Essex’s first zero-waste shop has well and truly settled into the seaside community of Leigh-on-Sea.
Coming up to ten months since it opened last December, the Refill Room, on Elm Road, is a totally zero-waste shop, meaning there is no plastic used at all.
Everything they do is organic, locally sourced and is predominantly centred around plant-based food and products – all without a touch of plastic.
The owners, Gemma and Alan Deeney, from Sommerville Gardens, were inspired to start their shop after seeing the damage of plastic pollution first hand.
Alan is a keen diver and was horrified by the plastic he saw tangled around animals in the ocean and masses of floating plastic.
“He was seeing it first hand and seeing how much we were wasting,” said Gemma.
“He is really into the ocean and seeing it all really upsets him, seeing all the animals in plastic.
“He could see turtles floating in the sea in plastic and he’s sent me pictures – the beach was just covered in rubbish.”
But it wasn’t just seeing the damage in the ocean first hand, which influenced the couple to embrace their zero-waste lifestyle.
“It started because we were making changes at home, wanting to eat organic and reduce our plastic,” said the 37-year-old.
“We went to Devon to Earth, Food, Love, which was the first zero-waste store in the UK and they gave us a head start.
“I was coming from it from health reasons and we started to realise how much was wrapped up in plastic.”
The health risks of plastic
The pair wanted to set up their shop in their home town Leigh-on-Sea, where they have both lived their whole lives.
The way the shop works, is that customers bring in their own tubs and jars, or use the shop’s brown bags, and fill up with the things they need.
They are then charged the price of just the weight of the food inside the jar or bag.
Gemma is very conscious that everything which comes into the store is good for the body and the environment.
“Our food doesn’t have any chemicals or pesticides so they can’t go into the environment or into our bodies,” she explained.
“It comes to us in big sacks so people bring in jars or use our brown bags.”
In today’s world plastic seems to be everywhere, even in things like teabags and washcloths.
Gemma believes that this is contributing to diseases like cancer.
She said: “I do believe it’s down to all the chemicals and plastic which breaks down into micro-plastics and we are eating that.
“A lot of people are becoming more aware that all the stuff we are chucking away doesn’t decompose.”
Is this lifestyle easy?
According to Gemma, the lifestyle is easy – particularly when you take into account the feel-good factor.
“It is easy, bit by bit,” she said.
“It feels more wholesome and it feels good that your helping yourself and the planet and it does taste better.
“Lots are opening up around the country, there is a real zero-waste movement.
“Change is coming.”
Gemma also added that the best way to start reducing your plastic is to start small.
“You do not need to go into it in a panic,” she explained.
“Start one room at a time, like the kitchen or the bathroom, where the most plastic is used and start to replace things as you finish them and start refilling.
“You only need to buy what they need, a lot come in with measuring jugs which is another thing we’re doing – we’re cutting food waste.”
How much could it cost?
Because the food is organic, this is reflected in the price.
However, Gemma said that their prices are either the same or slightly less than the supermarkets.
“I think people find it cheaper because people only buy what they need,” she said.
Prices of common items
We decided to look at a few of the most common products you might buy from the supermarket and how much they cost.
- 500g wholewheat organic pasts – £1.35
- 500g long grain white rice – £1.45
- 500g organic oats – £1.10
- 1L of oat milk – £2
What can you get?
- Fresh, locally sources fruit and vegetables
- Plant based milks
- Home-made and roasted nut butters (peanut butter and almond)
- Rice, pasta, couscous
- Oats and Granola
- Berries and dried fruit
- Beans and pulses
- Loose tea
It is really important for Gemma and Alan that their food is locally-sourced to stop the transit and help supply to the local economy.
And it is not just food which you can get, the Refill Rooms also provide skin care products and cleaning products for the kitchen and bathroom, like washing up liquid or shampoo and conditioner.
So far, Gemma says they have been welcomed into the community with open arms.
“Everyone has been really supportive and really lovely.
“I think we have created a really lovely community space where people can come chat and they can have a tea or coffee here if they want.
“We are really passionate about being organic and reducing waste.”
They believe that shops like the Refill Room could become the future.
With the ‘David Attenborough’ effect and the climate strike movement powered by Greta Thunberg, the topic of plastic pollution and food waste has become a big one.
For more information, go to their website here.