By Katherine Gerster
Porter, a CPA and mom of two, tells us about founding Byrd’s Filling Station, San Mateo’s first zero-waste store
Three years ago, Laura Porter gave herself a challenge: on her weekly grocery store trip, she wouldn’t buy anything plastic. “It was much harder than I thought it would be,” she laughed. “I could buy a baguette, some eggs, and some fresh produce. But even pasta packages have those little plastic windows!” Still, she was determined to make it work. Ultimately, she needed to go to three grocery stores to get what her family needed -- and even then, she had to go without some things.
Laura Porter, Founder of Byrd's Filling Station
Porter knew she wasn’t alone in wanting to be a green consumer, and that gave way to an exciting career pivot. While working as a CPA during the day, she laid the groundwork for Byrd’s Filling Station, San Mateo’s first zero-waste store, which she opened in 2019. “The whole concept of the store was that living plastic-free, or choosing things with less plastic or using reusables doesn’t have to be hard.” In the beginning, Porter ran the store out of her house, offering products for delivery and running a stand at local farmer’s markets. She dispensed products like dish soap and laundry detergent directly into customers’ own reusable containers -- cutting out those single-use plastic bottles we’re so addicted to. Porter also worked hard to source items that are hard to find without plastic packaging, like toilet paper and toothpaste. The business slowly took over part of her house and her garage. “Basically we had a closet in the hallway and that became the store in our house. And then I was storing the one- and five-gallons things for refills in the garage. Then it got cold, and some of the soaps solidified, and I realized I couldn’t store everything in the garage!”
Just as Porter was getting her groove, the pandemic hit. While business boomed online--she offered toilet paper, and for delivery!--her pipeline for new customers dried up. Farmer’s markets were a critical outlet for outreach, and for a time, those shut down. As a mom of two elementary-school age kids, the demands of distance learning also took a toll. “We’d go out at 5AM to do deliveries in the dark, and then we’d come home and do two hours of kindergarten on zoom, and then I’d get my kids to help me pack orders for the following day.” It was too much, and Porter ended up temporarily closing the business in 2020.
With both kids back in in-person school, Porter is now targeting January 2022 for the relaunch of her store, this time with a brick-and-mortar storefront in San Mateo or Burlingame. With a dedicated space, she plans to expand the store’s original offerings; the new version will include more choice for consumers (instead of one kind of toothpaste, ten!), and also, she’ll have bulk bins with food.
When Porter’s store opens, you might notice that one area looks familiar: she bought her bulk bins from the owners of Talbot’s Toyland when they shut their doors in February of 2020. The bins once filled with candy and jelly beans will now dispense dryer balls, floss refills, and tea strainers, among other things. I love that a little piece of Talbot’s is getting a second life, and it feels like a poetic example of Porter’s commitment to sustainability.
Stay tuned for details about Byrd's Filling Station's grand re-opening -- we’ll be sure to cover it here. You can also follow Byrd’s filling station on its website and Facebook.
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