Isaac Graubard is thirteen years old, and he learned something this year during lockdown.

“After doing some research,” he said in an interview with CBS2, “I only found out that 9 percent of plastics get recycled, and it’s sickening to think that we try so hard but nothing actually happens because of it.”

Realizing the amount of plastic waste that his family alone produced, he was inspired to try to do something about it. And not only at the scale of a single household.

One of the large obstacles to effective recycling is how many different kinds of plastic there are, each requiring a different process or standard. There isn’t an efficient way to sort them, either at the level of the home (you’d practically need a separate bin for every plastic thing you discard) or on a plant-wide scale, and so unsorted plastics commonly wind up back in the trash. Graubard’s plan was to circumvent that step entirely, by promoting reusing over recycling.

“Any bottle you have nowadays, you can upcycle. Reuse, reduce, you know, anything like that. You can bring your bottle that you have already at home and just refill — so simple,” said Isaac.

And to make that possible, he founded North Shore Refills with a $750 investment and a table at the local farmer’s market in Port Washington, New York. For under $1 an ounce, he sells eco-friendly shampoos and soaps out of large bulk jugs, dispensing into whatever bottle you’ve brought from home.

Business is slow, so far. Few people bring empty plastic bottles to the market or out shopping. But each person who stops by gives him hope. “That creates the movement,” Isaac said.

“When people make the small step, not the large step, people think ‘oh, it’s not so bad.’”

And anyone, he implies, can make that small step.

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash