As Zero Waste Week continues, Amanda Matthews opened the first such store in East Suffolk just a few weeks before lockdown happened. Initially ‘terrified’, she soon worked out a way for her and her young son to adapt and keep serving her customers
When my son was about seven months old I found out about the modern version of cloth nappies, and chose to switch, to save money (at least to start with). Then the more I looked into it and saw some seriously scary stats (if Shakespeare wore disposable nappies they’d still be around today!) I realised that actually it was a far better choice environmentally, too. I then went on to see what else I could change to make our lives easier and more eco-friendly – it turns out there were lots.
I gradually started to change a few things about the house, and wanted to make better environmental choices for our food shopping, too. Apart from changing to the greengrocers to get plastic free fruit and veg, I couldn’t find anywhere close by that would allow me to get our other staples plastic-free, too. This was about the time that I wanted to get back into work with my son starting full time school last Sept. With very little opportunity to work a ‘normal’ job around my son’s school hours, allowing me to still be there for him, I choose to put my retail background to use again and start up my own zero waste store.
And after much deliberation, I chose to open it in Leiston. I wanted to give back to the community where I had grown up, and for it to be accessible for everyone to feel they can do even just one small change to help the planet! I’ve been in Leiston most of my life. My parents moved me and my two older sisters here when I was six months old. They have all ended up moving away for various reasons but I love it here in Suffolk so chose to stay! I grew up here and worked here, and now I’m raising my son here.
Quite a few years ago I worked in retail, in a small independent pet shop in Saxmundham, going from Saturday girl, to running it day to day over the years. This has given me a great background knowledge to having my little shop now. For the last five years, prior to opening Refill, I was a stay at home mum to my mini eco warrior!
I think opening any business at any time would have thrown a ‘few unexpected challenges’ at me. Opening a business, then four weeks later going into lockdown was a terrifying experience!
It was terrifying to start with, then I gradually got my head around it! The new routine we had slowly gotten established for myself and my son was shaken down and had to be rebuilt. whilst also single-handedly rebuilding the tiny, but promising, foundation that my fledgling business was on. All with zero childcare options and no practical help in-store or at home! By the grace of a fantastic landlord, and the incredible support of some truly wonderful and loyal customers, I was able to rapidly adjust the way the shop ran, and began offering pre-orders for collection. This allowed me to tick over, but keep the public interaction limited, to keep my son (who was with me at the shop every day) and our customers (many of whom are vulnerable and who were shielding) safe in difficult, uncharted circumstances.
When my son returned to school in June I chose to open the shop up to door service. I begin allowing customers’ own containers to be filled again. This has been so much nicer, to be able to see and chat to customers again, and to help them with their journeys properly again has been wonderful. The shop is ‘buzzing’ again with all sorts of people, from those who have been wanting a more local place to shop this way for ages, to those who have noticed something new on the high street and come in to see what it’s all about and giving it a go as a start to their zero waste journey. It’s wonderful to be getting back to almost how it was supposed to be. I am choosing to keep to door service for now, to reduce the cross contamination risk for everyone. But the shop is now set up to browse fully at the door, whilst I refill all the containers, which so far seems to be working very well!
One of the things that was really important to me starting Refill was to work with some wonderful local small businesses. A lot of my reusable/alternative products are made locally. Some of my favourites (and definitely my customers’ favourites) include The Guilt Free Soapery, based in Ipswich, who supply a lot my hair and body soaps and body butters. They are all handmade using the finest organic and vegan ingredients, sourced responsibly and sustainably, and they smell flipping fantastic!
Then there’s Little Home Eco, based right here in Leiston, which does most of my fabric products, from sandwich bags, to cloth wipes. One of my customers’ favourite products is the ‘NoSponge’ sponge, a completely washable and reusable product. When it does come to the end of its life, it is fully compostable in your own garden compost heap!
One of the newest members to join the Refill family is Pumpkin Moore Art who is a young girl with a huge talent, from – again – right here in Leiston. She’s making beautiful hand drawn cards, taking inspiration from my logo and products, all completely individual works of art to gift to family and friends!
Mine is the first store of its kind in East Suffolk and every rural town, big town, and city should have one. In fact, in just the last few years, more and more zero waste shops are opening and thriving! It’s where we need to be headed to make less wasteful choices easy and affordable for all.
There are a great many things I want to do with Refill, and bring to the community, to help us all achieve a less wasteful lifestyle. Many of them are on hold for now while I regain the momentum from pre-lockdown. But there will be soon more options for your weekly shopping, including some fresh, artisan options, and growing the basic staples range. There are new items coming all the time!
Amanda’s five easy changes:
1) Stop and think. Do I *need* that new item? Could I repurpose something I already own? Could I borrow it from someone? If I do really need it, can I get it second hand?
2) Meal plan. Food waste is one of the biggest areas we as consumers make waste, and it is just as bad for the planet as rubbish waste! Meal planning and only buying what we need saves on food waste and saves us money that we otherwise are literally throwing away!
3) Make easy swaps for things that on a daily basis you use, that you may not notice the switch but it will save lots from becoming landfill. Switch to bar soap over buying new plastic bottles (or come and refill your plastic bottle time and again!). Or try a bamboo toothbrush when you need to replace yours.
4) Keep a reusable bottle with you to avoid buying a drink when you’re out. It saves you money, too! And if you invest in an insulated version, it works to keep your water cold and your coffee hot!
5) Shop locally. Be that at your local greengrocers/farm shop for local produce that will have lower carbon miles as well little to no packaging, and mostly seasonal produce which is far healthier (and tastier!). They’ll have a wealth of knowledge on how to cook seasonal items you may not have tried before too. Many independent butchers will happily fill your own containers, again giving you package-free products, and the meat will be much better quality than the ones in supermarkets! They too will happily offer advice on how to cook certain cuts that may be less well known but tasty and possibly cheaper too! Oh, and not forgetting, of course, your local Refill store for dried staples, ingredients and many other options too!