My new favourite zero waste shop

Food writer Anna Turns is on a mission to reduce her kitchen waste. It’s no easy task but the discovery of Devon’s new Zero Waste Shop is a game-changer.

It recently dawned on me that the majority of my household waste is plastic packaging that can’t be recycled – and most of that originates from my kitchen. But single-use plastic never degrades, it is here to stay. So I’m setting out to reduce it as much as possible, something that has turned out to be much trickier than it first seemed. I feel constantly torn between priorities – on one hand I want to avoid plastic at all costs, but my toddler loves eating blueberries which are always sold in punnets; I can buy loose avocados but they are so much more expensive than heavily packaged ones.

So I’m not claiming to be perfect. Going cold turkey seems totally daunting and plastic-free food shopping seems almost impossible initially, so every decision I make has to be a compromise. But I do believe that lots of small changes are possible, manageable and sustainable in the long term – and these practical, behavioural changes can have a cumulative effect. As conscious consumers we can feel empowered to make a big impact – our changes in shopping habits can have massive knock-on effects on our environment and economy by influencing manufacturers’ decisions as well as national legislation. Just look at the French government’s decision to ban all disposable plastic cutlery by 2020, and the success of the deposit return scheme for plastic bottles already in place across Europe in Germany and Scandinavia. This is something that campaigners are hoping will one day be implemented in the UK too.

It feels like we’ve reached a tipping point. We’re in the midst of a plastic-free revolution. Just look at the recent release of films such as A Plastic Ocean, Plastic Tide and Jack Johnson’s Smog of the Sea. According to the Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, 75% of marine litter is made up of plastic, including millions of drinks bottles, carrier bags and food packaging, and it’s predicted that by 2050, there could be more plastics than fish in the sea. With every new book read or documentary viewed, the impact of plastic waste hits home a little more and eventually translates into action. Bea Johnson, the original pioneer of the global zero waste movement lives by the five R’s: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot, in that order. She and her family-of-four produce just one jam jar’s worth of waste per year – wow.

So my first step is to say ‘no to packaging’ before taking it home, something I regularly try to do on my local high street. Buying loose fruit and veg is relatively easy but I found that taking glass jars to the deli counter as an alternative to plastic pots can bemuse staff zero-ing the weighing scales. Behavioural change is bound to become more permanent if the steps are super easy. For me, with two small children in tow, food shopping sometimes feels like a chore and something I delay and delay until the kitchen shelves really are quite empty.

However, the new organic Zero Waste Shop that recently opened in Totnes has totally transformed shopping into something I actually look forward to, and also want to involve my children in. I turned up with a bag full of empty jam jars and containers and a vague shopping list of store cupboard essentials I had run out of. Half an hour later I came away with treats that I didn’t even know I needed (chocolate covered puffed quinoa and freshly made organic roasted almond butter – delicious) and a renewed faith that I don’t have to be at the whim of consumerism every time I pop to the shops.

It’s easy to weigh each container, fill them up with whatever takes my fancy and weigh again and the young couple who have set up this store, the first of its kind in Devon, really make this an enjoyable experience too. Richard and Nicola moved down to the country’s most eco-friendly town from Manchester to set up shop with over 80 products on their shelves. Richard was previously a professional footballer, so his change in direction to a vegan shop owner is an unusual turnaround, and they were inspired to make this big change after the arrival of their baby daughter, Willow, last year.

The shop is an Aladdin’s cave of organic grains, seeds, teas, nuts, cereals, spices, dried fruits, enabling customers to be 100% packaging free. There’s no branding in sight and no minimum purchase either, so it’s a far cry from going to the supermarket, plus there’s the feel-good factor of knowing I haven’t added anything to my plastic footprint – finally, there’s absolutely nothing to throw in the bin when I get home. Hoorah! If only every high street had a shop like this.

Best of all, my 1-year-old and 5-year-old loved every minute of it – it was a like a pick ‘n’ mix but a healthy one. They loved sampling bits of dried fruit and using the funnel to fill our jars. On the way home in the car they were asking to eat dried banana chips and cranberries!

Anna’s top ten tips to reduce kitchen waste:

  1. Take jam jars to the deli counter to buy foods like hummus and coleslaw that would otherwise be sold in plastic pots
  2. Avoid plastic disposables – say no to straws, use refillable glass or steel bottles and invest in a reusable coffee cup for those on-the-go caffeine hits
  3. Buy as much loose fruit and veg as possible and forego the plastic produce bags (or use the brown paper mushroom bags instead)
  4. Leave jute or cloth bags in the boot of your car or one at the bottom of your handbag, just in case
  5. Buy in bulk – grains, rice, pasta and cereals will keep for a long time and loose tea is preferable to tea bags
  6. Plan meals – take your ingredient list to the shops and only buy what you need
  7. Batch cook and find creative recipes to use up leftovers
  8. Choose refillable washing up liquid and detergent bottles and make your own surface cleaner with vinegar, lemon juice and tea tree. Use old-fashioned bars of soap instead of bottled handwash
  9. Buy beeswax wrap instead of clingfilm – perfect for covering half an avocado or wrapping your sandwich
  10. Get milk delivered in glass bottles if you have a milkman in your local area

    Do you have any tips to help people reduce waste? Comment below!


Anna Turns

Anna Turns

Since graduating with a biology degree from Oxford University, Anna has worked in TV and magazine production. She now works as a freelance journalist based in Devon, specialising in sustainability, food and marine issues and is an ambassador for Zero Waste Week in September.