PROVIDED a copy with the ingredients at time of purchase. We will supply ingredient cards with our bulk logs of soap, enough for 14 bars per log.


Ensuring sanitary conditions is important. For example, if you are working with a scoopable product (ointments, cream deodorant, body butter) or powders and salts with open containers, you will need to wear disposable latex/nitrile gloves and keep a dedicated scoop or spoon for each product that is washed and sanitized between uses.

Products in pump containers that remain closed are easier to manage and keep sanitary. Be sure to keep your bulk products out of direct sunlight and at ambient room temperature to avoid premature product degradation, which is more likely to happen in products with natural ingredients.

Product subject to open air, like bulk logs of soap, should be kept clean and free of dust and dirt.

Ensure that the bottles and containers your customers are supplying for refill are clean and dry. Extra bonus points if you spritz them with an isopropyl alcohol spray before filling.


You will need a scale that is certified by Measurement Canada (yes, that’s a real department! They are responsible for things like certifying gas pumps, grocery store and farm stand scales, electricity measurements. They even have their own vehicles and drive around certifying and inspecting scales). A certified scale is approximately $500 and must be certified at the factory level before purchase. You will need to submit information about your business and the intended use, your scale will be certified and you will be issued a certificate. If you are selling body care products only, your scale never needs to be re-certified. If you are also selling food items, your scale will need to be re-inspected and certified again periodically according to your certificate terms.

We bought our scale from a local restaurant supply store,  it is Kilotech brand.


Weigh the empty container (with our without lid, just be sure you are consistent for the entire transaction), when the measurement is stable, press the TARE or ZERO button on your scale. When you remove the bottle, your scale will display a negative number. Some stores add a sticker to indicate the weight to the container itself for future reference.

Fill the container, then reweigh. The total will indicate the net weight of the contents. Multiply this number by the price per gram to obtain the product price.


Keep an eye on the shelf life and expiry dates of the products you are ordering. There may be wide variations in shelf life. Since you are buying in bulk, you will want to manage the amount of bulk product you can sell in a reasonable amount of time to ensure your products remain fresh, current, and shelf stable.

Products that are opened and closed frequently, bulk bins of bath soaks, for example, will oxidize faster than product that remains unopened and sealed in your store. Be aware that repeated exposure to air, light, and heat may shorten shelf life.


Pricing will vary from product to product and by brand, but you can generally expect that customers will save 10-25% on the cost of retail by choosing to refill.

Thank you for your part in reducing single use packaging!