Going green on plastic waste

Words by:
Barbara Young
Featured in:
March 2021

Barbara Young meets the dedicated duo from The Wolds Refillery, which aims to encourage consumers to reduce the use of plastics from household products.

Described as a “sustainable lifestyle store on wheels”, The Wolds Refillery is on a mission to reduce consumers’ use of plastic in homes by offering an environmentally-friendly alternative under their mantra: Refill, Reuse, Repeat.

Launched by David Lindsay and Fiona Whelan in December 2020, this much-needed initiative offers household cleaning supplies, soaps and hand gel via doorstep deliveries while also encouraging reusing existing plastic containers (or substituting more sustainable ones such as glass and aluminium), thus helping to reduce waste plastic.

Based in Horncastle, David and Fiona have long been passionate about highlighting the detrimental effects of the growing amount of plastic waste on the environment. Since returning to live in Lincolnshire where they both grew up, the couple together with Fiona’s nine-year-old son Tom, and eight-year-old daughter Iris, decided to fully commit to the cause spending two months researching and sourcing “green” toiletries and household cleaning products ahead of setting up their new business.

“Over the past five years, the zero-waste movement in the UK has really taken off and as a family we were conscious about the amount of waste we were throwing away each week,” says Fiona, 43, who grew up in Alford and teaches psychology at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Horncastle.

“As a family, we were conscious about the amount of waste we were throwing away each week and started to follow various like-minded groups on social media. “Our first small step began with changing a few toiletries to products that were ethically produced and zero-waste packaged. It wasn’t an overnight fix and has evolved gradually. Sometimes we stumble across a product we immediately love and other times we have needed time to transition from our ‘old faithfuls’.”

Before they started their business, the family gathered up all of their household products in plastic containers and were shocked by how much they had amassed.

“We’d become aware that a lot of plastic that’s taken away for recycling is either shipped off to other countries, ends up in landfill or is incinerated,” says 45-year-old David, who previously worked in retail catering and publishing. “Reusing the same plastic container for refill products instead of buying a new one every time could have a huge impact on waste and reducing single-use plastic, over the year.”

David says that initially they questioned themselves over the timing of opening a new business during a pandemic, however their commitment to making a difference won over.

“We felt setting up a business at any time is a risk, however we were aware shopping habits were changing and people were relying on delivery much more, so we were hesitant to open a bricks and mortar shop and felt a mobile delivery service was in keeping with what the consumer wanted in this difficult period.”

David recalls becoming increasingly aware of the global effects of plastic during trips abroad more than 15 years ago.

“I was really shocked by the amount of plastic waste littering the roadside and villages in Kenya and Tanzania when I visited on a trekking holiday in 2007. Those images have always stayed with me. More recently on a diving holiday in the British Virgin Islands, the instructors would point out plastic pollution in the sea and carried nets with them to litter-pick on every dive.”

Fiona, who previously worked in Japan teaching English as a foreign language, was equally made aware of issues which were highlighted during her travels.

“You wouldn’t find a litter bin in public places [in Japan] and yet there was no litter on the streets. It was the societal norm to take your litter home with you and to recycle your waste effectively. That’s always stayed with me. I think the environmental issues that we face today, in particular climate change, can be overwhelming but changing just a few things can have a big impact, especially if many people do the same.”

David explains that currently in the UK large quantities of the plastic put in recycling bins doesn’t get recycled.

“We are overwhelmed by the amount of plastic this country produces and throws away. Until very recently, much of the plastic waste was shipped to less developed countries and much of it ends up in landfill. It takes more than 400 years for plastic to decompose – as it ages parts of it break off. Those microplastics find themselves in the ocean, where sea life is affected by plastic waste, either through consumption or having been tangled up, and eventually those microplastics find their way into the human food chain.

“Local councils are overwhelmed by waste initiatives across the country being carried out by local authorities to encourage residents to reduce their waste. The more waste we produce costs councils more money to get rid of and that waste then comes back to us as tax-payers.”

Supply and demand
The Wolds Refillery offers a range of mainly liquid products which are vegan-friendly, cruelty-free and made in the UK.

David explains: “The liquids in particular are supplied on a closed-loop system. Our suppliers take back the containers to reuse and refill again, reducing single-use plastic. We also supply bathroom and toiletry products, such as toothpaste tablets, natural deodorants, charcoal and bamboo toothbrushes.

