Zero waste vs zero apathy

The sustainable parent

I have been on quite the sustainability journey the last few years, both personally and professionally. I have always had a passion for preserving our planet and when I was expecting my first baby I suddenly became quite anxious about the world I was bringing a child into. I began researching how to raise a baby in an eco-friendly way and long story short, discovering reusable nappies sent me down a rabbit hole of sustainable parenting. I started making changes in my life, including how I shop. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting your local zero waste shop, it’s essentially an Aladdin’s cave of sustainable wonders all to help you reduce your plastic consumption! You take your empty bottles, jars or containers and fill them up with exactly how much you need, from store cupboard staples, to shampoo and cleaning products, to sweets and treats. It’s an absolute sensory delight watching liquid glug into your bottles and feeling the pasta cascade into your jar!

Stepping inside my local store for the first time, The Dispensary in Salford, I felt so excited but if I’m honest I also felt a little intimidated. I’m naturally shy so I didn’t want to ask any questions or draw attention to myself so I did a quick scan of the shelves, bought some essentials and scurried out with my jars and paper bags. Each time I went back I felt more comfortable with how it worked. I enjoyed the process and it made me more mindful of the things I was buying. The shop smelled amazing, was warm and welcoming and the owner was so friendly and knowledgeable. Eventually, I started working there and it was a dream!

The Dispensary shop front Salford


Industry challenges

When The Dispensary opened in 2019 it was steady going, then Covid hit it and we adapted to home deliveries. More and more people began taking up zero waste shopping in the pandemic and there were a number of reasons for this. People had more time to shop mindfully; zero waste shopping is a slower process than grabbing bottles and packets off the shelf, and with a stock room full of 20 litre vats of soap and hand sanitiser, we never had bare shelves like there were at the supermarkets. You always knew you could head over and get your shopping without fighting over bottles of Carex.

Working at a zero waste shop was equal parts fulfilling and heart-breaking as I saw the struggle that this industry is facing post-pandemic with the decline in volume of customers and the average spend.

A lot of things happened all at once which caused a 3 pronged ‘attack’ on the industry:

  1. The world opened up and suddenly people didn’t have the time to spend in zero waste shops. Then the cost of living crisis hit and people had less money to spend and costs of running a bricks and mortar business skyrocketed
  2. More zero waste stores started popping up but without the addition of more/new customers shopping this way so each shop is getting less and less custom and struggling to remain open
  3. Greenwashing has been on the rise. Big, unethical companies have been adding plastic free and zero waste products to appear like they are doing good. They can charge a lot less than small ethical businesses and so of course, small zero waste shops are losing the custom

The ripple effect

Zero waste shop interior

Apathy is also a part of it, which is hard to talk about because it doesn’t feel like something tangible that is easily to tackle. The truth is that not everyone is concerned about the environment and future-proofing our planet for the next generation. It’s hard to hear when people tell me that the things I do are a waste of time. It’s crushing and I know it’s not true! I know that people like me are not only making a tangible difference with their individual actions, they are also having a ripple effect on those around them.

We NEED sustainability to be intertwined with school education as global warming is already effecting many areas of our lives, it is happening, it is accelerating and we need to start taking it seriously. I fully believe that young people are the key to halting and, hopefully, reversing the effects my generation has had on the planet. Let’s be the positive influence that children need so that they grow up to be the change this world needs to see.

Champion your local zero waste store

Zero waste stores are dropping like flies and it is so concerning. In 2022 The Dispensary closed; it was also more than a shop, it was a safe and calm space where people went to talk and share their problems, it was the community we were all missing whilst the country was locked down. There are still many barriers keeping people from shopping in an eco-friendly way; mainly time, money and misconceptions. It would be incredible if the government and local councils could invest in these businesses and help to educate and spread the word. These zero waste shops pump money back into the local economy by using other small businesses and suppliers and most of them also do great work in their local communities! Plastic is a huge problem and a big contributor to the climate emergency and these eco businesses really do make a difference. If you do anything today please, check out your local zero waste store on social media, engage with them, share and help them to get the word out.

Christabel Fox

Interior of zero waste shop

Join us at Goodness Zero Waste

Shop front for Goodness Zero Waste

On Thursday 30th March Sarah & Christabel will be at Goodness Zero Waste in Urmston from 9:30am buying people a hot drink (in an edible cup!!) and chatting to them about sustainability, climate change and nature for a new project.

The brews are on us. You don’t need to bring anything, just come and chat to us in store for 10-15 mins, get a free brew and help inform an exciting new project.

Goodness Zero Waste address: 10 Crofts Bank Rd, Urmston, Manchester, M41 0TS.