Like most environmentally conscious people, Lori Largent was shocked when she first learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Truly the stuff of nightmares, the patch — also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex — is an enormous accumulation of non-biodegradable material — mostly plastic — in the north Pacific Ocean. Although scientists have not been able to accurately measure its size, conservative estimates suggest this “floating junk yard” is at the very least 270,000 square miles.
Beyond re-using, recycling and reducing the use of plastic containers in her everyday life at home, Largent — a Nevada City mother of two — wanted to do more. Rather than repeatedly buying “cute little plastic bottles” filled with her favorite eco-friendly soaps, Largent began to research the availability of buying in bulk. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that regional brands, such as Biokleen, Earth Friendly, EO, California Baby, ShiKai, Ecos, HumbleBee, Dr. Bronner’s and others, could be purchased in large volume for a reduced price. Some even offered 55-gallon drums.
As a result, in early 2010, when Largent saw an empty store front on Argall Way in Nevada City — near a laundromat, no less — she got to thinking.
“Why don’t you do that soap thing?” asked her fiance, Rich Shepardson.
In February of 2010, Largent opened the doors of her new business, Save Our Ailing Planet, better known as S.O.A.P.
“I opened small, originally just carrying dish and laundry soaps and shampoo,” said Largent, the sole owner. “Then I just started ordering other things that people asked for.”
It was a simple business plan, but it made sense. Attributed primarily to word of mouth, the shelves and storage area within 1,000-square-foot store soon began to fill up with the likes of massage oils, lip balms, body sprays, lotions, edible gourmet and organic salts, shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter, organic beeswax, lemon oil and bath salts from around the globe. Locally handmade soaps and refillable candles later become popular additions.
“We’re dedicated to reducing the impact of harmful waste created by our need to stay clean,” states Largent on her website. “You have the right to read the ingredients and buy safe soap, which is made without petroleum, does not contain harsh chemicals or preservatives and is biodegradable. It will not destroy streams, rivers and wild places, will not harm your children and is safe for gray water. No parabens, phalates or phosphates.”
Largent has become an expert when it comes to the ingredients in her products — she is known for meticulously checking each shipment. When Biokleen sent her a drum of cleaner full of their new formula without alerting her, she wasn’t happy. She is now one of the few stores to insist on carrying its original formula. She is also a stickler when it comes to ensuring that all reused containers are dry and thoroughly cleaned. Taking a step further toward reducing her carbon footprint, Largent also makes an effort to carry local and regional products that are shipped in “small freight.”
Initially, individuals and families were the first to come in to replenish their supplies, said Largent, but today, the demand has expanded to include “green maids,” local green businesses — such as The Outside Inn — and several local schools and restaurants.
The store has refilled more than 12,000 containers since opening in 2010, which translates into the purchase of far fewer plastic bottles, said Largent.
“In some cases, we’re all stuck having to use plastic,” she said. “But if you buy one gallon of soap instead of 10 small ones in separate containers, that’s a big difference, not to mention the shipping.”
Seeing the astounding success of her small store, Largent is now encouraging other people to use her business model and open similar stores in other areas. A mother of a 14- and 4-year-old, Largent is getting married in July and has no desire to expand her operations to multiple locations. But she hopes the idea will spread.
“As far as I’m concerned, there should be bulk everything,” she said. “I wanted to help the environment — to help take the weight off the ocean. Through this business I’ve met all these wonderful people, who feel karmically tied to their garbage. It’s been exciting to do something and not feel alone in these efforts.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4203.