After a rather long break, I couldn’t wait to get back to my 100 Job Challenge. Since the last job that I did, I’ve started an eco Instagram page (@little_eco_lady). So I was a bit too excited about job number 41, which was working at a refill store. Totally unplanned, it was on the 7 year anniversary of me developing Migraine Variant Balance Disorder – the reason I started this challenge in the first place
If you don’t know what a refill store is, it’s a great way to reduce waste. Each shop is different, but they usually stock lots of pantry items from pasta, to flour, to nuts. They also stock lots of lovely plastic free toiletries and other goodies. Lots of which is packaging free – so you take your own pots & jars to fill
Ordinarily you would refill your containers yourself, but due to COVID Eco Pantry decided to do all the refilling themselves. During lockdown they were so busy that they had huge ques, and needed to find a way to reduce them. They did a click and collect service which helped, but they would be up until the small hours getting orders ready.
During lockdown they sold nearly 100kg of flour a day! Understandably Karen was sick of the sight of it – apparently they had so much in stock, they couldn’t get behind the desk and always went home covered in flour! I had no idea that there are so many different types of flour, double zero flour…what on earth is that?! Apparently its all to do with the protein content! This job gave an unexpected workout – we were lifting 25kg sacks of flour.
We arrived at 8.30am to get the shop ready before our booking at 9.15am. The first job of the day was putting on our aprons, which sounds like a simple task…but it wasn’t! They have some snazzy aprons that don’t need tying at the back, but instead needed a little training to put on!
Next was cleaning. Due to the current situation everything is super sanitised. We started by cleaning the handles of every dispenser in the shop…probably over 60 handles! Then it was time to put all the washed scoops back out from the night before, some are only for nuts & gluten free – so I had to make sure I got that right. Herb jars need to be left for 24 hours before refilling as the tiniest bit of moisture ruins them! I hadn’t realised that refill stores get the same hygiene inspections as restaurants, they have a 5* rating & I can definitely see why.
I have shopped at the Eco Pantry for over a year, but it was really interesting to experience it from behind the scenes! Some people refer to zero waste stores as plastic free shops – which isn’t accurate. They do have some plastic – they reduce waste because they buy in bulk, as opposed to when we buy lots of little packets in the supermarket. Something that I absolutely loved, was the amount of care that goes into choosing where they purchase each product that they sell. It didn’t matter what it was, Karen knew exactly who supplied it and how they work.
One of the great companies they stock is ‘Fill’ – Karen chose them because they provide a closed loop solution – which means that they ensure they reduce their waste as much as possible, one of the ways they do this is by reusing packaging. All containers are collected from shops once empty, to be refilled over and over again – yay! Eco Pantry uses 200 litre barrels which are big enough for me to sit in comfortably! You can see my mascot Stitch sitting on one below. Not all shops have enough customers for such a huge barrel, so Karen works with local stores to arrange for their smaller barrels to be picked up from her shop, as they wouldn’t be collected otherwise. They had about 50 ready to be taken away!
Fill is a family run business, as is Blanche which sells products created by a local chemistry teacher! I just love love love that they think so much about the impact of their products, and stock locally produced where they can. Another company that they use collects all plastic bags, from any supplier and then recycles them. Their Oil, coffee, candle & soap companies will also take back their packaging to be reused. Absolutely everything has to be recorded when its delivered, and then when its opened with a batch number.
Its certainly not cheap opening a refill store, the dispensers cost around £40 each, plus £15 per bracket…they had 40! They managed to get some second hand, living that eco life. People often worry about making a mess, but that’s an accepted part of owning a refill store, Karen’s always on hand to help clear up any spillages!
They have also started collecting items that are difficult to recycle to raise money for charity. I love that Karen had saved 3 years of cat food bags because until this scheme they were unable to be recycled…I think that just proved their commitment to making a different in the world – and their little shop definitely does that! In their first year they had been open they saved the equivalent of a blue whale tongue from landfill…that’s pretty impressive. I absolutely loved working with them for the day, they very kindly donated £50 to the organisation for my challenge – which is The Brain Charity. They do some amazing work to help those living with neurological conditions.
Thank you so much for having us Eco Pantry, we absolutely loved it! Stitch and I will see you soon, when the cupboards need restocking again!
Only 59 jobs to go for my 100 Job Challenge!