VIDEO: How Sheffield's new 'zero-waste' shop is helping to tackle problem of plastic pollution

Step inside Unwrapped and on first impressions it could pass for any other convenience store.

Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 12:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th June 2018, 5:07 pm
Some of the dispensers.

There is fruit, cereal, toiletries - everything you would expect to see stacked on the shelves in your nearest supermarket.

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Some of the dispensers.

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But take a closer look and there is one key component missing - plastic packaging.

The Crookes store opened in May and is one of only a handful of 'zero-waste' shops in the region which have an ethos to cut down on plastic pollution and food waste.

None of their products are wrapped in plastic. Instead, customers are invited to bring along their own bottles and tupperware boxes to fill up from rows of huge containers dispensing everything from shower gel to peanut butter.

It is the brainchild of Kirsty Burnet, aged 35, and Rebecca Atkinson, aged 34, both of Walkley, who met while studying for their PHDs in plant ecology at the University of Sheffield.

Pictured are Kirsty Burnet and Becky Atkinson.

Kirsty said: "We wanted to look at ways to further reduce how much plastic waste we produce. When we read about other 'zero-waste' shops cropping up the idea really inspired us and so we thought we would give it a go."

Rebecca added: "The issue of plastic pollution is topical at the moment. Sheffield is the 'green city' and so the shop is perfectly suited to that and people have so far been very supportive.

"I would like one day for stores like ours to be so widespread that we're simply known as a 'shop' rather than a 'zero-waste shop'."

Kirsty Burnet.

They aim to 'do their bit' for the environment by buying produce in bulk that has less plastic packaging and of course through selling items unwrapped.

They accept that the shop makes only a small but significant difference in terms of the bigger picture but there is a growing movement on the international stage to cut down on plastic usage.

Earlier this year more than 40 companies, including Britain’s biggest supermarkets, Coca Cola and Nestle signed a pledge to ensure that all plastic packaging they use in the UK will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

This followed pressure from environmental campaign groups who highlighted how such waste is harming marine and land wildlife.

Some of the products.

Both Kirsty and Becky welcomed the move but said supermarkets could all do more.

Kirsty said: "Morrisons are to start letting customers use their own containers to put meat and fish in, which is a move in the right direction.

"But they could all be selling a lot of items in refillable dispensers like we are.

"They already have them in other countries like the US, Canada and in Europe and sadly in the UK we are lagging behind. But we are now, at least, catching up."

While there is a serious message behind the store's ethos, they also want to create a fun shopping experience.

Pictured are Kirsty Burnet and Becky Atkinson.

Said Becky: "I only talk about the bigger problem of plastic pollution if people ask me because we don't want to come off as being 'preachy' - I think that can put people off.

"We want people to enjoy their shopping experience. Customers have said they enjoy pressing the buttons to dispense from the containers. It's not something you would usually do in a shop."

Added Kirsty: "We get parents coming in with their children who call us the 'peanut butter shop'. The peanut butter dispenser has been really popular. You can watch it grind up in front of you and choose different settings like smooth or crunchy."

And there are environmental benefits to using the dispensers themselves.

Kirsty said: "You can pour out however many grams you need. So if you need 150g for a recipe that is what you get rather than buying say 200g from a supermarket and then wondering what to do with the excess, or throwing it away. So the system also helps to cut down food waste."

There has been the occasional mishap though.

She added: "It takes a couple of goes to get used to the dispensers so we have had to clean up here and there - we always have cloths to hand. But it's fine and people generally get the hang of it."

They accept there is a preconception about organic products in particular as being expensive and they make every effort to "keep prices low" for "all budgets."

Alongside more recognisable items like shampoo and cereal they also sell things like reusable cloth nappies and sanitary towels, bamboo tooth brushes and reusable steel straws - all of which have been selling well along with the vegan and vegetarian products that they specialise in.

Kirsty said: "We understand making changes can sometimes be difficult.

"But if we could all be doing just a little bit then together that would make a huge impact."