Don’t think refill shops are for you? Think again….

For many, the weekly shop is full of seemingly unavoidable single use plastic packaging. But with refill shops now well established in Stamford, there is a real alternative. Here, we look at five of the most common barriers to using a refill shop, in the hope it’ll encourage more folk to give them a go.  

  1. I don’t know how it all works

If you’ve not been into a refill shop, you may feel uncomfortable about not knowing what to do. So, here’s our quick and easy guide:

  • Grab some containers or bags from home to take with you (see below for what to take)
  • Hand them over to be weighed at the counter
  • Fill them up with whatever you need – or shop staff will do this for you
  • If you’re unsure of weights or only need a specific amount, just ask for some help
  • Hand your now filled containers over to be weighed
  • Pay

If you check out their social media, Stamford’s local refill shops have little videos of their store and how to refill with them.

2. I don’t know what to bring…..and kilner jars are so heavy!

Whenever you see photos of people’s refill shop purchases they’re displayed in beautiful glass kilner jars….but you  don’t have to take these to the store. Take much lighter items and decant everything when you get home. You can use small glass jam jars, but lighter things like old bread bags, cloth bags (or old pillow cases even!), yoghurt pots, ice cream tubs, take away containers all work brilliantly and are much easier to carry. And if you’ve not got anything with you, the shops all have reusable containers and paper bags for you to use for free.

3. Aren’t they just for vegetarians and vegans?!?

Whether you eat meat and dairy or not, you will find something you love at a refill shop – think of it as your go to place for your every day essentials…from dried goods like pasta and rice, baking ingredients like flour and sugar, herbs and spices and all your cleaning and bathroom products – shower gel, shampoo, conditioner – the lot. It’s not just lentils…..we promise!

4. I don’t have the time

There’s no doubt that a quick online supermarket shop is often the default when it comes to the weekly shop. The great thing with Stamford’s refill stores is that you can order online and either collect in store (they’ll weigh and package everything up for you) or have your order delivered.  But going to a refill shop is actually a really lovely experience in itself – it’s like how shopping should be and makes getting your daily essentials a real joy rather than a chore.

5. It’s more expensive

This is a common misconception. On the whole, refill shops will pitch their prices against local supermarkets – again check out their social media for some really interesting price comparisons.  And because you can buy only the amount you need – this is especially useful with herbs and spices – you reduce your waste and can actually save money.

Cakes+co: Sustainability has never looked – or tasted – so good

Cakes+co is a real gem of a place. Nestled into a corner of Stamford Walk, it may look unassuming, but step inside and you’re treated to some of the most beautiful and delicious cakes around. Not only that, Cakes+co are also flying the flag for plastic free, sustainable business practices. What’s not to love?

The cakery recently became one of Stamford’s growing number of Plastic Free Champions by removing unnecessary single use plastic from their shop and café. We caught up with them to find out a bit more about their plastic free journey. 

As owner and baker, Stewart West explains, “Going plastic free was not only important to us personally, but our business model was always going to be one that put sustainability and earth kind measures first.”

The changes have seen them minimise their need for single use plastics, now only serving drinks in glasses, cans or paper cartons and using compostable take away coffee cups and lids (made with compostable bioplastic derived from plant sugars from reclaimed sugarcane). They use paper bags and card boxes and even have their own organic growing garden for healthy, seasonal produce and edible flowers, where there is no need for any packaging at all. 

And their efforts have not gone unnoticed. “We know that our lovely customers in Stamford really appreciate and support our ethos. We have had many suggestions as well as plenty of encouragement along our plastic free journey,” explains Stewart. And this has undoubtedly given them the motivation to continue to make changes to improve the way they do things. They are now constantly reviewing the materials and produce they use, looking out for plastic free suppliers and inspiring customers to reduce, reuse and recycle as well. 

As a local Plastic Free Champion, they also have a couple of tips for other businesses looking to reduce their single use plastic. First up, do an audit of the materials and products you use and plan just one or two changes, so that the shift doesn’t seem overwhelming. It’s about being realistic and then getting into the swing of it. But importantly, they recommend telling people around you what you’re doing so that they can support you and keep you motivated. 

As ethical traders it is our duty to look to reduce the use of plastics wherever possible. Take a look at what plastics you use and see if there are alternatives, make one change, then another. Sometimes the cost of going plastic free can seem ‘expensive’ especially to small independent businesses and it is, but what’s the true price of not making the change? We have a planet to protect for now and for everyone’s future.” Stewart, we could not have put it better ourselves. 


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.