The growing awareness of the plastic problem and the issue of waste and pollution more widely has seen a slowly growing number of plastic free or zero waste shops opening across the UK.

So what is it like to start and run a plastic free shop, what are the challenges and can we expect to see many more in the near future?

We spoke to Kate Cottrell, the founder of Scoop, a fantastic plastic free shop in Fleet, Hampshire to find out more…

What inspired you to open a plastic free shop?

“If you’d have told me back in June ’18 whether I’d own a shop of any variety, I’d have thought you were mad! I have been a primary school teacher all my life and I didn’t see me doing anything else. When someone posted to Keep Fleet Clean – a page I run about local recycling etc – about a similar shop in Devon which had opened up, I absent mindedly suggested I would ‘look into it’ and here we are!

I suppose the inspiration behind it came from an awareness of the situation we had put ourselves in, in terms of plastic, a couple of years ago and I was exasperated at how difficult it was to be ‘plastic free’. I was in awe of those on line showing their minimal annual waste and didn’t understand how they were doing it. I wanted to find a way to make it as easy as possible for people to reduce their plastic waste, whilst using ethical companies who also consider their workers, the ingredients of their products etc. Fleet Scoop was what happened as a result!”

There a very few plastic free/zero waste shops locally, why do you think?

“I think that it is very hard to change habits. In inner London, Devon and the like, highstreets have retained their green grocers, independent butchers and even cheese shops. Places like Fleet lost the majority of these a while back and so the locals have had little option but to shop in supermarkets. Trying to change these habits could have been a tricky thing to achieve and so opening zero waste shops in these areas can be seen as a risk. Also, it is no secret that highstreets are struggling and people are preferring to shop online – a further risk to this kind of venture. In addition, rents are high. Therefore, the entire project has lots of potential to fail. Only crazy people like me look into the face of adversity and go ahead anyway!”

Do you think we will see more plastic free/zero waste shops?

“I absolutely know we will. I am not the only crazy yet passionate person around. Already we have Annabel and Sarah at ‘Keep’ in Farnham and I know that Karla is trying to battle against the council barriers to open somewhere in the local area. I would love to see this kind of thing become ‘the norm’ again. Highstreet shopping offers customers a personal touch; a conversation, a warm welcoming smile and an entirely different experience to online. I, for one, am all for attempting to rekindle a love of the highstreets and I am living with a positivity that I am not the only one.”

What were the key challenges in setting up a plastic free/zero waste shop?

“The whole thing has been a challenge! Being a primary school teacher, this entire thing is completely new to me. Business and handling stock is a million miles from teaching children.

I have learnt an incredible amount since this journey began. I have learnt huge amounts about recycling, about plastic manufacturing, about ethical and unethical companies, about eco – friendly practises, how to manage stock, which legal hurdles have to be jumped – the list goes on! My key challenge is still to come – opening a shop is not enough. I need to help to educate adults and the children who will inherit this problem about what has gone wrong and how we can start to help it. I need to show people that they can make a difference.”

How has the local community responded? “

I have been totally overwhelmed by the community. I lost count of well wishes a long time ago and people really want my venture to succeed from the point of view of being an independent business opening at a difficult time and from the ecological point of view. I have been approached by many groups who’d like to know more and want to help me to spread the word. Their encouragement has been a real driving force to my continuation to opening.

I always believed Fleet to have a strong community – I have lived here all my life and was determined that Fleet was where my efforts had to be focused. I love the many events that Fleet hosts throughout the year and they are all incredibly well supported. Even then, it wasn’t until I started all of this that I truly realised the potential of the locals. Together we will be a force to be reckoned with!”

What are your top selling products?

“Granola and chocolate seem to be a firm favourite of the Fleet community! However, we also seem to have a large group of keen athletes who also enjoy the seeds, nuts, beans, legumes etc. In terms of our non-food products; the bamboo toothbrushes have been popular, as have the products made by The Clever Cactus (produce bags, sandwich wraps, reusable kitchen roll etc), the Beeutiful cosmetics (which are made using local beeswax and honey) and the beeswax wraps. I think that people appreciate that we are trying to support local entrepreneurs.”

What items do you hope to add soon?

“In the next week or so we will be adding locally roasted coffee beans and Crondall made rapeseed oil. I would then like to investigate loose leaf teas and widen my range of gluten free products like pastas.”

What’s next for Scoop?

“Scoop is about to embark on a couple of really exiting projects to help the entire community to become as plastic free as possible. We will be approaching local schools, businesses and people to see how we can help them to consider changes that they could make. Watch this space!”

What are the harder switches to make/find plastic free alternatives to?

“I think if we look hard enough, we will be able to find alternatives to everything! I also think that the switches aren’t hard but they have the perception of being difficult because they are new and people in general aren’t keen on change. One small thing each week/month can make HUGE differences.”

Who inspires you?

“My children. Both those that belong to me and the ones I have taught. Children are so keen to grab things like this and run with them and I would love to think that the younger ones will know nothing different to the plastic alternatives. Children and young people are the ones who will make the most differences, they will be the inventors and the future lies in their hands.”

How would you sum up the difference we can all make through small changes in everyday life?

“I think the differences we can make are unimaginable. Buying one reusable product can dramatically reduce the amount of waste that goes into a bin. It isn’t even difficult so I don’t understand why you wouldn’t! We are supposed to be an incredibly intelligent race so we need to put that into practise otherwise we will simply wipe ourselves out!”

What’s your take on the major supermarkets and big brands approach to the plastic problem?

“This is a tricky one. I think some (Morrisons and Iceland who have been named as the best at the moment in this area) are trying to be better – being able to collect your meat in your own container for example. I also think they are between a rock and a hard place because as consumers, we have become used to having everything perfect and sanitary and we have lost a connection to the origins of our food. Therefore, when Morrisons trialled removing the plastic from cucumbers, food waste rose because the cucumbers were mildly softer than customers were used to. However, I also think we need to take a tougher stance. If they are not offered anywhere with plastic on, then people would get used to them not being ‘perfect’ and then it would become the norm again. Sadly, the big guns aren’t willing to make sacrifices in profits to make changes.

In terms of other big brands, I feel that there is a lot of ‘jumping on the band wagon’. Being plastic free is a hot topic at the moment and is following a wave of popularity and naturally, everyone wants a slice of the profits that can make them but not everyone is addressing the problems we face. By that I mean that projects like ‘Loop’ – a scheme dreamt up by Terracycle and supported by some of the big brands whereby containers can be refilled – does help eradicate plastic but it doesn’t take into account that a large number of these companies are completely unethical. Their workers are treated abominably, they employ sweat shop workers, they pump chemicals into their products, they use unsustainable palm oil etc. They are perpetuating other problems while showing a face to the public that says that are doing the right thing.” Follow Scoop on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Fleetscoop and visit the shop at Scoop, 14 Reading Rd South, Fleet, GU52 7QL.

Thank you to Kate for taking the time to share her thoughts. Read our earlier review following our first visit to Scoop here.

Let us know via our Facebook page what your plastic free journey looks like.

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