23rd April 2021
Yesterday was Earth Day, which saw the coming together of world leaders (virtually) to address the enormous issue of climate change. This is a matter we simply cannot ignore, and it is increasingly present in culture and in our consciousness. For many people, the terrifying statistics seem too big, and we are left feeling rather helpless in wondering what small impact we can make as individuals. Over the years we have learnt that life’s big issues are best tackled by starting with what you have, and that it is by implementing a series of small adjustments over time that a difference becomes apparent. For whilst drastic action is needed at a global level, what we really need is every individual making small changes that will stick.
"We don't need one person doing Zero waste perfectly, we need lots of people doing it imperfectly".
It always pays to see what is going on, on your doorstep. There are some fantastic concepts out there to help with climate change and we decided to visit volunteer-run Foodloose in Cheltenham. Set up two years ago under the banner of charity Global Footsteps, Foodloose was designed primarily to tackle the reduction of plastic waste. I spoke to Lorraine Du Feu, one of the founders of the concept, whilst taking some photos inside the store.
Foodloose started off as four friends from The Green Party who were doing a carbon reduction course. They decided to do Plastic-Free July and found that it was impossible, because everything came in a plastic bag. After approaching stores to look at loose food aisles and realising that people had their own campaigns and focuses, they wondered whether they could create a viable concept for an ‘unpacked’ store that would have a place in Cheltenham.
“None of us had any retail experience at all, but we thought, why don’t we try and do this?”
One of the members was part of the charity Global Footsteps, who were running a café in a spot that was not achieving sufficient footfall. After an initial discussion the group arranged to trade rental space for their profits, and so Foodloose was born.
“We haven’t looked back except for lockdown, which was very difficult for everybody. But we kept going, offering click & collect, and also deliveries by bike. Now we are emerging from that and we are setting ourselves up as a Community Benefit Society, a type of Limited Company that exists to give to the community. It is not for profit.”
The desire of the business after setting up the CBS is to find larger and more accessible premises, but unless there are moves by the council to support initiatives such as these that exist to benefit others and to benefit the planet, the costs could be prohibitive. It feels as though this should be high on the agenda of local authorities, following Earth Day and some of the statistics arising from accompanying research. With empty buildings in the town centre, it would be great if there was funding to fill some of them with initiatives such as these.
How does it work?
The shop tries to benchmark its prices against supermarkets, to make it an option for all. The benefit is of course, you can buy the amount you need, rather than buying a large container of spices for one recipe, for example.
You can take a range of pots, boxes and bags to the shop to be filled, and they really only need to be clean. If you forget, the shop does have a range of paper bags, plastic bottles and containers that have been donated.
The shop sells a wide range of products, from dry pastas, pulses and beans, to cereals, dried fruit, spices and sweets! You can also buy laundry and cosmetic products (shower gels, shampoo bars and even dog shampoo bars!), Extra Virgin Olive oil, and a small range of store cupboard products. The shop staff will serve you with whatever you would like, apart from a few items that can be picked off the shelves.
You pay for what you have, and then take it away with you. Deliveries can also be made within a 5 mile radius of the shop on Thursdays and Fridays.
Plastic reduction is the focus, but sourcing ethically is also a priority, even above local supply.
How can I make a difference?
I asked Lorraine what advice she has for businesses and individuals who seek to be better.
- Think about transport, and use of public transport when that is possible again. Where you might jump in the car to pop to a meeting or to the shop you could consider walking or cycling as a first option.
- Cooking for yourself at home enables you to make choices about ingredients, to generate less waste and to use less energy.
- Refuse, reduce, re-use, recycle. “Refuse” is the top of Lorraine’s list, which involves thinking about whether you really need something when you come to buy it, and whether you have the courage to refuse it if it is in plastic packaging. Recycling comes at the bottom of the list because although it is better than sending things to landfill, it is only really half way there.
I left the shop feeling that we all have a lot to consider with the choices that we make. Small steps and habit changes are a lot more sustainable in the long term, and as the quote on the wall says, if we all do something in an imperfect way, the impact will be greater than one person doing it perfectly.