According to this National Geographic article, plastic was only invented in the late 19th century and took off only in the 1950s. In the 70 odd years since then, we’ve accumulated 19.2 billion tons of plastic. Of that, 6.9 billion has become waste and of that waste, a mind boggling 6.3 billion tons never made it into a recycling bin.
An invention that shaped modern life and transformed our lives mostly for the better has now become public enemy number one. Yes, plastics have not been all that bad. The same article details how plastic has aided travel into space, revolutionised medicine, lightened cars and jets to save fuel and reduce pollution, extended the life of foods and has been the receptacle in which clean water is delivered to those who do not have the privilege of access to clean water.
The problem with plastics, largely lies within “single use plastics” – the 40% of plastic that’s used just once and then discarded. Filling our landfills, oceans and rivers with tons of plastic that break down into micro plastics, last forever, and choke our waterways.
If the issue is single use plastic, reducing or even completely removing it comes before purchasing – not by purchasing, using and then popping into your recycling bag. While large retailers are slowly adopting naked produce walls and bulk bins, there are a group of businesses that are redesigning the way we shop. They’ve removed all plastic packaging and sell you staples by weight, allowing you to determine just how much you need, storing your goodies in glass jars that can be reused time and time again. They call themselves plastic free or planet friendly shops.
We spoke to four owners of four different plastic free shops, located around South Africa, about the inspiration behind their decision to open. We spoke about how we as consumers are changing and how to begin a plastic free existence one step at a time.
The business owners are Samantha Moleta of The Refillery, Paul Rubin of Nude Foods, Janekke Blake of Shop Zero and Kim Drennan of Good Source.
THE REFILLERY // Samantha Moleta
The Refillery is a planet-friendly grocery store offering a plastic-free, weigh and pay experience, to stock your pantry with all the basics it needs. They opened their doors in the beginning of 2019 and are based in Cedar Squares Fourways. They also offer online shopping as well.
The large masses of plastic debris can’t be edited out of reality like they can from a photo
After travelling the world by sea in the super yachting industry we got to see the world from the ‘other’ side. Where the large masses of plastic debris can’t be hidden or edited out of a photo at all. Fast forward to us having children and really changing our views on how and what we want to do with our lives. We want to love what we do and make an impact by doing so, something that one or two kids would be proud of us for. We attempted ‘Plastic-free July’ in 2018, a worldwide trend whereby you are challenged to give up one or more plastic items for the month of July. We survived the month without any plastic bags, bottles, straws, cling film or take away containers and thought why stop there? We wanted to make the The Refillery convenient, easy and accessible so that everybody, no matter their lifestyle or personal choices, would be able to make changes for a future with less-plastic.
My Favourite Refillery Item
My absolute favourite is our bees wax wraps – they are hand painted by an Artist in cape Town ‘Lello” and are the most useful alternative to cling film ever! I have a great variety at home and always carry one around in case I need to wrap up some leftovers or snacks. I am also a huge fan of Black Rice which is not only a beautiful meal but super tasty too.
There is a Growing Awareness
There is a definite growing awareness of the ‘conscious consumer’ now actually taking a stand to pointless packaging and pointless plastics. We have many conversations with our customers about their journey, their struggles and achievements when it comes to avoiding single-use plastics.
Going Zero-Waste is a Long Journey
I wholeheartedly believe that going ‘Zero-Waste’ is a long journey and [one should] tackle one item at a time. [My advice to beginners is] start slow with what’s within your budget and lifestyle and grow from there. Every little bit counts.
We are a Culture That Thrives on Convenience
I think it’s the issue of convenience. We are a culture that thrives on convenience and going plastic-free requires some planning and being prepared. Whether it be packing your reusable bags and produce bags for your daily or weekly grocery shop to buying certain zero-waste items that make this lifestyle just that much easier such as your reusable water bottle, mug, jars to refill, wax wraps or even naked toiletries such as shampoo bars and hard hand lotion bars.
NUDE FOODS // Paul Rubin
NUDE FOODS is a Plastic Free Store that provides bulk wholefoods, health foods, and earth-friendly products that are all non-GMO, plastic-free and sold by weight. They were the first plastic free shop to open in South Africa. They have two stores in Cape Town, in Zonnebloem and Newlands.
I was Becoming Increasingly Despondent that a Store Like NUDE FOODS Didn’t Exist
I am passionate about clean ingredients and real wholefoods as well as living chemical free regarding the products we use on our bodies and in our homes. I was also becoming increasingly despondent that a store like NUDE FOODS didn’t exist in Cape Town or South Africa; and that an alternative option wasn’t available to shop more mindfully and plastic-free. So, with no food, retail or grocery experience, I took a leap of faith and decided to open my idea of a dream store.
My Favourite Nude Foods Item
Currently it is our superfood hot chocolate. I also love and make regular use of the great range of shampoo bars we sell. And then of course our zero-waste tooth powder is amazing.
Our Customers are not Held Ransom to Minimum Quantities
Once people start shopping plastic-free, they find it near to impossible to go back to shopping the old way. I have also noticed how much more mindful people are around wastage and quantities when they shop this way. As all our products are sold by weight, our customers are not held ransom to minimum quantities. This means shoppers can be extremely vigilant around buying only what they require, when they require it.
Bring Your Own[My advice to beginners is to] stop accepting plastic bags and straws, and instead bring your own reusable tote bags and straws when you go shopping.
