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?
Kate Cottrell will soon be celebrating the first birthday of her Hampshire-based (Fleet) zero waste shop, Scoop, so we caught up with her to her how things are going…
What made you open a zero waste shop and what is your background?
“I was a primary school teacher and I was learning more and more about how we humans were impacting the environment. I had already started a Facebook group encouraging others to be greener and to consider their actions when someone suggested that I opened a zero waste shop. I knew that this was a way of helping myself and others to do what we were striving to do and become plastic free – so I didn’t look back.”
What are the barriers/challenges in doing so?
“There are some massive barriers… the first is letting people know that you exist in a zero waste manner (leaflets are a waste) but also reaching people who aren’t on social media.
The second is that I am constantly searching for the best way forward because there is no perfect way of doing things. For example, can I get ‘XYZ’ bigger or in a different packaging and if I can, what is the cost of the carbon footprint. Literally everything has to be weighed up to ensure I am doing the best I can.
The third is changing perspectives. Being zero waste has reduced my household bills significantly but people perceive it as a more expensive way of living. I try very hard to keep my prices in line with supermarkets and given their nature many items are reusable so once you have it, you don’t need to buy it again; thereby reducing costs.”
What changes have you noticed in the last year?
“More and more people are being becoming conscious of the need to make changes and I think everyone is realising that any tiny steps they take are worthwhile. More people are shopping second hand, more councils are considering their practices, more children are learning about environmental issues at school… it’s so great!”
What have you learned?
“Wow – I think this would take me several years to answer! My research has taken me into many nooks and crannies! However, I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is not to trust anything on the surface. Look deeper. Products claiming to be green aren’t always. Bioplastics aren’t necessarily better than ‘regular’ plastics. Just because something is collected, it doesn’t mean it is recycled. If it’s taken for recycling it doesn’t mean it’s processed in this country. Biodegradable doesn’t mean what most people think it does etc…
What are your top 5 selling items at Scoop?
1. Nuts – people clearly love nuts!
2. We’ve also moved into the time of year for stews and casseroles and so beans and lentils are very popular.
3. Laundry liquid refills .
4. Beeutiful cosmetics – amazing for dry skin, eczema, dermatitis etc.
5. Karuna Coffee Beans – locally roasted, very yummy and 100% of their profits go to charity.
What are your favourite items?
“I’m a little partial to the chocolate elements – I’m not overly fussy as to whether it is chocolate Brazil nuts, chocolate buttons or chocolate honeycomb! I think my favourite non-food products are the coco fibre washing up brush because it is so versatile and removes cup stains and limescale easily, and jam jar stickers; they last forever and can be composted after use!”
What’s new/coming soon to Scoop?
“We are currently working on how to have a zero waste Christmas. It is famously a time of year for excess but I totally believe it can be just as wonderful without all the rubbish! We have some options for wrapping and some zero waste gifts to help friends on their journey. Starter kits are also in the process of being produced so that you can ‘zero waste’ an area of your house with a few easy bits and pieces.”
What next for Scoop?
“I will continue to spread the word, to visit community groups and schools and to work with the council but the next mission is to get local businesses on board and help them to reduce their waste. In terms of the shop, I am looking into a new supplier of household liquids who refill their containers as opposed to recycling them and I want to be able to offer flour in the New Year (including some of the more obscure ones!). We might also see if we can get hold of a nut butter or milk machine.”
Why isn’t zero waste anywhere near becoming mainstream? Will it?
“In terms of businesses, it is labour intensive and requires constant research to keep on top of the rapid changes. In terms of individuals, I think there are many who are confused and don’t know which way to turn thanks to sly marketing and so do nothing, others who want to do something but don’t believe that their little bit will make a difference. It really will. Every eco conscious decision made is a massively positive step. Collectively we are a huge force.”
Are big brands and governments doing enough?
“This is a tough one. I think the bottom line is no. However, I also appreciate that it is going to take some time and instantly removing something from a very complicated web, may well upset something else and make the situation worse and so I believe that it must be done sensibly, cautiously and with real expert thinking. However, there are too many major companies leading customers down the garden path by claiming green options (like swapping plastic for paper) when really, they don’t want to lose any profit margins and are simply being seen to do the right thing.”
What concerns you the most?
“I am concerned that there is a delicate balance between not doing things quickly enough and changing things so rapidly that we make the ‘wrong one’ or destroy something else. I am concerned that there are major players in this game who don’t care i.e. Trump, the Brazilian government etc… However, I am also uplifted by the number of people with changing attitudes and the number of positive actions being taken globally.”
Thank you to Kate for taking the time to share her thoughts. Read our earlier chat regarding Scoop and running a zero waste shop here.
Follow Scoop on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Fleetscoop and visit the shop at Scoop, 14 Reading Rd South, Fleet, Hampshire, GU52 7QL.
You can find us on Facebook by searching for Plastic Free Home or at http://www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk.