Reimagining the way we shop for everyday essentials

This week PFS is catching up with one of our most recent Plastic Free Champions, Michelle Martell from The Eco Shop, a newly opened refill shop just outside Stamford in Great Casterton. Here you’ll find a wide range of household essentials from dry foods and snacks to cleaning products and bathroom favourites, but without having to overload on plastic.

The Eco Shop is anything but your standard local store and Michelle is working hard to make refill shopping accessible to everyone…..

Plastic Free Stamford: Can you tell us a little bit about what motivated you to focus on opening a refill shop and going plastic free? 

Michelle Martell: I noticed Stamford had no options for people to refill on products and reduce plastic waste*. My motivation was around the oceans, the pollution and waste of single use plastic, that is not necessary but significantly damages our world – polluting our oceans, land and harming wildlife.

PFS: Can you tell us a bit about what people can expect from coming to your shop?

MM: They can expect a friendly personal shopping experience, with plastic free, quality products that have not been stored in a supermarket for a long time. I stock sustainable products where possible, that are vegan, cruelty free and with no nasty chemicals.

PFS: And how do people shop with you?

MM: Customers can order online and choose a slot to visit to fulfil their orders, or message me directly to book. Since lock down has lifted, customers are now able to visit after 1pm on Tuesdays and Fridays without appointments. You simply bring your clean containers – ice cream tubs, jam jars, margarine tubs, anything you already have at home, you can bring – and I do the rest. You can even leave containers with me to sort while you get on with your day. You then pay on fulfillment and collection of the order.

PFS: What about the bulk packaging you have – can you tell us a bit more about this?

MM: Most products come in FCS approved packaging that can be recycled, or is naturally biodegradable. Some items do come in plastic, but my wholesaler will take these back and recycle. Some other products are on a closed loop system, so they reuse the containers over and over again.

PFS: Are your products more expensive than in regular supermarkets? 

MM: No, they are comparable with Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco and if I can sell the products cheaper I do. My aim is to reduce plastic waste and make it affordable for all.

PFS: What do you see as the biggest barriers to people using a refill shop and how can you help them overcome this? 

MM: People feel overwhelmed, not sure what to bring package wise or how it works. I advise people to bring plenty of containers and I will do the rest. During their first visit I explain the process and hopefully make them feel at ease about it.

PFS: What has been the most challenging thing about setting up The Eco Shop? 

MM: My location and people finding me. I use social media a lot to promote my business as people will not naturally come across me as I am not in town, so keep an eye on social for updates!

PFS: And the best thing?

MM: The support I have received from customers, my family and friends. Most importantly, my recycling bin is so much lighter now and it’s great that people are really showing an interest in reducing waste.

*Stamford is incredibly lucky in that it now has three refill options – joining The Eco Shop, Refill Revolution offers a local refill delivery only service and ALL GOOD on St Paul’s Street has also recently opened. Each has their own distinct selection of products and unique selling points – they are all of course Plastic Free Champions.


Blind corners: the litter pickers’ nemesis

Neil McIvor set up Pride of Stamford litter pickers over six years ago and it’s safe to say that in that time he’s learnt a thing or two about what makes Brits toss their rubbish. With much of the litter comprising single use plastic – water bottles, coffee cups, sandwich packs – Plastic Free Stamford caught up with him to find out more.

“Blind corners are the worst. You find the most litter on the blind corners because [drivers] know that no one can see them in either direction. They wind down their window, they’re looking in their mirror and they know no one can see them…..Boom! Out it goes.”

Neil also highlights disused and unloved areas of town – those little corners that are overgrown that we all just turn a blind eye to. They too become litter hotspots.

“Ivy for example attracts litter,” he explains. “Where do people leave their litter? They shove it in the ivy or the overgrown bushes where they think no one can see it.” And this is why Neil has his sites on clearing up these unloved spaces with his latest initiative, Team Stamford.

“Behind that grot spot is something beautiful”

Using his skills and materials from his day job along with a crack team of volunteers, Team Stamford go to the disused parts of town and derelict buildings, grot spots as Neil calls them, to tidy them up.

Most recently they cleared the verges up on North Street and planted swathes of wildflower seeds – excitingly, the shoots are just starting to show. While another project saw them clear the bank of the Welland at the cattle market car park, opposite the meadows – the photo above is the view from the bench. For over 20 years it has been left unattended and unloved. Now, with some hard graft, the team has opened up the space so that you can see the beautiful trees. They’ve also installed a hand made cherry wood bench encouraging people to sit for a moment and appreciate one of the best views of Stamford.

