Small businesses CAN have a big impact. Guest writer Lexie Mayhew meets a small, independent shop owner that's making social responsibility the centre stage of her entire business model.
Every piece of plastic ever made still exists today. I read that somewhere recently and my mind was blown. It’s a sobering thought isn’t it? It can take up to 1000 years for the general plastics that we use to decompose in landfills - things such as carrier bags, water bottles, straws, cutlery and those little pots of fruit that we pick up when we’re in a hurry and need a quick snack.
If we recycle the plastics that can be recycled, we think that we’re doing the right thing, but if you watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Plastic recently you might feel a little… shall we say… mis-sold on what actually happens to our recycling.
And what about the plastics that can’t be recycled? And the plastic that people leave on beaches and just can’t be bothered to put in a bin? Plastic is a well-documented global issue and we all need to tackle it together. But can smaller businesses really make a different?
One small business owner whose standing to fight in the war against plastic is Hannah Robbins, owner of Wonderfill - a new plastic-free refill shop in St Leonards-on-Sea. We had a sneak peak of the new shop and asked Hannah all about it. Here’s the scoop on Wonderfill.
Interview with Hannah Robbins, a.k.a Wonderfill Superstar
L: Where did you get the idea to open a plastic-free shop?
H: Five years ago I was doing Plastic Free July and trying to cut down on the amount of plastic I was using but struggled to find local shops where I could buy loose food and household bits. There used to be scoop shops where you could buy what you needed, but they all seemed to have disappeared.
L: I remember those- there used to be one in Kings Road when I was little, my mum reminded me earlier. We used to call it the ‘poop and scoop shop’! (cue amused chuckling)
H: Exactly, but there aren’t many around anymore and I strongly believe we should have those kinds of places in every neighbourhood, every community. There’s Zero Waste Eastbourne, but that’s too far for local people to go to every time they want to buy some oats or something.
L: What would you say to someone who comes in and asks ‘what difference can I make?’
H: What difference does a straw make? Says 10 million people. All change happens with individuals- there are lots of people who are already well into their cutting down plastic journeys, but I’m hoping that people who are ‘on the cusp’ will come in and start making a few small changes, like using reusable cups for tea and coffee, reusing plastic they already have at home like bags and containers, maybe even picking up litter, or joining local litter picking groups. Those small changes can make a huge difference.
L: What would you want to say to local people who might be a bit nervous or intimidated about coming in to Wonderfill?
H: It’s so important to me that everyone feels welcome- I really didn’t want the shop to be too ‘designy’ or too ‘hippy’. I want it to be accessible to everyone. I hope it gives off a good vibe- just come in and see us, we’re a friendly bunch.
L: I can vouch for that, you gave us such a warm welcome! (and plied us with yummy food and mocktails!) So, what kind of things will you be selling?
H: All sorts! We’ve tried to be organic wherever we can, so dry goods like pasta, cous-cous, lentils, nuts, dried fruits, oats, all that kind of thing. We have wholefood snacks… and mini eggs! Washing brushes, scrubbers, toothbrushes, floss, mouthwash and toothpaste. We’ll be selling Faith in Nature shampoo, conditioner and body wash and Bio D detergent, washing up liquid and household cleaner. We won’t be selling fruit and veg because we already have a fantastic local greengrocer in the St Leonards Grocery but we’ll have a small deli, selling vegan and dairy cheeses. We’ll be led by what our customers want really, so if we don’t have something then please ask and we’ll try and get it. We’ve got some new bits coming in this week, including teas, breakfast cereals, herbs and spices and the following week will be cooking oil, the vegan cheeses for the deli, coffee beans, wax wraps, locally made soaps, candles and creams, snacks and sweets, linen and organic shopping bags, reusable coffee cups and water bottles… and a peanut butter machine!
L: Oh my goodness, you had me at ‘peanut butter machine’! What kind of containers do people need to bring in with them?
H: Basically whatever they have at home! Jars might be a little heavy to carry around, but any kind of container will be fine. Takeaway tubs are good, Tupperware, any plastic container- there’s no shame in using plastic, we all do it, it’s just important to keep reusing it and not buy more. Just use whatever you have.
L: Will you have any containers for people who might have forgotten to bring something?
H: Yes! We will have jars and paper bags- recycled and compostable of course. Although I sell jars in the shop my ethos is only encouraging people to buy something new if they really need to. I have a habit of hoarding jam jars until it gets out of hand, telling myself I will make jam and never getting round to it so if anyone else is similarly afflicted (me, me, I am afflicted by jam-jar-itis!) I wanted to give them an opportunity to donate their excess jars so they can be put to good use. I will sterilise them in the shop and make them available to use for free for anyone who doesn't have enough containers for the things they want to buy. I checked this with Environmental Health and they gave it the green light. I'm not sure that sterilising them is essential but I thought it would be a good idea to do it anyway.