The ethos of zero-waste living and shopping harks back to the days before everything we needed was available in one shop and packaged in single-use plastic. We’ve all seen the problems that these throwaway items cause on our environment, but do we ever give as much thought to just how much of our shopping is actually packaging? According to Which? up to 29 per cent of supermarket packaging is not recyclable — consequently, this ends up in landfill rather than being reused, recycled or being composted. Times are changing as we go back to a more traditional way of shopping — zero waste shops are on the rise, giving consumers the choice to ditch plastic and save the planet.
For an insight into the world of zero-waste living and shopping, we caught up with Sophie from Ripple, who lives and breathes the waste-free ethos.
The new ‘old-fashioned’ shop is opening in Cardiff and is the city’s first not-for-profit zero-waste store.
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO OPEN RIPPLE?
Truth be told, I’d spent the last few years of my twenties feeling pretty ethically queasy; with each new discovery about our agriculture practice, employee working conditions or toxic chemicals in my beauty products, making me feel worse about my consumer habits. I’d absorb the information and try to make sustainable changes, but it never proved easy amongst a society that still deemed having ethics as a mere ‘hippy mentality’. On the eve of my 29th birthday, I looked around my house at the things that didn’t align with my values anymore. Suffice to say, I could have downsized to a flat! Plastic was everywhere, and it had snuck into every crevice of our home.
WHAT EFFECT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE IN THE COMMUNITY WITH RIPPLE?
To inspire a new tidal wave of conscious consumers, whose collective aim is to change the world, for good. I really believe that this way of shopping isn’t about ‘if’ but ‘when’. Buying sustainably and ethically doesn’t mean compromising on style, functionality or taste. But it is a conscious shift in attitude towards taking more care to avoid disposable single-use products.
WHAT HURDLES DID YOU FACE WHEN TRYING TO OPEN RIPPLE?
As a young female entrepreneur, I was sad to see sexism still evident in business, encountering men who held powerful positions, living by an outdated notion of how to show up in business. It was also a nasty shock to learn that ethics and business don’t go hand-in-hand, which only deters those who are trying to create change. As a female founder of a socially responsible platform, it’s been a steep learning curve, but I’m committed to proving that women can lead with grace and integrity. The landscape of business as it sits in 2018 isn’t sustainable, for people or the planet.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO TO CHANGE THEIR SHOPPING HABITS AND REDUCE WASTE IF THEY DON’T HAVE A ZERO-WASTE SHOP NEARBY?
It always starts with attitude. The shop’s name is based on the notion that from tiny ripples, come mighty waves. For me, it’s about starting small, and becoming aware of our buying power. Before buying anything new, I always think of the principle of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle, repair, refuse’. Zero waste, as a term, can seem intimidating, but I think of it as low-impact. It’s practically impossible to live zero-waste in a modern society, but it’s worth trying, especially when you know that the average piece of single-use plastic is used for a mere 12 minutes, and will never decompose. A few easy swaps would be choosing glass bottles and aluminium tins, buying and cooking in bulk to reduce food waste, and composting where possible. Reusable tote bags, coffee cups and water bottles are readily available everywhere now. If everyone could commit to these three simple swaps, the improvement in the health of our oceans and its endangered marine life would be measurable.
HOW CAN PEOPLE HELP CHANGE THE THROWAWAY CULTURE THAT HAS BEEN ADOPTED IN THE UK?
Start by asking your local stores if they are aware of sustainable alternatives to plastic. Many national chains and independent stores across the UK are being challenged by consumers to take action, and that’s only a good thing. Systemic change often starts at the top, led by those who have vast buying power. So when the likes of big supermarkets listen, that’s when we know it’s working. Never underestimate the power of small actions either; when one person makes a change, others will notice and follow. That’s the ripple effect in action.
DO YOU THINK THAT SHOPPING HABITS WILL EVENTUALLY REVERT BACK TO THE DAYS BEFORE SINGLE-USE PLASTIC BECAME THE NORM?
When I spoke to my 89-year-old grandmother about my mission for Ripple, she understood, because her generation never lived with, or relied on, plastic. Schooling taught her to repair instead of replace, her cooking methods used local, bulk wholefoods from the earth, and she would never consider buying something that wouldn’t serve her home or family for years to come. Plastic has snuck its way into our everyday lives, but so too can the sustainable alternatives, once they become as readily available. Zero-waste isn’t a trend, but a call-to-action for consumers to wake up to the destruction we’re facing. It’s a plea to change our today, for the good of our tomorrow.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO WOULD LIKE TO LIVE MORE ZERO-WASTE BUT DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START?
Start by tracking a single day to observe how you consume. This isn’t about judgement but awareness; once you know where you’re wasteful, then you can take action. Stop flushing sanitary items or discarding contact lenses down the drain — both contain plastic; refuse plastic straws and disposable coffee cups; take reusable produce bags to the supermarket or your local green grocer; look to second-hand stores for clothing and download apps that advocate a circular economy, such as Gumtree, Freecycle, Too Good to Go and reGAIN.
You can follow Sophie and Ripple’s progress at @ripple_living on Instagram or at rippleliving.co.uk