Refill shops are a fantastic way to cut down on plastic waste.
We've been learning more about it thanks to the owner of Refill and Replenish.
Refill shops are popping up in more and more towns and cities as people attempt to cut down on their plastic waste. They enable people to take in their own containers to stock up on things such as food and cleaning supplies without adding to the growing plastic waste we accumulate here in the UK.
For many people though, it’s proving a struggle to break the habit of a lifetime when shopping at a supermarket is so convenient.
Refill and Replenish has been operating in Petersfield for four and a half years, with a presence on the High Street for the past two years, following a move from its original premises in The Folly Market.
Laura Hayward started the business following a holiday to Thailand which gave her a real wake-up call about the dangers of single use plastic.
“My background was the corporate world of PA, but I’ve always had an interest in the environment and the threat to wildlife, and I watch David Attenborough religiously,” she said.
“I think it was going on holiday and seeing a beach in Thailand full of litter and then watching a documentary about plastic pollution and our impact on the environment that made me connect the dots.
“I just thought I needed to do something other than the odd beach clean and doing my recycling at home.
“I saw these refill shops popping up not just in the UK but in Europe.”
Laura met with some owners of other refill shops and started running the market stalls to see how the concept were received in the area.
She added: “Petersfield had by far the most engaging customers and a really welcoming community and it just went from there.”
The shops sells a range of products including pasta, rice, dried fruit, nuts, oils and sweets. There are also a wide range of cleaning products as well as shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and even things such as period products like menstrual cups and reusable sanitary pads.
“We definitely get customers who have purposefully sought us out to do their refills because they are already on their refill journey, but we also get lots of newbies who are walking down the street and endeavour to pop in and see what’s in the shop.”
Meanwhile, Laura has also seen an interest from young parents with families.
“We get lots of mums who are at the beginning of their journey and want to reduce their plastic consumption because they have noticed the impact from having a family, with the amount of plastic from kids toys and sweets etc.
“We get a wide variety of people. It’s about trying to get those people to continue to use us and to keep coming back.”
So why are refill shops so important?
“We are helping you reduce your single use plastic predominantly,” Laura adds.
“For example, pasta is delivered in paper sacks to us, so those paper sacks can be composted or they will be more easily recycled much more easily than single use plastic.
“You will potentially save money because some of our refills are cheaper. I try my best to keep our prices in line with supermarkets, the ones that aren’t are mainly because I don’t have the buying power that supermarkets have.”
Laura has recently run price comparisons with supermarkets with a variety of products. These have shown that for some products, it is cheaper.
“It’s about making refill shopping convenient to the customer. Convenience is key. That’s why we offer delivery and click and collect. I am trying as much as I can to be convenient for people.
“Our regular customers love what we do and they are always asking us to stock new things.”
But how can we convince more people to begin their journey and to shop at refill stores?
“It’s a big question”, Laura says.
“It comes down to two things. Convenience is the main thing. Everyone wants convenience which is why supermarkets are so big now.
“They are open until 10pm at night or 24 hours so they cater for everybody including people who work shifts or prefer to go shopping late at night.
“But then there are also lots of people who are not on the eco refill journey yet. Maybe they are not seeing it as a problem. I don’t think I am here to convince those people because they are not on the journey yet.
“But for the people who are on the journey and want to make a better future for their children or people who are already recycling and want to do a bit more, coming to Refill and Replenish and refilling (rather than consuming more plastic) is the next step.”
How much do we waste?
It is estimated that UK households throw away a staggering 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging a year, averaging 66 items per household per week.
These are mainly food packaging items, such as snack bags and fruit and veg trays. In 2021, 2.5 million metric tons of plastic packaging waste was generated in the UK.
Statistics from statista.com also show that 44.2 percent of UK plastic packaging waste was recycled in 2021. However, recycling rates also include energy recovery from incineration and plastic waste exports.
It is believed that almost half of all UK plastic waste is incinerated for energy recovery, with 25 percent landfilled and just 12 percent recycled in UK reprocessing facilities. The remaining waste is shipped abroad.