The First Step is to Take the First Step[The biggest obstacle to going waste-free is] fear of the un-know, fear of change. It’s actually a very easy lifestyle to adopt once it becomes second nature. The first step is to take the first step.
SHOP ZERO // Janneke Blake
Shop Zero is a zero waste, plastic-free lifestyle store. They stock a variety of products from food stuff, to fitness, home cleaning and storage items. They are based in Woodstock, Cape Town but also have an online store.
There was a Gap in the South African Market for a Space with Everything you Need to Reduce Your Footprint at One Store.
I was raised to consider my impact on the environment and was taught from an early age that many of life’s treasures can never be replaced. After becoming a mother in 2016, my desire to live more mindfully intensified even more. I’m reminded even more now how important it is to take care of the Earth.
I learned about Kate Nelson, aka @plasticfreemermaid on Instagram in 2016 and made a concerted effort to start giving up plastics. I bought myself a stainless-steel straw, reusable fresh produce bags, a reusable water bottle and tote shopping bags. I then got the motivation to open up my own plastic-free store after watching a Carte Blanche episode about Bea Johnson, the founder of the zero waste lifestyle movement, speaker and author of Zero Waste Home. That’s when I realised that there was a gap in the South African market for a space with everything you need to reduce your footprint at one store.
Bea also honoured us with her tour in South Africa in 2017 and it’s amazing to see how many zero waste stores have sprung up after her national tour of talks. We are all very excited about the growing movement and helping to lead the paradigm shift and change the way South Africans shop, and of course very thankful for the four ladies who organised the ‘Zero Waste Home’ South African tour.
My Favourite Shop Zero Item
It’s a tough choice but I have to go with our body soaps and shampoo bars for the bathroom and our Macromixes vegan brownie premix for the kitchen.
What the World Needs Today is Less Consumption and Less Waste
I believe knowledge sharing through social media can help save the planet. More and more people are realising that what the world needs today is less consumption and less waste – whether that’s plastic waste or waste due to animal agriculture. Posts I saw on Instagram is what influenced me to start my journey to reduced waste and to change my habits. That’s also where I learned about so many of the products and tools you need to live a low-waste lifestyle and products that will never harm our oceans and marine life. And because of that, we are now able to offer those products to our customers too. Every visit to Shop Zero will open new parts of the world making you think, “Oh wow, I didn’t realise I could make this small change or that small change.” If you are looking to make the jump into a zero-waste lifestyle, we can help you on the journey. We welcome you to come in, engage with the products on our shelves that you see on social media and come learn and discover more about becoming a more sustainable individual.
The Easiest Thing to Avoid is a Plastic Bag
On average a plastic bag is used for 12 minutes and each one takes up to 1000 years to break down. They start out as fossil fuels and end up as deadly waste in the landfills or oceans. The easiest thing to avoid this #PlasticFreeJuly (and beyond) is a plastic bag. Then get yourself a sexy-ass coffee cup and never leave the house without your reusable water bottle and reusable straw. #realbabesreuse
We Need to Start Thinking Before we Purchase Something
Unnecessary packaging and disposable items have turned us into a careless society, disconnected from the wellbeing of our planet. Everything is designed for ease, efficiency, fashion and profit. Manufacturers create cheap products that won’t last long so people can return to them quickly for a replacement or upgrade. We need to start thinking before we purchase something. We need to ask if there is a better, more sustainable alternative. As Vivienne Westwood puts it so perfectly, “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.”
The zero waste lifestyle is all about taking small steps to try and reduce the amount of waste we create. The zero in “zero waste” makes it sound scary and hard to achieve. It is actually not as hard as it seems, and it is as simple as following @zerowastehome’s Five R’s, in order:
Refuse what you do not need.
Reduce what you do need.
Reuse by using reusables.
Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
Rot (compost) the rest.
GOOD SOURCE // Kim Drennan
Good Source is a plastic free store started by a partnership of 5 friends and family – Kim Drennan, Phillip Botha, Nicole Benders, Jenny Thomson, and Charlene Udal. They stock a variety of local and natural products from pantry staples to bodycare. They are based in Hillcrest, KZN
We were Frustrated Trying to Shop Plastic Free and Tired of Complaining About How Hard it was
We were so frustrated trying to shop plastic free in our own personal lives and became tired of complaining about how hard it was. We [figured] there must be others like us, so we decided to try do something about it and start a grocery store where you can buy close to everything you may need in your daily life without the wasteful packaging.
My Favourite Good Source Item
The Deodorant – it is not only in glass but it works too!
There are so Many People Wanting to Change
There are so many people wanting to change and use less packaging, better products for the environment and for their bodies, it is so encouraging and exciting.
Most people start with a bamboo toothbrush, milk in glass and then a shampoo bar.
Try Change the Products you use Most
Just make a start and enjoy the zero-waste journey. Try change the products you use most, milk, coffee, sugar, grains, deodorant and even dishwashing liquid.
It is a More Conscious Way of Living[The biggest obstacle to going plastic free is] perhaps remembering your jars and being organised with a list of what you need. It is definitely a more conscious way of living, buying exactly what you need and how much you need.
Once you get into the habit of packing your jars and know what you need it really is fun and waste free in so many ways.
“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.”
main image: @Stilsbycal
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.