Less plastic, less worry: Two Fort Wayne refilleries are paving a path for easier sustainable living

It’s said that the best business ideas offer solutions to problems in the marketplace. Such is the case for Vessel Refillery and Bottle Green Refillery — both green and woman-owned ventures new to the Fort Wayne small business scene. 

Vessel Refillery FW Owner Heather Eracleous pumps coconut, lime and verbena Goat Milk Lotion.The refillery concept may be new to Fort Wayne, but it has existed in other cities nationwide for some time. According to Marketplace, this is a term coined in the zero waste and low waste industry to describe a retail space where you can bring in your own containers or purchase reusable ones and fill them up with personal and home bulk essential goods. Products are typically sold by weight.

Heather Eracleous says her reason for starting Vessel Refillery in Leo Crossing was personal and goes back more than a decade. Raising a child meant she no longer just had to think about her own health and well-being. The stakes were higher.

A variety of soaps sold by weight at Vessel Refillery FW.“When we adopted our son, things got scary,” she says. “I want everything to be perfect for him, I want everything to be safe for him, I want everything to be safe for his future, his wife, his children —  I want everything to be safe. Going forward from that moment on, I (was) on this planet to protect him. And so everything became really real to me — like the cleaners that we're using in our house, the food that we're putting in our bodies. Everything became scary. And so I started looking for ways to make things safer. So we started buying organic foods and using safer products in our house. And that's what kind of led me to this path.” 

Once she learned about the concept of a refillery, the entrepreneurial drive kicked in. Determining there was a need in the community, she and her husband, Aris, decided to pursue the business. They launched, part-time at first, at farmers markets and pop-up shops in the spring of 2023. A few months in it was clear there was a demand for a brick-and-mortar location.

Heather Eracleous, owner of Vessel Refillery FW, helps a customer pick out mental + eucalyptus shower steamers.Eracleous opened Vessel Refillery’s storefront in October 2023, guided by a simple mantra: “I put in our shop what I would want as a consumer.” In her case, it means products from small batch makers and a lot of organic, vegan, cruelty-free, synthetic-free, paraben-free cleaners and personal care products. 

Once a customer makes their selection, it’s up to them how they transport the goods.

“We encourage everybody to bring their own vessels from home,” she says. “It can be an empty shampoo bottle, an empty Dawn dish soap bottle, old canning jars they have laying around, or Tupperware. We encourage people to bring those in, even if they are plastics, because they already have the plastic at home. So why not give them a second life instead of just throwing them away and landing them in a landfill?”

Vessel Refillery FW, 10376 Leo Rd Ste G, Fort Wayne, IN.Right now, Vessel Refillery only sells cleaning products and personal care items, however, Eracleous says she hopes to “branch out” into organic and non-GMO food products. In the meantime, she says there’s still some education needed to get the community fully on board with her business model.

“I know a lot of people — even my neighbors and friends — are having a hard time wrapping their brain around a refillery,” she says. “It’s really not as difficult as some people think it is. And you don't have to dive all at once. We have people who just purchase the multipurpose cleaner or hand soap. You just have to start somewhere; it doesn't have to be all or nothing.”

Making an effort, no matter how modest, can yield cost-saving results. Eracleous says, most of the time, the bulk products cost the same as conventional ones and sometimes they’re even more economical. 

The Eco Sheets are a best seller at Vessel Refillery FW.“Take our plant-based laundry detergent sheets, for example,” she says. “Those are 50 cents for a sheet, which has two loads of laundry. So it's a quarter for a load of laundry when you're using that.”

Corinna Shoemaker, founder of Bottle Green Refillery at 2324 Crescent Ave., echoes Eracleous’ comments about the return on investment. She also challenges consumers to think beyond the face value of the price tag. There are other costs that should enter the equation when evaluating purchases. 

Corinna Shoemaker, owner of Bottle Green Refillery, 2324 Crescent Ave, Fort Wayne, IN.“We will always support higher quality products that are ultimately an investment for your household, your health, and the planet,” she says.

That said, items in stock are recyclable, biodegradable or compostable and free from chemicals that could be considered toxic and synthetic fragrances. The refill products are plant-based. You will not find single-use plastic packaging at Bottle Green Refillery.

Shoemaker says it’s not enough to simply sell these products. Instead, she considers her business to be multi-faceted. She views her role as a guide, helping people to not only reduce the trash and plastic in their daily lives but also the chemicals from household and body care products. 

Free re-use jars at Bottle Green Refillery.Shoemaker says certain cleaning products and personal care items aren’t great for our bodies but can pollute the environment, too. She cites culprits like fast fashion, greenwashing, and mass pollution as among the biggest threats. That’s why all products offered at Bottle Green have some component of sustainability, she notes.

Compostable sponges at Bottle Green Refillery.However, supporting a green consumer revolution in Fort Wayne is just the beginning. Shoemaker has her sights set on creating a more dynamic offering. 

“A couple of short-term goals I have are to begin hosting a fun, group workshop class once a month,” she says. “It is also my goal to be a go-to for sustainable gifting/gift sets, as this is great for those who are just starting to make changes.”

Similarly, Shoemaker says she’d like to grow and create more local partnerships while listening to the community about what they want to see from Bottle Green.

Bottle Green Refillery Owner Corinna Shoemaker refills a bottle with a lavender & lime essential oils bubble bath.Whatever direction the business takes, Shoemaker wants to get out the message that our choices matter for the health of our population and that of the planet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans suffer from chronic illnesses at alarming rates. Children now have higher rates of asthma, eczema, and other chronic diseases than in previous decades, per data cited by the CDC.

On a related note, she believes the use of toxic chemicals in products has risen exceedingly high in the last two decades. A lack of transparency on the part of corporations only makes the situation worse. According to the American Lung Association, “manufacturers are not obligated by U.S. law to list all ingredients in consumer products. Products labeled "green" do not necessarily mean they are safer.”
This unfortunate backdrop means consumers must advocate for themselves and make intentional changes and choices. In her words, “The products that promote change like plant-based cleaning, biodegradable shrink wrap, compostable packaging and packing peanuts and shopping on a closed-loop system exist! They were already invented. We as a society just have to choose to invest in companies and brands that care. Every dollar we spend is a vote toward the change we want to see for the future.”

Bottle Green Refillery Owner Corinna Shoemaker scoops an exfoliating acai scrub.Bottle Green Refillery is located at 2324 Crescent Ave., Fort Wayne, IN 46805. They're open from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

Vessel Refillery is located at 10376 Leo Road, Suite G, Fort Wayne, IN 46825. They're open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. 
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Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a freelance contributor for Input Fort Wayne. A graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.