Some of you might have heard of zero-waste shops popping up around the country, aimed at reducing plastic packaging in particular. I was delighted then to see that Rye Health Store has made great strides in this direction. I met up with Georgina Woods, who took over the business in February last year. It had been running for more than 30 years, with a solid customer base. Georgina did not initially change the range of goods sold, which all avoid animal testing and artificial preservatives and are predominantly vegan or vegetarian.
She has given much thought to reducing packaging or, where it is unavoidable, ensuring it is not environmentally damaging. Customers can now fill their own jars or tubs with porridge oats and brown rice from sacks, saving 25 per cent on cost and weight to suit them. Almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and green lentils are available from gravity-fed dispensers. Shampoo and body wash are available from pump-action containers.
Many products are locally sourced, with organic vegetables, from Fairlight, sold loose, honey from Peasmarsh and the “Foragers” range – which includes mushrooms and seaweed – sourced from within five miles of Rye. Herbs, teas and coffee are also now available loose, with a discount given for reusing bags.
In 2015, the Government introduced a 5p charge on single-use bags, which saw a drop in those handed out by supermarkets from 7bn to 500m within the first six months, as shoppers remembered to bring their own reusable bags. A similar behavioural change is needed when visiting a zero-waste shop: you need to remember to bring suitable jars, bottles and bags for whatever you have in mind to buy.
As it happened, I had brought an empty plastic washing-up liquid container to refill from the Ecover range (which also includes laundry liquid and fabric conditioner). Refilling was a slightly tricky business, as I ended up kneeling down with the container on my knee while opening the tap to the box with one hand and pressing down on the bag within the box with the other. There’s probably a knack to it – I’m more familiar with refilling a glass from a wine box!
The friendly staff can do the refilling for you if you so choose. Also, it is not essential to bring your own containers, as the store does have a small supply of jars and bags – but obviously re-use is strongly encouraged.
Georgina explains that many other products avoid single-use plastic: there are lipstick tubes in cardboard, body scrubs made out of used coffee grounds, toothpaste in glass tubs and toothbrushes made out of bamboo. Biodegradable cleaning pads can be used instead of cotton wool or wet wipes. The list goes on.
Increasingly more companies are thinking about the environmental impact of packaging and waste, so there are now more products on the market. Georgina provides feedback to the wholesalers and producers to suggest improvements where possible.
It is heartening finally to see some local stores moving in this direction. The key objective remains to reduce packaging as far as possible, as the recycling or other appropriate disposal of alternatives to plastic packaging is still problematic. There is no reason why zero waste initiatives cannot be scaled up and adopted more widely, but that will require lots of legislative carrots and sticks to convince many businesses, as well as shoppers themselves to get into new habits.
Image Credits: Dominic Manning .