Is this the future of shopping? The local independent stores helping to save the planet
PUBLISHED: 17:41 07 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:41 07 February 2019
As we become more aware of the havoc humans are wreaking on the earth, new stores are springing up in Suffolk and North Essex that help us to break ingrained shopping habits and be kinder to our planet.
Household products no longer need to be bought in plastic containers that get chucked away afterwards. In Ipswich, Bury Saint Edmunds and Colchester, a number of stores are now offering a refill service so customers can bring along their old bottles and refill them again and again - potentially even for another two decades.
One of these stores is An Ethical Life, which started in the Essex village of Great Bentley and branched out last month to a shop next to Colchester’s only dairy free diner, Shakers, on Eld Lane.
“So many people are requesting new items that we are absolutely chock-a-block and we need bigger premises already!” said Rachel Parker, who set up the business with her partner Dave Parker.
An Ethical Life supports local businesses wherever possible, and it seems that more and more start ups are springing up in Suffolk and Essex to offer eco-friendly products.
They include Hugo Patisserie (which make the shop’s vegan dog treats), Colne Valley Tea Company in Coggeshall, Buttons Bows & Little Ones Sews in Colchester, Hand knitted dishcloths in Colchester, Crocheted face cloths/pads in Walton on the Naze and The Little Tav Company in Brightlingsea.
“The range of products keeps growing all the time,” says Rachel. “It’s still early days, but people are already coming back. They like that things been handmade by local people.
“I think people also really want to support plastic reduction. Our most popular items are the refillable washing up liquids and vinegar, and foodwise, it’s chia seds, nuts and wheat gluten.”
Rachel even took the plunge and became a vegan herself last month, although she says they still stock non vegan produce in the Great Bentley shop.
“There is definitely a growing vegan community here in Colchester. I think it helps that the supermarkets stock food for vegans these days so it’s easier, you can even get vegan pizza now. I was chatting with customers this morning about hummus and jackfruit - it’s very communal.”
The refill service is something you can’t buy online, so it gives the shop an edge over its online competitors.
“Customers also want to be able to touch the flannel they’re going to use before they buy it, which they can’t get from ordering online,” Rachel said.
But the next step with the business is to offer an online service so customers can order online, then pay and collect the products in-store.
“We are also in the process of converting an old burger van into a shopping trailer to take products to people’s homes,” she explained. “My nan used to get visits from an old green grocer’s van bringing her fresh fruits, potatoes and milk- she lived in a sheltered housing community. That sort of personal home service seemed to have died out, but it’s going full circle and coming back.”
In Ipswich, the Fair Trade Shop, on Upper Brook Street, has been selling refillable laundry liquid and washing up liquid for the past year now.
The shop’s manager, Shantelle Winter, said the idea is catching on - and customers are “fascinated” by the possibilities.
“There seems to be more awareness now that so-called single-use plastic containers can actually be used for decades,” she said.
“But it’s a case of trying to break habits that have been formed over a lifetime. It’s been on the news and on social media a lot lately about plastics in the sea so people are becoming more aware now.”
The Fair Trade also sells beeswax papers, which can be used instead of clingfilm for wrapping food, as well as wooden dolly pegs, reusable baby wipes, metal straws and bamboo toothbrushes, all of which are practical alternatives to plastic.
Other refill services
Repair, Reuse and Recycle in Colchester offers a refill service, as well as offering repairs to give new life to household appliances.
Bury St Edmonds has Bury Wholefoods, which offers a home delivery of grocery refills.
Emmaus Suffolk is a regional distributor of Sesi Refill products, both in store at The Dales and in their Van, including washing up liquid, biological and non-biological laundry detergent, fabric conditioner, toilet cleaner, window cleaner and hand wash. All Sesi products are vegan and biodegradable.