Planting roots in Ann Arbor, Emma Hess is paving a path towards the reduction of single-use plastic in the city. The recent University of Michigan graduate opened a 1,200-square-foot storefront for her business BYOC Co., which stands for Bring Your Own Container Company, in April, and is offering locals a more sustainable shopping experience.
The premise of the shop is simple: customers bring in reusable containers and fill them up with the products they need — whether it’s shampoo and body wash or cleaning supplies — to reduce single-use plastic consumption. The shop’s Instagram account (@byoc_co) showcases different containers customers have repurposed, including using milk jugs to hold laundry soap and Gatorade bottles for dish soap.
The store’s origin story, however, is a bit more complex. “I graduated in the midst of the pandemic and when I looked for work in my original career path [of social work], I couldn’t find a job,” Hess says. “I had seen a couple in L.A. post on their Instagram account that they were running a ‘refillery’ out of their van, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
In August of 2020, Hess took her inspiration and launched a pop-up shop. Set up using spare tables and the trunk of her car, she received a positive response from the Ann Arbor community as well as in Chelsea, Michigan, which is where she grew up. Her pop-ups allowed shoppers to experience a small taste of what BYOC Co. has to offer, while the events often centered around teaching a new skill or providing a sense of community among those looking to learn more about sustainability. “Our events and pop-ups have been met with such support,” Hess says. “We recently hosted a plant swap in Ann Arbor, and I couldn’t believe how many people were coming and going for the day.”
The local support, along with her passion for recycling, led her to invest in a brick-and-mortar retail space at 255 E. Liberty St. Complete with colorful tables and shelves to hold the shop’s dozens of products and additional space to host workshops with other collaborators, the storefront is the ideal home for BYOC Co.
In addition to the refill stations for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, laundry soap, home cleaning products, soaps, and more, the shop also sells products from local and national vendors that don’t require any packaging. Because studies have shown that the U.S. is one of the leading contributors to plastic waste in the world, it’s important for Hess to provide eco-friendlier alternatives with BYOC Co. “When I began this business, I learned that only 9 percent of all plastic had been recycled since the origination of the practice of recycling,” she shares. “It blew my mind because I grew up thinking that everything I was throwing in the recycling bin was being taken care of properly.”
One of BYOC Co.’s most popular products is its shampoo bars. Available in four scents — Forest Mist, Citrus Fresh, Moroccan Oil, and Summer Breeze — and an unscented option, these $10 bars eliminate the need for plastic shampoo bottles. “Living more sustainably can seem really daunting and it can feel like there are all these investments you need to make,” Hess says, “but there are easy ways to make the transition without breaking the bank and I want to be able to provide that in this shop.”
The shampoo bars, conditioner bars, bar soaps, and toilet cleaning cakes are all cruelty-free, meaning that these products have not been tested on animals. Hess makes a major effort to fill her shop with items from that companies like MamaSuds, Bubble Babes, and her own brand Low Waste Louise that are local and transparent about their ethics, working conditions, business practices, and ingredients.
BYOC Co. has an online shop as well, and while both the digital store and brick and mortar are owned and operated by Hess, she’s thankful to have the support of her family. “My parents both work on the U of M campus and are able to help me whenever I need some extra assistance. They even run the shop for me on Thursdays so I can have some time to myself,” Hess says. “I’m extremely lucky.”
The future is bright for BYOC Co. Hess has recently partnered with A2ZERO, an organization focusing on climate neutrality in Ann Arbor, on upcoming projects. While continuing to do pop-ups regularly, she is also hosting workshops at the storefront.
On June 2 and 3, she will be hosting Composting for Apartments and Composting for Homes workshops. For just $5, attendees can learn easy, accessible ways to compost. “At the end of the day, everything we’re doing is to reduce waste and to make a low waste lifestyle more accessible to the Ann Arbor community and hopefully even beyond,” Hess says.
For more information, visit byocco.com.