“Our suppliers provide products that are formulated in a paraben-free way with plant-based ingredients. Our products are equally as effective as well-known commercial brands, although you might find there are some differences in how the products actually work.

“Often the froth or foaming action associated with established brands is less. Toothpaste tablets for example don’t foam like a traditional tube of toothpaste because they don’t contain palm/coconut oil derived SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulphate) and equally shampoos and washing up liquid might not foam quite so much because they don’t contain those additives that we’re all so used to using but don’t often know are there.”

So far The Wolds Refillery’s bestselling items are cleaning and toiletry starter kits. “We provide a glass bottle with pump or spray filled with liquid products, and once the customer has used up the products, they then order a fill up, which we will deliver to their door.”

Raising awareness
David points out that although he believes the public’s general awareness of environmental issues is increasing, not everyone is ready or willing to act.

“The use of plastic in packaging, single-use plastic in particular, has been in the media much more in recent years and consumer impact does help to shape change. In Lincolnshire, we don’t always have the availability that bigger population centres might have, which limits choice for those who want to make a change.

“There are loads of social media sites and groups that join together to share tips ideas, good practice – some of the local ones include Plastic Free Lincoln, Plastic Free Horncastle and Plastic Free Sleaford. If you search eco-friendly living on Facebook, often local groups pop up, and that collective community drives change, so if you don’t know where to start, have a look on Facebook first.”

The couple say they have noticed that increasingly children are becoming more aware and are keen to take part in recycling initiatives at school, including recycling crisp packets and milk bottles.

“They have an awareness of nature and the impact we have on the world,” says David, who was proud to recently receive a Plastic Free Champion award for reducing single-use plastic in a business.

“It is really important that we support children to make the right choices, to become conscious consumers and to know that there is always an alternative.

“Educating young people is crucial, after all they’re going to live with the results of years and years of pollution. Schools can take part in Surfers Against Sewage to reduce their plastic waste in schools, or families can take part in helping to pick up litter on beaches.”

David says he believes there is a growing trend for refilling containers. “There must be more than 500 similar businesses in the UK by now. These include shops, mobile businesses, pop-ups, online stores and market stalls.”

Making a difference
As a family David, Fiona, Tom and Iris are also doing their bit. “We refill as many products as we can and reuse and repurpose what would normally have been thrown away, including cutting up old clothing to use for cleaning cloths that can’t be given to charity, using jars containers and composting kitchen waste. Our delivery van was also all kitted out with reclaimed materials, nothing was bought brand new.”

The Wolds Refillery has already received promising feedback through social media platforms, which they believe is turning into people taking action and using their business.

“The more you look at environmental issues and what local groups are doing, you’ll see that there are more people than you think on this journey to make less of an impact on our planet,” says Fiona.

“The refilling process is a new concept for many and probably takes a bit of getting used to, but as soon as you can see the difference refilling makes just from your recycle bin, it starts a chain reaction as you start to consider all of your waste and other ways that you can change.

“People think environmentally-friendly products cost more, but this isn’t necessarily the case and we have found that people are definitely shopping local and wanting to support local businesses.”

The couple say they have already noticed that their environmental approach is making a difference. “In January we saved more than 100 plastic bottles heading for landfill; customers either refilled using containers they already had or brought glass bottles to be filled. We want to grow this number as much as we can!

“As soon as restrictions allow, we want to attend local pop-ups around Lincolnshire and we also hope to expand our product range soon providing more choice in the products we provide.”

Looking ahead, Dave and Fiona believe the only way things are going to change in the future is if people start to become conscious consumers.

“We have found ourselves in a society that has a throwaway culture – some people think it’s okay to put things in the bin and it will go away, but you have to ask yourself where does it actually go? People need to start to think about where the product was made, how it is packaged, how far it has travelled, how the people who produced it were treated? As soon as you start to think about some of these issues, it opens up a much bigger picture of the problems faced around the world.

“A simple starting point is to keep a tally for a couple of days, or a week, of what you put in your bin. Hopefully, our little business can assist customers in their own plastic reduction journey, both for those on their first step and those well on their way.

“You can’t change the world single-handedly but collectively we can have a big impact.”

For more information visit www.thewoldsrefillery.co.uk

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