The sign outside Leamington first zero waste store
News, Zero waste shopping

How a teacher and mum of two is changing how Leamington shops – an interview with Charlie from Zero

About a month after opening Leamington’s first zero waste shop, Zero, co-founder and owner Charlie sits down with Bettina from bluegreen.blog to talk about her motivation to make a difference, her journey so far, and tips about how we can all adopt simple zero waste practices.

Co-founder Charlie in her Leamington zero waste shop
Charlie at the counter of Zero in Leamington

Bettina: First of all a huge congratulations on opening your shop. What an achievement! Can you tell us a little about your motivation and how you got started on your zero waste journey?

Charlie: [Zero co-founder] Marisa and I have always had a shared interest in living more sustainably, especially since we had children (both two boys with similar age gaps).

We began to look for ways we could reduce waste which could fit in around our young families, which for me personally was a direct reaction against the amount of waste which can be produced by welcoming a baby into your life. Clothes, nappies, toys, wipes, meals, snacks…these were all inspiration for us to find ways to change our mindsets and every day habits.

Bettina: Now that you have your own shop… can you tell us a little about the zero waste industry and movement in retail… what has been easy or challenging when starting Zero?

Charlie: The easiest part has been getting people as excited as we are about making small changes to reduce waste. People’s enthusiasm and support has been truly overwhelming.
The hardest part has undoubtedly been trying to work everything around other work commitments (I’m still teaching in a school) and babies/young children.

This is why, despite opening the shop, I am closed Mondays and Tuesdays to maintain this balance and spend quality time with my boys.

Leamington's first zero waste shop ZERO
Lots of choice at Zero – pasta, grains, pulse, and snacks!

Bettina: Zero waste shops are popping up all over the country, and supermarkets have started making some (small) changes. Why do you think it’s taken this long for people to start paying attention to these issues? Why now?

Charlie: I don’t just feel there is more of a movement towards zero waste. I feel there is more consciousness directed at shopping locally in general. People are more keen to know and ask “how can I change” and “who made this?” and they are both huge parts of what I’m trying to do with Zero.

People are always surprised at how many items at Zero are sourced locally and zero waste (by returning containers/bags). I feel this really sets us apart from anything that the supermarkets can do when package free does become more mainstream (which can only be a good thing).

I actually love telling the stories behind these products and how these other companies have joined the little plastic free revolution we have going on by changing their packaging and processes.

People are more keen to know and ask “how can I change” and “who made this?”

Charlie from zero on changing consumer attitudes and demands

I really do hold hope that people are moving away from supporting huge faceless corporations (as my friend Beth from Refill Revolution says- “Internet, you’re a bit dead behind the eyes”) and are wanting to engage with real people, and buying more sustainably.

Bettina: In addition to shopping locally, how can we all have more of a ‘zero waste’ attitude in our own lives? How can this tie into other areas of life?

Charlie: The worst possible thing to do is go out and buy new versions of items you already have. Evaluate what you have. Use up what you can – considering the resources used to make such things (i.e. perfectly good plastic tubs versus new stainless steel versions).

Zero waste jars and containers
Any jar or container will do for shopping at Zero

Then, work out what you need and find a way to source a good quality version, second hand if you can. With food, try to plan where possible to reduce your food waste and costs. Buying package free is of course a bonus if you can seek it out!

The worst possible thing to do is go out and buy new versions of items you already have.

charlie from zero on how to start out on zero waste

Bettina: What are your top 5 zero waste products, tools or practices that people can use or adopt?

Charlie:

  1. Reusable bags – stash them in your car/pocket/rucksack/behind your ear so you don’t forget one!
  2. Reusable cup / bottle (mine isn’t always clean but most places will oblige if you ask politely)
  3. Random plastic tub or snack bag for buying items in, or bringing home leftovers from eating out (sounds crazy but often happens)
  4. Use the Refill App for free water (Zero are signed up for this)
  5. Gifts – give time or experiences if you can. Then think to buy second hand, handmade or low waste versions.

Bettina: That’s such a great list! And what is the biggest zero waste fad or your pet peeve that you believe is over-hyped, unnecessary or even harmful?

Charlie: Definitely “Biodegradable/Compostable” single use cups. They contaminate recycling/garden waste streams, are not home compostable – they ease the conscience but actually exacerbate the problem. Just please take a cup of your own whenever you can! Or drink in. 👍

Bettina: Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know / think, feel or do after reading this interview?

Charlie: I don’t like to refer to it as a “journey to zero waste”, as I don’t think there is a perfect destination. That’s not possible in this day and age (yet!). It’s about small steps, it’s about what suits your lifestyle and budget.

But it’s definitely worth investigating your local zero waste options and seeing what can work for you. Even if you only choose to refill your hand soap and washing up liquid bottles, that’s something.

The 200l refill casks at Zero
The Fill.co refill station at Zero

Voting with your wallet and supporting local businesses is a powerful thing. Celebrate your own small changes, and be proud of what you can achieve – you’ll be surprised how you can inspire others to begin their own small changes too.

Celebrate your own small changes, and be proud of what you can achieve – you’ll be surprised how you can inspire others to begin their own small changes too.

charlie from zero on how to spread the zero waste movement

Bettina: Thank you so much, Charlie, for this interview!

Zero is open at 41 Russell St, Leamington Spa, CV32 5QB, from Wednesday to Saturday 9am to 4pm, and Sundays from 10am to 2pm.

You can also read Zero’s recent blog post on sustainable Christmas gifts here.

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