Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Have you ever considered opening your own zero waste shop? Perhaps you live in a community where there are limited zero waste options, and you could help to fill that void. The thought may have crossed your mind, but you’re not sure where to start. Well, if you have considered it and you’re contemplating next steps, then this blog post is for you!
Nicola and Richard Eckersley, who opened the UK’s first zero waste, organic, bulk-buy, plant-based, whole foods shop, are here to fill you in on what it’s like to run Earth Food Love. Based in Totnes, Devon, in the UK, Nicola and Richard have truly been groundbreakers in the zero waste lifestyle movement with their family run zero waste shop.
They’ve received worldwide attention, and as a result they have been inundated with inquiries from people around the world who want guidance to open their own zero waste shop. Luckily, for anyone who’s interested in opening their own shop, Nicola and Richard have created a how-to guide: Setting Up a Zero Waste Shop (link below).
ZWC: First of all, thank you for taking the time to interview with The Zero Waste Collective. It sounds like you're quite busy with your shop, and helping people from all over the world with advice on how to open their own zero waste shops too! This is fantastic. But let's start at the beginning. How did you first get into the zero waste lifestyle?
Nicola: We had lived overseas for 4 years (Toronto and New York) and the apartment buildings we lived in had several different bins for all the different recycling. It was during this time that we also began to live more consciously too; we changed our diet to 100% organic and plant-based, became conscious consumers and started to look into many different things that we’d never given attention to before. However when we returned to England, we lived in Manchester City Centre and our apartment building didn’t have ANY recycling bins at all.
This didn’t feel right to us, so we would collect it all at the front door and then when we had enough, we would drive to the local recycling centre and do it ourselves. Doing this, highlighted just how much recycling we did and it made us realize that recycling wasn’t the answer (seeing the scale of waste at a large recycling plant was quite shocking).
It was around this time that we heard of Unverpackt in Berlin, a shop where there was NO packaging. We thought it was genius! We really wished we could shop there ourselves. One thing led to another and we ended up opening our own. That’s when our journey really began, we read Bea Johnson’s book [Zero Waste Home] and started making small, gradual changes to our family life. We still are not 100% zero waste, but we make conscious decisions everyday that are hopefully leading us to zero waste in the future.
ZWC: You have a toddler in your life, Willow. Many families struggle with the idea of zero waste. What advice can you offer to anyone with children? Is it possible to have kids and live zero waste?
Nicola: Yes, you just have to be prepared and confident. For the things that you control, it is easier to avoid single-use items (such as nappies, wipes, yogurt pots, etc.). You create the rules so to speak in your home and that’s just how things are. Preparation is for sure needed to always have snacks and drinks on hand for your little ones. The confidence is needed when other people are involved such as gifting your child toys…we just voiced loud and clear to all our loved ones that we don’t use plastic and we appreciate wooden toys, second hand clothes, handmade gifts, etc., and because we were so clear about it from the beginning, everyone respects that.
ZWC: What inspired you to move beyond living a zero waste lifestyle to opening up a zero waste shop? What made you take the leap?
Nicola: It was more the other way around…the shop came first, then our zero waste lifestyle. We wanted to work in a job that we were passionate about, as ‘imperfect environmentalists’ (as I like to call ourselves) we knew we wanted to work in harmony with the earth, we wanted to love our work, we wanted to make a difference, we are passionate about plant-based food, plastic pollution and marine conservation so opening a shop just was perfectly inline with all of that.
ZWC: What was the initial reaction in the Totnes community?
Nicola: Totnes was amazing. They were so receptive and supportive to the idea. Many people were just relieved that they could finally shop without waste! We had the older community reminiscing for how things used to be and the younger generation thankful that they can be a part of the solution, not the problem.
ZWC: You have been open for over a year now, congratulations! What advice do you have to people who are in the 'idea' phase of opening up a shop?
Nicola: Be passionate about plastic pollution. Don’t just open this shop to make money, you need to live this life, you need to talk about it with customers and you need to love the Earth. Also, have a clear identity…what are you? What do you sell? Don’t be tempted into stocking brands with ‘eco packaging’, let's demand that plastic (and all unnecessary packaging) is a thing of the past. Our identity is that we are 100% organic, 100% plant-based and always packaging free!
ZWC: What does your lifestyle look like as a zero waste shop owner? You mention that you wouldn't be expanding anytime soon and that you enjoy a slower pace of life. Is it possible to enjoy work-life balance with a shop like this?
Nicola: Running the shop is still full on and takes a lot of energy but we set clear boundaries with it and we put just as much energy into our home life. We are fortunate enough to live in an intentional community where we share the land with other families and work together to grow our own food and connect regularly.
A community, family and friends are really important to us…it allows you to stay connected to something bigger than yourself. However we love our work that much that it’s a pleasure to walk to work in the mornings and we miss it if ever we go away. So I think we have created a beautiful balance where our work and life compliment each other perfectly.
ZWC: You've had a lot of requests for information from people around the world about how they can open up a zero waste shop where they live too. So much so that you've actually created a free PDF guide on how to open up a zero waste shop! This is amazing. I think we need to spread the word about this guide (the link is included below). However, this endeavour might not be for everyone. Could you share the good, the bad, and the amazing with us?
Good; The appreciation from your customers who are so very grateful you are giving them the chance to shopper a little greener.
Bad; It’s tiring, physical work to be on your feet and filling large containers all day and this is then mixed with many hours of administrative work too.
Amazing; You are literally changing the way people shop and consequently you are saving the Earth. There is no greater privilege. At the end of your life you can smile and say to your children’s children that ‘I tried.’
ZWC: Thanks again for sharing tips and information with The Zero Waste Collective community! It's much appreciated. Any last thoughts on zero waste living, running The Zero Waste Shop, or earth saving?
Nicola: Everyone is on their own journey, do not compare yourselves to others. If you have grown up in a mainstream family, eating the standard American diet (as its known) then be patient with yourself. There will be a lot of old habits and traditions that you’ll be breaking away from. Zero Waste isn’t a trend or a phase, it’s a permanent lifestyle change that is essential for the survival of our planet, so educate yourself and change what you can. Each time you shop, make one new conscious choice and before you know it you’ll be flying the eco flag and leading the way for your friends and family to follow.
Thank you Nicola and Richard for sharing your experience with opening and running Earth Food Love.