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Best of Local: What it means to run a zero-waste shop and why they are on the rise

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Zero-waste shops are popping up across the country. Here’s why we should look to reduce our own waste, and who the business owners making change are.

The next time you pay a visit to the supermarket, glance down to your trolley full of goods and assess just how much plastic you are purchasing.

Quite a lot if my predictions are correct.

And although many of us are buying into government recycling schemes by dropping off waste at recycling centres, we’ve still not entirely bought into the “buy less plastic” mantra, and instead, continue to purchase plastic and recycle.

But what if we stopped buying products that come in plastic and opt for a different approach?

While programmes like BBC’s Blue Planet and War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita highlight and explore the mess plastic is leaving our oceans and planet in, businesswomen closer to home are doing what they can to help our local communities combat this growing issue.

According to figures from Zero Waste Scotland, more than 64,000 tonnes of plastic food packaging and plastic bottles is chucked into household general rubbish bins and sent to landfill every year in Scotland, costing the country a staggering £11m each year.

One woman leading the charge in Aberdeenshire is Lauren Brook who owns zero-waste store and cafe, Butterfly Effect.

Lauren Brook.

Opening her premises in August last year, Lauren has worked hard to fulfil her refillery store dreams and made the decision to open her own outlet after her experience as a childminder left her baffled by the amount of plastic coming through her home.

She said: “I have always been conscious of the environment and when I was a child minder I noticed the kids would come in with lots of plastic. My bins would be full within a week and I couldn’t stomach knowing how much waste there was.

“When you look into it, there’s a lot. I had the idea to launch my own store about seven to eight years ago an when my little boy went to school last year, it seemed like the perfect time to launch my own store.

Butterfly Effect store.

“There were no other zero-waste stores in Aberdeenshire at that point. There’s around seven in the area now which is really cool and we’ve got a nice community where we can share ideas. Its not about making profit, its about making a difference and one less piece of plastic in the world is good for everyone.”

With lockdown comes increased demand

Experiencing huge demand during lockdown, Lauren says her store experienced a large spike in new customers, which she describes as “very promising”.

“We couldn’t keep up with demand at the start of lockdown. Looking at our shop reports, out of 100 people who come into the shop in any one day, 30 were new customers. The best part is we’ve seen so many people coming back to us,” said Lauren.

“If you don’t have your own containers you want to take, we have compostable bags that customers can use. But we do encourage people to take their own containers. My top tip would be to take each room at a time, looking at how you can reduce your waste in different ways.

“People are coming away from the supermarkets and its great to see more buying less plastic. We tried really hard to meet the needs of all of our customers and they liked that we would go the extra mile for them. A few of our elderly customers went into isolation to shield so we dropped goods off to them.”

Game changer – standing out from the crowd

Adding new services to her store and cafe including soft serve ice cream from Rizza’s Ice Cream, it’s her latest product, her oat milk, Lauren says could be a game changer for the business.

Lauren’s oat milk.

“Because I’m a cafe as well there’s a lot that you can’t do with regards to food and drink and the environmental health as most items need to come in plastic. We have a lot of plant-based customers so I looked into making oat milk in glass bottles to refill. I thought it could be a side business as Kirsty from Bare – Zero Waste Living also had the same idea so I think we’ll team up. I’ve sold out of it the past few weeks, and its great to see so many people using it.

“I’m looking into a second shop for the future. My cafe and community hub has such an amazing buzz to it and with the help from local council and the government with small loans and not having to pay business rates, now is a great opportunity to look into it.

“We just want people to keep thinking about our planet, and we can only hope, that after lockdown, things will change for the better and less people will use their car to go to work and that sort of thing.”

In Dundee Jillian Elizabeth of The Little Green Larder is also on a mission to reduce plastic waste with her zero-waste store.

Launched in July 2019, the former hair and make-up artist was tired of seeing so much waste in the industry and was desperately awaiting for someone to open up a store in the city.

Taking on the challenge head first

When no one came to her rescue, Jillian decided to take on the challenge herself.

She said: “I wanted a shop like this to shop in myself because I was struggling to buy food without plastic. I kept waiting for someone to open one and no one ever did, so I went for it and as a result I’ve been able to help loads of other people reduce their plastic, too.

Jillian Elizabeth.

“In the first year we’ve tripled what we have in stock. We started with basic refillable and plastic-free foods like reads, a few cakes, fresh fruit and vegetables and refillable larder items like pasta, grains and rice. We also have eco-friendly alternatives for day-to-day items.

“People would ask for things and we’d get them in. We’ve just bought a big fridge with heaps of local juices like Bad Gal Boocha and Alba Cola and things like that. I’ve added olives and vine leaves, antipasti and more. Customers wanted things like sushi rice and more varieties of grains and pastas. We’re always adding new things.”

Supplying everyday items many of the supermarkets were struggling to keep up with demand on, Jillian said the initial lockdown period was very hectic but was also great for those who didn’t want to brave the supermarket as often.

Customers in the store pre-Covid-19.

She said: “At the start of lockdown there was a huge increase in people coming to the shop because we had things they needed. People were realising they could keep foods in their cupboards for ages, so they didn’t have to go to the supermarket as much. We had double the amount of people every day. We closed the shop to customers eventually and did a click and collect service – just to keep things safe for everyone.

Education is key

“We’re open again and loads of people have come back to us. We try and support as many local businesses in the shop as we can. We also want to educate as many people as we can about how easy it is to reduce waste. It is also safe for people to bring their own containers to re-fill, so people don’t need to worry about that.

