By Kerry Law
The ultimate bad wrap, single-use plastic, is, quite rightly, getting a bad rap nowadays. UK shoppers use a staggering 13 billion plastic bags every year, many of which make up the five million tonnes of plastic waste generated annually by the UK. Waste that includes not just bags but plastic drinking straws, plastic bottles, cellophane, clingfilm, that annoying moulded plastic packaging on fruit and veg… It’s time to ditch the pointless plastic in our grocery shop.
It’s all very well reusing plastic bags or choosing recyclable plastic packaging (not all plastics are easily or widely recycled), but the best choice is to reduce your use in the first place. Waitrose received a lot of press recently when it opened its ‘Waitrose Unpacked’ refill shop currently on trial in Oxford, but one small deli/grocery store in Highams Park had already started a quiet refill revolution.
Local favourite Pantry & Co, already a renowned deli, underwent a change earlier this year and reopened as the area’s first refill grocery shop under, what the owners are calling, the ‘Food Loose’ concept. Customers can bring in their own containers, pay by weight or litre and fill up with store cupboard staples such sugar, pasta, rice, cous cous, nuts, spices and other ingredients – the glass jars filled with cinnamon, crystallised ginger and rose petals hark back to the days when this kind of shopping was common for our grandparents’ generation (but now with more exotic foods).
Fresh fruit and vegetables are also in supply, including some of the largest lemons seen this side of the Amalfi! It’s also hard to resist the daily selection of baked goods on offer – from the range of gorgeous breads and cakes I find it hard to leave without buying either a delicate little canelé or rhubarb pastry. Bring your own bottles (or buy from the shop) as they even have a wine refill tap currently filled with a Sauvignon Blanc, perfect for summer drinking.
You can also shop for toiletries or laundry essentials without plastic: everything from washing-up liquid, fabric conditioner, dishwasher powder, loo cleaner and handwash are available per litre when you bring in your own containers. And alongside the refills are organic and sustainable toiletry brands including Cheeky Panda loo roll, Georganics toothpaste (I came away with some great Georganics charcoal dental floss), locally made Soapsmith soap and even sustainable plasters. I also popped a pack of bamboo eco straws into my basket – essential for days out with the little ones.
True to its roots, Pantry & Co still stock a lovely range of deli products (condiments, sauces, biscuits, chocolate, antipasto) sourced from Spain, France and Italy, as well as locally-made products including Epping Good Honey, Wild Card beer and (hopefully coming soon) a Walthamstow-made fresh pasta. And if you haven’t filled your basket to the brim already, there are a few lovely gifts on offer – I plan to treat myself to one of the gorgeous Skandinavisk scented candles one of these days.
Pantry owner Peichin Lee says of the ‘Food Loose’ venture, “Living a life less plastic is not a romantic idea, it is a burning matter that we all share responsibility for. In our vision, Pantry & Co. is where residents from Higham’s Park and the surrounding area can normalise the idea of cutting down on single-use plastic and truly embrace the refill, reuse and recycle ethos.”
Now it’s our turn to make this style of shopping a part of our weekly routine. Swapping a portion of our regular ‘big shop’ for a ‘refill run’ will help turn this growing movement into a big sea change. Let’s join the Refill Revolution!
You can find Pantry & Co at 7 Winchester Road, Highams Park, London E4 9LH.