As parents of three children, my wife and I wanted to lead by example and show our children that we can consume every day products in a way that leaves as little trace on the planet as possible. We didn't want the kids to grow up seeing us consume whatever we want in a manner that is detrimental to the environment. When we tried shopping locally we found it was really quite difficult to avoid single use plastics as much as we could. Our foods were wrapped in plastic, shampoos, cleaning products, all sorts of stuff needlessly wrapped in plastic that would essentially be thrown away after one use. This is where the idea for Zilch was born, we started thinking about how we wanted to shop, chatting to our friends about similar things and then the idea formed to offer a shop to the local community that would meet those needs.
At Zilch, we offer products on a refill basis, so customers can come in and bring their own containers to fill up their dried foods, groceries, pantry products, cleaning products, etc. We encourage refilling, but we also offer brown paper bags as a last resort so customers can still avoid plastic. We very much see ourselves as an everyday family somewhere in the middle on the range of extreme zero waster and people who are blind to the impact that single use plastics are having on our planet. With that in mind, we try to offer our customers a way to make small steps in the right direction and hope that collectively this will make a bigger positive impact than only a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We're certainly not perfect on our zero waste journey as parents, and so we don't expect our customers to be either. Small steps in the right direction are what we're trying to promote. Our goal is to keep building the products we offer so that our customers can get their weekly shop in Zilch and not one item will be wrapped in single use plastic.
Since we opened in April this year, we've really been taken in by the local community, we get lots of goodwill, loads of support, and loads of people who talk about Zilch with pride because the shop is in their local community. Our customers have really helped make Zilch what it is and since we opened, collectively we've saved nearly 10,000 pieces of single use plastic from entering landfill as a result of customers using their own containers or brown paper bags to do their grocery shopping.
Andrew Quinn – Owner of Zilch Weighhouse, Harton Village, South Shields
The biggest surprise for me personally is that while a lot of people I know are trying their best to make small steps, actually the system is set-up to fail us. Governments around the world are talking about net zero carbon emission targets, yet I don't see them doing their best to really make positive impacts on a micro level. Supermarkets and big corporations can make decisions to ensure their bottom line is more protected than our environment is and that's really sad. The vast majority of these systems don't support positive consumer behaviour, it's so much easier to make a negative impact than it is a positive one, and that's just wrong in our eyes. It can't go on for much longer because the resources we have on the planet are finite. If we look after them some will regenerate and replenish, but if we abuse them we'll lose habitats and the amazing things earth offers forever.
Looking on the brighter side, a positively surprising thing is, especially what we see in the shop, the range of ages of people we have coming to shop with us is huge. From the parents who bring their toddlers in to get their sweets weighed, to the elderly who tells us so many good stories about how they mend and make-do with different "waste" products is amazing and always puts a smile on our faces.
The big challenge for us is always going to be making the refill shopping experience as convenient as possible for our customers. Time is precious these days and it's easy for customers to stick to old habits by shopping in larger supermarkets where they can get everything under one roof. It's our job to try and disrupt that a little bit, try and educate new and existing customers on ways to reduce their use of single use plastic, whilst providing a positive and convenient shopping experience. As an independent business, we're never going to be able to compete with the buying power of the big chains, so we have to be creative with what and how we offer our products.
Take one step - change the hand soap in the toilet to a refillable version, change the washing up liquid in the kitchen, use biodegradable bin liners, whatever it is, just do one thing. That one thing will undoubtedly lead to another, and another, and so on. Before they know the small steps they'll have made will become habitual and collectively amount up to a good positive impact.