Simply Green | Support Our Independents
Can you believe it? We've already reached our 10th episode!
Essential has been putting together our Support Our Independents episodes for a year now, and local independent businesses still very much need our support. It's been a real pleasure working with small business owners to create and share their stories on our website and social media channels, but it's also been incredibly difficult to say goodbye to much-loved stores and cafes. Our first episode back in August 2022 was about Future Doughnuts in Bristol, who announced last month that, after careful consideration, they had decided to close their doors. This announcement came on the heels of a string of announcements of business closures in Bristol.
We know how crucial independent shops and cafes are, both to the local communities in which they are located and to the local economy. They are deeply rooted in the fabric of the culture that makes up the places where we live. Research has shown that for every £10 spent with a local independent business, £25 is injected back into the economy. Not only this, but nearly half of small business owners have said that if everybody in their local community spent just £5 extra per week, it would help them stay open in the long term.
Episode 10: Simply Green
At the beginning of the month, Essential visited Bethan at Simply Green on the High Street in Nailsea. She spoke to us about Plastic Free July, what barriers may prevent customers from shopping sustainably, and what can be done to make zero-waste shopping more accessible.
It’s plastic free July! What have you been doing to help encourage others to ditch single-use plastics and shop more sustainably?
I've been trying to put together some social media posts about all of the different ways you can reduce plastic. I guess I've been doing that generally, to be fair, throughout the time I've had the shop, promoting ways to reduce single-use plastic by shopping here, but also other things that people can do!
This is a really beautiful shop – how did it all start out?
It started when I lived in Melbourne. They had quite a few shops like this, and I was obsessed with going to them, mostly because I liked cooking and because I just loved looking at all of the different ingredients that they had. I just felt it was so much more satisfying than looking at them in a supermarket because you could talk to the staff. They knew all about the ingredients, which meant that they could recommend things to cook. That was around the time I started to think about reducing my plastic waste.
At the time, there wasn't really anything like this in the UK. So, when I came back to live here, I thought, "I think Nailsea needs one of those!" (laughs) and I would just try and set one up. That was in 2018. There were a couple in Bristol by that point, but not in Nailsea. It just seems to defeat the point; if you're going to try and reduce your plastic, then you're not going to drive all the way to Bristol to shop. So yeah, it seemed that you needed one locally for it to actually work for people.
Do you think there are any barriers to people shopping at zero waste stores? If so, what are they and what do you do to make zero waste shopping more accessible?
One is time. You don't have enough time to come and do it. But I think once you get into the swing of it, it just becomes really easy. But, you know, that's not possible for everyone. So, we have a click-and-collect service so that you can order online, and we'll just pack it all for you. Customers can come pick it up and order whenever they want. We also have a drop-and-collect service where people can drop off their own containers and we'll fill them up for them, and the people that use this service find it really helpful. I think that's really handy because lots of people don't want to order online because they don't want it all to be packaged in paper bags. They still want to be able to refill their own containers. So yeah, I've been really trying to promote that. We used to do a next-day thing with that, but recently I've just been saying to customers, "If you want to go and get your Waitrose shopping while I fill your containers, that is fine! Just bring them in. I'd rather you came in and shopped." So, that is really the main thing: time. We’re now open 9 a.m.–6 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday, which hopefully helps some people. If people want to come in before or after work or after the school run, that's a little bit of extra time that they can come in that may fit into their routine.
The other thing is the cost, which is a tricky one because I don't think it's more expensive than the supermarket. But almost all of our products are organic, so that means they're a little bit more expensive than non-organic. They're better-quality products. So, I think if people are comparing Tesco's own-brand pasta to ours, it's not a comparable product. But if that's what's in their price range, then it’s kind of hard to work around that because you are buying a better-quality, organic product. It’s going to be a little bit more expensive than the basic, non-organic product. That being said, obviously, you can buy the quantity that you want. That's something that I try to promote. If you have a recipe and you only need like 20g of flaked almonds, you don't have to buy a whole packet of flaked almonds, which is going to save you money.
I find that really handy… You can buy exactly the quantity that you need for recipes so you don’t have things collecting dust in your cupboards and you can also minimise food waste.
Which I think is a real plus! It’s something that I probably should promote more. I try to have a bit of balance in the shop. All of our cleaning products, I feel, are really reasonably priced. So, that's a massive load of plastic saved, and you can save on the cost of that. It's just hard, if people are on a really tight budget, to kind of get them through the door.
I think there’s often a preconceived notion as well. It depends which zero waste stores you shop at and the areas in which they're based. The stores that are in more affluent areas are going to be generally more expensive…
Yeah, exactly. The other thing I think is that if you go to a shop and you have your set containers, that is pretty much all you are going to buy. Whereas, if I go into the supermarket, I'm so drawn in by all of those offers. I'm like, "Maybe I do need to buy two because they are on offer." But you don't need that. So, I think that is another way that you can save money by not buying a load of other rubbish that they try to push on you in the supermarket.
How do you choose what you are going to stock?
Well, a lot of the stock here is stuff that I use personally! But I think that is helpful. It means I can promote them because I actually use them! I can tell people how they work and how to cook with them. I had an idea of the basic kinds of cereal, nuts, pasta, grains, and things like that. I then think about what people have asked for and how many people have asked for it. There are two kinds of things: essential things that people buy all the time, like oats, for example. Loads of people buy oats all the time or general cereal. That's going to save loads of plastic because lots of people need oats. But then there are kind of niche things that you can't really get anywhere else, like psyllium husk, for example. You can't really buy it anywhere around here, but a lot of our customers use it because they like baking, they're gluten-free, or they're keto. So, things like that that I like to have in because you can't get them anywhere else and it means that people can buy them locally rather than ordering them online. A few of those products I've had to cut out because they don't sell fast enough, which is really sad, but it's just life, I suppose. Also, if it's local, like if someone approaches me and they've made stuff locally, then I am more likely to stock it.
Tell us about what it’s like being a small business owner…
It's pretty tough at the moment. I think at the beginning of the year, a lot of people weren't sure how they were going to be affected by the cost of living crisis. So, we took a bit of a hit there. I was quite worried around then. I feel there's a good zero-waste community, though. I'm really good friends with Kelly, who runs Zero Waste Pantry in Wrington and a few of the other zero-waste shops. We talk quite regularly. Even in Nailsea, a lot of the independent shops and cafes chat, which is nice.
I'm still quite nervous all the time, but it isn't like everything's just going to go completely wrong and nobody will want to buy porridge ever again. (laughs) The support that we get is actually really positive, and people say that they are really glad that we're here, which is nice to hear. I feel like I know lots of my customers and their families. I don't think you would get that if you worked in a supermarket. That aspect of my job is really nice!
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