Waste Not Want More: What is Zero Waste Shopping?

The first episode of BBC Blue Planet in October 2017 attracted 14 million viewers. The series, dedicated to showing the effects of plastic pollution shocked the viewing public and the outcry to reduce the effects of this pollution became ‘The Attenborough Effect’

Many people were already advocating a reduction in plastic and Zero Waste living, but Blue Planet took it from the niche, environmentally aware to the main steam. Everyone was talking about plastic pollution, the effect on marine life and our planet. It became the water cooler conversation as well as the talk of the trends on Twitter.

Then Covid hit and it was understandable that health and hygiene became the most important things, the environmental problems caused by disposable plastic  took a back seat; the increase in single-use plastics was understandable, but we need to rethink about the long-term health of our planet. Over lockdown we cleaned everything, Cafes stopped allowing reusable cups, everything came covered in plastic and we covered out faces in single use masks. Even I lost track and my Instagram name is Plasticfreenorthener so why should I expect more.

As we approach Plastic Free July I am on a mission to get back on track, get back to reducing my plastic footprint and live as close to Zero Waste as I can.

If you live in Chester you will know we have our own Zero Waste Shop Just Footprints. The pandemic completely changed how it managed its business, but it was open all through the pandemic making changes but still NO PLASTIC.

Where did it start?

The first zero-waste shop, Unpackaged, opened in London in 2007. There are now over 60 Zero Waste Stores in the UK but many have struggled through the pandemic and we all need to get back to our pre pandemic zero waste aims. Which of us will live zero waste? None of us, but it’s about doing what you can.  

For those that haven’t tried it yetWhat is Zero Waste Shopping about?

Ok, so think about your usual supermarket shop. Then think about the word ‘Single Use’ – particularly single use plastic. This is, as in the name, any item of plastic that’s used once and thrown away, even if that means recycling. I am sure you have heard, we are rubbish at recycling so don’t feel good about putting that plastic bottle in your recycle bin, only around 6% gets recycled and you can only recycle plastic a limited number of times.

Each Zero Waste shop will be different, but the staple will be dispensers full of everyday items that you purchase all the time, usually in wasteful plastic packaging.

Many zero waste shops will stock a selection of what I’ll call ‘cupboard goods’, on the highstreets these will likely come in a plastic bag that you throw away once empty, things like pasta, rice, Cous Cous, dry pulses & nuts. Or selections of teas and coffee, then cereals, oats and muesli which tend to come in a plastic bag, inside a cardboard box.

My local Zero Waste shop doesn’t have plans to sell fresh produce and if yours doesn’t either then my suggestion would be to just shop local, markets and farmers markets, green grocer, the butchers, fishmongers and cheesemongers, these will most likely let you use your own containers. Just ask, i’ve never had a negative experience asking to use one of my own containers

On top of food stuffs you will find other items to help you reduce that single use plastic – reusable coffee cups and water bottles, lunch containers, sandwich wraps, a bamboo toothbrush or the old fashioned safety razor where you just replace the single blade.

Most stores, Just Footprints included will also have eco versions of everyday household liquids such as washing up liquid, washing liquid, fabric conditioner and cleaning fluids.

Then if you don’t want to switch to soap versions in the bathroom, which you will hopefully also be able to buy. You may be able to get liquid shower gels, shampoo and conditioners.

But how do they work ?

You take your own container or the pandemic meant using paper bags from the shop. I am pleased to see we can go back to using our own containers. You first weigh your container and make note of the weight, you then fill the jars with your chosen goods. These are then weighed at the till and once the weight of the empty jar is deducted you know how much you’re paying.

One of the big bonuses of zero waste shops is that you’re not paying for any fancy (or often garrish) packaging, you’re paying 100% for the product. At the end of the day, that fancy packaging designed by committee in some converted warehouse in Camden was destined to either landfill or local authority recycling anyway so why bother paying for it….

What else?

I feel this style of shopping is more thoughtful, you buy what you need and you buy how much you need. You’re not enticed into supermarket offers to buy extras in a deal or BOGOFs, only to waste the second unwanted item going off, no more having to buy six bagged onions when you only wanted one.

It can save money, reduce your carbon footprint and save food waste. for me that’s a win, win, win.

We asked Debbie from Just Footprints what made her set up the business ‘Back in 2018, my youngest daughter, Millie went down to Cornwall to complete some work experience with Surfers Against Sewage. Whilst we were there we noticed an increase in the amount of plastic rubbish that was being left on the beaches and in the sea. On our return to Chester we started to look at how we could reduce the single use plastic our family used. Other than the odd piece of fruit and veg it was practically impossible to shop, particularly for dried food and we could see there was a need for zero waste shopping in Chester. As they say, the rest is history! At Just Footprints it’s important for us to make single use plastic free shopping as accessible and affordable as possible, so that more people can make a change, even if it’s just one small change. They all add up!

If you don’t live locally, and I know many of the people who read our blogs don’t, then do some research into local zero waste shops and take what you’ve learnt to help you cut down the waste in your life.

If you haven’t tried Plastic Free / Zero Waste Shopping yet – give it a go. Perhaps like me you alllowed the pandemic to derail you a little. Once you have done this you can tick the step off on our Carbpn Footprint Calculator… (Join or Sign in here)

Then – I challenge you

Who wants to join me over June and into July and share our highlights and pitfalls ?

Join me in our digital community – it’s free. ——- Join the community and then select the Our Plastic Step Chalenge Group

Zero Waste Shop listing UK

Pebble Magazine – link


Here are a few in Cheshire & Wirral

Just Footprints  – Chester and Frodsham

Weigh of the World – Northwich

Waste not Want not – Wirral

Refill Shed – Davenham

Published by plasticfreenorthener

I’m a partner and Ethical Financial Adviser, I’m Director of Eco Community UK Community Interest Company which I set up to help individuals and businesses be more sustainable.

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