As I push forward with introducing food and cleaning refills into the business, I want to keep you up to date on what's happening and what my plans are. Because you may (or may not) be surprised to learn that when you come to Refills on the Road to buy food, I'm going to serve you out of plastic containers. BPA-free, food safe plastic, but plastic nonetheless.
Hopefully this doesn't come as too much of a shock. After all, many zero-waste shops around the UK are dispensing foods out of super sexy gravity dispensers.. made from plastic!
The reality is, mine is a mobile business. Mobile as in moving. As in driving around. In the Derbyshire Dales. With sheep and pheasants on the road. Not to mention potholes!
At the moment, I'm in a large passenger car, but my vision of the future is to have the shop operate out of a van. Vans have gross weight restrictions and glass is heavy. It also breaks. Broken glass in food = disaster.
The five R's that I am trying to live by are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. But I have to be pragmatic about this, because weighing down a van with a ton of glass containers would mean that not only would I be at risk of breakage and losing stock, I wouldn't be able to carry as much variety of stock because a lot of my payload would be taken up with container weight rather than food weight.
Some of the plastic containers I am looking at allow the contents to be poured, rather than scooped, which is effectively a low-cost gravity bin (go look at the prices of those bins - serious investment required there). Gravity bins are considered more hygienic than scoop bins, because there are fewer points of contact when dispensing the food, and fewer opportunities for contamination to occur. Where I do use scoops, the scoop will be dedicated to that particular food, and I will be carrying equipment to allow me to wash and sanitize scoops as required.
As part of setting up Refills on the Road, I have registered with the Council as a food business. Inspectors from the Environmental Health Office will be coming to my home to inspect my storeroom and will do spot checks to see how I operate at markets. I have obtained a Level 2 Food Hygiene and Safety certificate. I will be given a food hygiene rating, which will be displayed wherever I operate.
Here is what you can expect when you come to me for food refills.
I don't plan to stock 100% organic. My mission is to make sustainable choices available to as wide a market as possible, and in some cases organic foods costs significantly more than non-organic. In some cases they don't. Where I find that the different in price doesn't make my eyes water, I will probably opt for organic. In some cases I may carry both and see how they sell.
As a sole trader I own all my stock, and that means I'm stuck with it if it doesn't sell. So, to start off with I'm going to stock things I don't mind eating for the next two years if this all goes tits up!
I will be serving food items into your containers. I reckon this will be managable on a 3m x 3m market stall, though occasionally there may be a queue. If this becomes problematic, I will hire help, but customers won't be serving themselves. This will prevent contamination from people who aren't trained in food hygiene.
Another shop owner recently had to dispose of an entire bin of cereal because a customer served themself using their bare hands. I do not plan to let that happen. I will put your container on the scale and tare it (zero the scale), then fill the container and charge you for the product weight.
If you have a severe food allergy, bulk stores are probably not for you. Whilst I will be doing everything in my power to avoid cross contamination of allergens, I personally feel that for people with life threatening allergies or severe sensitivities, the risks are too high. I also believe that people with severe food allergies are 100% justified in buying foods in single-use plastics. There are other ways you can work on tackling plastic consumption. There is a fabulous podcast called 'Practical(ly) Zero Waste' that discusses this in Episode 38. Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/practicallyzerowastepod/
I will have some options for you if you forget your containers. I stock two sizes of turtlebags organic cotton produce bags that are suitable for things like rice, lentils, etc. If you are caught out, you have the option to buy one to take your food home, and then you can stash them inside your reusable shopping bag for next time. They are smaller and lighter than jars, and suit the occasional impulse buy.
I also plan to allow people to donate containers for others to use. The great thing about glass is that it can be recycled forever and maintain the same quality of product every time you make it into something new. However, the problem with recycling glass is that it is even more energy intensive a process than recycling plastic. So instead of putting that olive jar into the blue bin, why not wash it out and drop it off next time you're at one of our market stalls? Using jars donated by others is at your own risk - you need to satisfy yourself that it is clean before using it. Once you decide to use it, the container is yours as if you brought it yourself. If that doesn't sit well with you, reconsider option A - the turtlebags.
My survey also flagged up a desire in the community for a delivery service, so I am looking into what is out there for recycled paper bags with closures. I haven't found anything I like yet, but if I do this could also be a backup strategy at the market.
I may consider stocking a small selection of empty jars, but I'd really rather spend that money stocking extra nuts or a new kind of muesli, you know?
I welcome your input. I started this venture because I wanted a shop like this in my area, but I'm also here to serve you. Please follow me on Facebook, and tell me what you'd like to have available.
Finally, thank you for your support. It means a lot to me and makes the fact that this business is the last thing I think about before I go to bed and the first thing I think about from the time I wake up totally worth it.