The vegan pick and mix is a popular treat for Jillian’s customers.

“Our biggest seller is porridge oats and red lentils. We have a big range of vegan pick and mix sweets and they are super popular. We went vegan with the pick and mix, not just because it is cruelty-free, but it means almost everyone (minus allergies) can enjoy it. We’ve got the biggest vegan pick and mix selection in Dundee.”

Revealing a new website where customers can purchase goods online, Jillian has also partnered with a local delivery service which uses electric eco cars to get her products to her customers in the most environmentally-friendly ways possible.

One of the vegetable boxes.

“We’ve just launched a website where you can order a fruit and veg or a mixed box, as well as other items from the shop. Customers can get the fresh stuff via click and collect and the other items delivered to their door. Zippy D, a local delivery company with electric eco cars is helping with food deliveries to people’s houses.

Recycling has never been easier

“We’re also a collection point for TerraCycle which specialises in hard-to-recycle materials. We had to close the service due to COVID-19 but I think we’ve collected over 4,000 crisp packets for recycling. We’ve got boxes and boxes of them. We have a toothbrush recycling scheme and have collected around 200, too.”

Posted by Grain & Sustain – Zero Waste Life in Fife on Saturday, 12 October 2019

The owner of Grain and Sustain in Burntisland, Fife, Louise Humpington, is also passionate about educating new customers about their purchasing habits and opened her zero-waste shop last October. Louise, too, did not have access to this kind of store and wanted to bring it to her local community.

She said: “We did it as we wanted to be as sustainable as possible. My background is in human rights and advocacy and campaigning, and my husband’s is in climate change. We wanted to use the shop as a platform to push the messaging we feel is important in becoming zero-waste and educating customers about the environment without preaching about it.

Posted by Grain & Sustain – Zero Waste Life in Fife on Tuesday, 21 April 2020

“Depending on the time of year, red lentils are popular in winter and soup season, during lockdown it has been flour, yeast, caster sugar and all those sorts of things. We’ve seen a lot of people moving towards a more plant-based diet, too, so the pulses and grains and other yeasts have been popular.

Posted by Grain & Sustain – Zero Waste Life in Fife on Friday, 15 May 2020

“We wanted to bring in things like seaweed seasoning, preserved lemon, black salts which are a bit different. I’m watching a lot of MasterChef and The Great British Bake Off to see what new, unusual ingredients we can stock.”

Local’s supporting local

Like Jillian, Louise also runs a website alongside her store and can sell UK-wide and has more than 300 products available to purchase now.

She said: “Most of the items in the shop are on the website and we’ve got a local delivery service as well. Lockdown definitely pushed us to focus on it more.

“We started off with 40 products on retail and we now have over 300. That’s come from customers looking for different things and sourcing what we can for them. We’d really like to look at frozen goods on retail and add a refrigerated section, too.

“Adding things like local craft gins and other items is definitely something we’re looking into. We support 40 local producers and that’s really important to us. It’s a hub not only for the community, but for local businesses, too. We want to help as many people as we can.”

The Re:Store in Lossiemouth, Moray

The store offers an alternative to supermarket shopping and focuses on stocking sustainable, ethical and plastic-free products.

As well as a range of local fresh fruit and vegetables, the shop boasts a variety of dried store cupboard goods, not to mention bathroom products and kitchen cleaning items.

Posted by The Re:Store Moray on Saturday, 2 May 2020

Rosemary Planet – Refillery – Aberdeen

Relitively new to the Aberdeen scene, this store in the west end of the city boasts a range of eco-friendly, sustainable and organic products. With everything from nuts, grains and pastas, to tea, coffee, herbs, spices and oils, not to mention refillable cleaning products and cosmetics, everything you need is under the one roof. All you need to do is turn up with your containers!

You can also make your own nut butters at the store, too.

Posted by Rosemary Planet- Refillery on Monday, 18 November 2019

Bare – Zero Waste Living in Ellon, Aberdeenshire

Taking away the need for unnecessary single use plastic, Bare offers up a range of delicious food and drink products, not to mention items including wax melts, reusable water bottles, natural toothpastes and more.

The store is a big supporter of local businesses and actively promotes as many as it can in store.

G R E E N S O F E L L O NWe’ve had many requests from customers for us to open on a Monday but unfortunately due…

Posted by Bare – Zero Waste Living on Sunday, 9 February 2020

Eco Ness – Inverness

Although this isn’t a bricks an mortar store, Eco Ness provides a whole range of high quality, ethical and plastic-free products for customers. You will usually find the business at local and craft markets and events around Ross-shire and Inverness.

Posted by Eco Ness on Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Wyvis Refillery – Dingwall

This eco-cleaning refill service based in Dingwall provides products which can be purchased in refillable bottles, or can be decanted into your own containers.

From natural shampoos, soaps, conditioning bars, deodorants, soy candles and numerous kitchen products, there’s also plenty of hand sanitiser to purchase, too.

Posted by Wyvis Refillery on Sunday, 26 January 2020

Planet Perth: Zero Waste – Perth

Although the store isn’t currently open due to lockdown and the Covid-19 outbreak, it was the first zero-waste shop to open in Perth.

Started initially to support the Perth Community Farm, the venue has collaborated with Giraffe Cafe which has allowed it to open three days a week in their old Mill Street cafe.