Ethical Shopping for everyone!


Responsibility. We all would like to be able to say we live responsibly wouldn’t we? We want to leave the world a better place for future generations and be able to say we actively played our part in reversing the damage we've caused to the planet. This choice to live more thoughtfully, however, has mainly been a luxury only afforded to the affluent. 

Until now.

"Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something."

Currently, that is just not the case when it comes to shopping and living more sustainably. 

I have, in recent times, set out eagerly to find out more about local refill shops, naively thinking it was a wonderful and financially viable alternative to doing the usual supermarket shop. I wanted to be able to go and get an appropriate amount of an acceptable range of items, at affordable prices. This did not, unfortunately materialise. I realised that still, these places are almost exclusively the preserve of those lucky enough to be able to have a free choice over where and how they shop.  

Our vision is a new type of refill shop. One which is not solely for the affluent. One which is comparable to a supermarket. One which is either in an easy to access location or mobile in the form of a van or pop-up stall so that customers do not have to travel to villages or out-of-the-way areas to access these facilities. 

As a family of 4, we have discovered a need to find reasonable alternatives to the swathes of plastic we have to buy to provide 28 breakfasts, 28 lunches and 28 dinner portions every single week. Paying 260% more for pasta, to take  just one obvious example, at these refill shops is just not possible for many families (add in gluten free which is the same price in the supermarket I usually go to, and you are a whopping 600% more!). I fully appreciate these stores say they are better quality, that the produce is organic and ethically sourced, which is of course fantastic, truly, and I wish we could all afford to shop that way. I would like to think that with continued pressure on the larger supermarkets that one day those products will be the norm.

But, think of the people in this country on minimum wage, think of those on Universal Credit, those experiencing recent changes in circumstances due to the pandemic, or even just simply on a tight budget, and you will realise that the majority of the population of this country simply cannot afford to change every aspect of our shopping like this. Change has to start with affordable, value ranges instead of being an all-or-nothing change to the most expensive options available.  

It is a great insult to people who are struggling or just managing to get by to assume that they just don't care about their carbon footprint, their plastic use, the environmental damage we're all doing. That is simply not the case, they just cannot afford to go to all organic, all fair trade, all ethically sourced- but why does that mean they cannot still participate in whatever initiatives they can? Why, if someone wishes to reduce their plastic consumption, do they have to pay so much to move to organic? It makes no sense if we want to encourage large numbers to get on board with environmental initiatives that we should exclude them like this. It is turning environmental awareness into an elitist activity rather than an inclusive one. This must change.

While encouraging only organic or locally sourced items is absolutely commendable, it’s not helpful in terms of effecting a paradigm shift to mass, everyday sustainability. In the long term maybe, but since we currently live in a country where a large many people are struggling daily to even feed their families at all, trying to encourage them to pay a large amount more for basic groceries is merely a pipe dream. 

Income level should not be a factor when it comes to living in a more sustainable, thoughtful manner- but it absolutely and entirely is! 

It is our purchasing of family-sized quantities of goods in plastic packaging which is in no way at all being catered for in these refill stores. We do not need a small amount of people reducing their consumption of plastic and shopping differently- we need everyone to play a part and do what they can. We need a mindset change. We need to facilitate any change we can, not discourage it and make it seem pointless. There is a huge chasm which exists between shopping habits, and it will only get wider unless we do something.

We propose to still offer those organic and ethically sourced items but alongside the basic produce, just purchased in bulk and our packaging reduced or properly reused or recycled, so that customers can buy at the same prices they are used to. 

"A one-stop-shop for responsible living"

We propose an initiative where customers can bring their "awkward to recycle" packaging to be sent to the appropriate location. Currently, I must travel around, sometimes to different towns (thereby increasing my carbon footprint) to take things like crisp packets or coffee pods or empty beauty supplies to be dealt with. This is simply not practical for a lot of people. The less costly, in terms of money and indeed time, is to throw these things in the general waste bin. Though looking on Terracycle's website for recycling initiatives is inspiring due to how many items we normally throw into landfill can be taken and disposed of or recycled properly, its again prohibitive for those who cannot travel easily - or at all. We want to offer a service where customers can refill their containers while simultaneously bringing any packaging which is under a recycling initiative and that cannot be recycled at kerbside. 

We propose to try and work with local artists and producers for items such as beeswax wraps, reusable face masks, handmade soaps or cleaning products etc. We will offer these either on a commission only basis or rental of space basis rather than purchasing to sell on ourselves. We believe this is more workable as a business model as there it involves less outlay for the business, and leaves room for flexibility for us and for the local artists.

We propose to approach local charity ventures such as School Uniform SOS or Coats For Kids where people can donate and receive items needed and offer a hub where this can happen easily and discreetly. There are food distribution and food waste charities locally which we would also wish to work with in whichever way we can.

"Covid-19 considerations"

We will work with all appropriate national and local agencies to ensure that we adhere to all guidelines, and ensure that all colleagues, contractors and customers are safe. Mask wearing will be mandatory, distancing and, if necessary, number limiting will be adhered to, and all hygiene measures will be strict. 

Aside from any additional regulations for the pandemic, should this still be happening by the time the venture starts, we will undertake food hygiene and handling courses to ensure the highest standards are adhered to at all times.

"The money bit"

The funds raised will go entirely towards starting this community venture. We are currently looking at retail properties to let and should these prove too costly at the outset a mobile van is the back up option, offering either home visits to customers or pop ups in designated locations at particular days or times, or at events.  Other businesses working from vans do exist but work at the same price points as the other stores, being prohibitively expensive for people buying larger quantities or who are on a tight budget. The mobile option certainly affords more flexibility and involves less initial capital and is a desirable option, however visibility of an actual store front could attract more customer in the first instance.  As soon as we have pin-pointed the ideal location / style of service we will update with more accuracy. 

In the most cost-effective version, It will pay for the van itself, (approx. £4000), fitting, signage and advertising (approx. £2000) and initial stock (approx. £1500), plus any other start-up costs incurred. A shop unit will obviously cost a lot more than this and incur more fees and charges, but that is something to work towards dependant on finances available. It is obviously the most desirable in terms of both space and visibility but in the spirit of starting small and moving one step at a time, we are not necessarily aiming to do this immediately. We stress that this money will not pay for wages or other expenses which are not directly beneficial to the venture. We aim to be debt-free throughout this venture, an ambitious aim, but in the current climate we want to be more that a transient store, one which has good intentions but folds after 6 months. This will do no good for anyone. We want to be as economically viable as possible, paying for produce and other items up front, and that way we are not increasing debt and causing financial insecurities. 

We are Northampton based and intend to start up in the town where we will be more visible to a large amount of the population. We do hope that by being successful we will inspire similar ventures in other towns and cities around the country, and that one day responsible shopping and living will not just be for those who can afford to pay more for smaller quantities, but will be the norm for families who can influence the next generation of shoppers. 

The more informed people are of choices and the more these types of business appear on the high street, the more "everyday" they'll become and shoppers will go for the plastic free, recyclable, biodegradable, options as second nature. The shopper who today can only realistically purchase value ranges in the supermarket can initially make the leap to plastic free then as situations change and prices come down - we can force them down if we start to put pressure on the supermarkets as a whole society, not just a small proportion of it-  can then move to organic or fair trade or ethically sourced if they wish to.

With your help we can work towards a better and enduring change in attitude and habits. 

With more visibility, more affordability and more accessibility, we will work towards more sustainability.

"Every great journey starts with just one step."
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