Jess Georges came to the Cape as a “wash-ashore” via New York City in 2003. She had only planned to come for the summer but fell in love with both the Cape and her future husband. The rest, she says, is history. While she always tried to be environmentally friendly, she didn’t consider herself an activist.
In 2016 Jess started to get concerned about the plastic crisis facing our planet. Anyone who’s walked on a Cape or Island beach has surely seen plastics and other trash that have washed ashore. From plastic jugs, deflated balloons, and fishing gear to the unseen but prevalent microplastics, the evidence of plastic pollution is all around us. Break Free from Plastic notes that “More than 350 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year, of which 91% is not recycled. The US generates the most plastic waste per capita of any country and exports 225 shipping containers of plastic waste per day to countries with limited or non-existent waste management systems, where plastic may be crudely processed in unsafe facilities and incinerated in open areas, creating additional pollution and health problems.”
All these dire statistics, the plastic piling up, microplastics working their way into wildlife and our own food chain, had Jess filled with a nervous energy. She has two children and cares deeply about their futures. She wants them to be able to enjoy Cape beaches, to swim in the ocean. She was also thinking about underdeveloped places around the world, and the plastic that was washing up on their shores too. It’s hard to not let the enormity of the problem swallow you whole, turning into apathy. Jess decided to turn that anxious energy into action. One night she woke up from a dream with a business plan in her head, and Green Road Refill was born.
She thought about shopping for home products like soap, realizing that each time she needed more of the product she had to buy another plastic container, tossing the empty one into the fraught recycling system. After a little internet searching, she found a few businesses in the US doing what she had in mind, refilling products in reusable containers instead of letting the plastic pile up. She decided to look into opening a store but found retail space on the Cape to be too expensive at the time. So, taking inspiration from food trucks she bought a retired mini-school bus, and set to work turning it into her mobile shop. She and her family had a great time gutting the bus and building the shop inside with reclaimed lumber, reused AstroTurf, and other reused items. The bus, which came to be known as Bettie, had a Lorax theme, embodying Jess’s internal mantra from the classic Dr. Seuss book: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better, it’s not.”
From there Jess took the show on the road! The little store on wheels travels the Cape, visiting farmer’s markets in Orleans, Brewster, Harwich as well as doing pop-ups, festivals, and even making house calls in the off season! Customers bring their own bottles from home, buy a glass or aluminum container from Jess, or use one from a free bin of donated bottles. (Who says you can’t put shampoo in a Siraccha bottle?!) The container is weighed and then the customer fills it with whatever amount of whichever product they’d like. You pay by the ounce, so it’s perfect both for trying out a product, or stocking up on a favorite! Green Road Refill carries over 40 environmentally friendly products, ranging from dish and laundry soap to shampoo and glass cleaner, to lotion and wood polish as well as other green products like bamboo toothbrushes and beeswax wraps. The products are plant-based, allowing consumers to feel good about what they are putting on their bodies and down their drains.
Now in her fourth year of operation, Jess has developed a devoted following of avid refills, with the number growing each year. While this year was certainly challenging, she hopes to realize the goal of having a retail space soon. This season you can find Jess on Saturdays at the Orleans Farmer’s Market with her mobile operation, now in Sally Sud Shed, and a number of other spots throughout the Cape! To follow the Green Road, visit the calendar on Jess’s website.
It’s tough to change your habits, but Jess is hopeful that a wave of change is on the horizon. Jess does education outreach, making stops at preschools and libraries. Green Road Refill’s website provides great tips and resources for those looking to take their first steps onto the Green Road by eliminating bottled water and other tips. While the problems facing the oceans and environment are bleak, Jess aims to keep things positive, and solutions focused. She’s hopeful the awareness is growing and has received tons of inquiries from Alaska to the Bronx from folks looking to start their own refill businesses.
Jess knows that the bigger solutions to the problem of plastic must deal with the corporations pumping plastic into the system with no solutions for where it will go. Recycling is fraught with social and environmental issues and is not the whole solution. She is an advocate for the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act currently making its way through Congress. The bill would enact extended producer liability, requiring the plastic producers to pay for the recycling and disposal of the product at the end of its lifecycle, instead of passing the burden to municipalities and the consumer. Jess recommends that people contact their representatives to encourage them to support the legislation.
Jess is hopeful for the future, and happy to be able to provide her customers a way to reduce their plastic use and have control over their consumption. So, get on the Green Road and catch up with Jess this summer! Thanks to the Green Road Refill for helping Cape Cod break free from plastics!