By clearing overgrown patches of scrub land, Team Stamford are creating new local beauty spots and if something looks pretty, people are less likely to treat it badly. They respect it more.

“The aim is to clear up grot spots. You may not see them, you may just walk past but behind that grot spot is something beautiful, something fantastic, amazing. And if you clean it up, make it look nice, people are less likely to leave their rubbish there.”

“People who didn’t litter before, will now litter”

But he believes that the pandemic has made his job far harder as it has lead to a huge rise in the number of people willing to litter.

“What we have found is that living with these more stringent rules, people who didn’t litter before, do now litter. It starts with fly tipping. People who didn’t used to fly tip will now fly tip – they wouldn’t break the rules in normal times but with all the new restrictions people have started to care less about playing by the rules and just toss things anywhere.”

That, coupled with the fact that recycling centres were harder to access, meant people were increasingly heading out to the country lanes to get rid of their rubbish. 

“And this then quickly turns to day to day littering,” explains Neil. “That plastic crisp packet – where before they might have put it in the bin, now it just goes on the floor. It’s a slippery slope.”

“People should have pride in Stamford”

But Neil does at least have rave reviews for our local council, SKDC. “If I find a fly tip, I can take a photo and send it to them, within just a few hours it’s gone. We have a really good relationship with them. Many other litter picking groups elsewhere around the country don’t have this, so we’re lucky.”

“People should have pride in Stamford. All little towns should have pride in their own areas. Everyone should have pride in their own surroundings and everyone should be responsible for their own surroundings. I want to keep the town looking beautiful, keep the punters rolling in and keep everyone happy,” Neil explains. “I love the history. I love the ambience. I love the flowers. I’ve billed myself as the Stamford caretaker. No one does the job. No one mediates between all the agencies. SKDC, town council, Stamford in bloom, Shop Stamford. I could do it.” Surely, this is a no brainer. Neil gets my vote every time.


Inspiring positive change in the home fragrance market and beyond

This week, Plastic Free Stamford caught up with Beth Pattison, from one of our local Plastic Free Champions, Freckleface Home Fragrance. Situated on the corner of Red Lion Square opposite All Saints Church, Freckleface make and sell their handmade vegan, environmentally friendly wax melts, candles, diffusers and bath products.

They are a family run business with a keen focus on sustainability, so we decided to find out more about their commitment to going plastic free and the positive impact it has had on their business…..

Plastic Free Stamford: We would love to know a bit more about why going plastic free was so important to you.

Beth Pattinson: We want to help create a more sustainable industry and help improve the future of our planet. Every day you hear about how we are damaging the world we live in and plastic plays a huge role within this. Plastic now seems like an obsolete material to use within our industry, and we hope we inspire other companies to do the same – after all we only have one world, and we need to look after it! 

PFS: How has going plastic free improved your business?

BP: For us, being plastic free was always going to be part of our ethics as a business. We want to build a business that is ethical and that we can be proud of. Being sustainable has always been important to us and even more so now we produce home fragrance in such large quantities. Our customers and stockists are also so much more aware of the damage that plastic is doing to the world, so they are looking for sustainable brands, so it’s a no brainer for us to improve our business and the planet at the same time.

PFS: What are your next steps on your plastic free journey?

BP: We want to continue to support our customers and other businesses in becoming more sustainable and plastic free. We are planning to offer easily accessible advice across our social media platforms and in store, as well as promoting other companies who have the same ethos as us. Long term, we are encouraging our staff to live more plastic free lives outside of work and we only want to engage with suppliers who share our values. 

PFS: How have people responded to your plastic free changes?

BP: The response has been overwhelmingly positive! The attitude towards plastic free living and sustainability is becoming more of a core value in many people’s lives and they love the fact Freckleface is playing a part in this. People appreciate the effort we have put in and as result it has attracted more customers to our brand.  

PFS: What would you say to other businesses out there about going plastic free?

BP: Going plastic free is one of the most rewarding experiences to do as a company. In business, we all have a moral responsibility to help ensure we are creating a better future for everyone and going plastic free is a great way to do this. Plastic free living is becoming the social norm and your business can play a key role in this change in attitude. 

PFS: What are your 3 top tips for going plastic free?

BP: 1.    Do your research – find out what companies and suppliers offer plastic free services, learn from others, and implement into your own business. 

2.    Start small- going completely plastic free does not happen overnight. Starting small can lead to big changes. Even simply switching to paper bags from plastic can make a huge difference for the environment.

3.    Ask for help- you are not alone! We are more than happy to help and advise any business who wants to become plastic free and there are lots of free resources out there now.