The wave of heightened environmental awareness doesn’t seem to be breaking. With greater consumer demand for less disposable plastic, supermarkets are starting to think about how to package their goods more sustainably. But, many small firms are way ahead of them, especially in more eco-conscious countries.
In Gloucestershire, Fran Beer and Carly Foss have seen huge interest in their plastic-free alternative to cling film. Made from locally sourced bees wax, The Beeswax Wrap Company started in Carly’s kitchen in 2017, but quickly outgrew it. They now employ 10 people from the area and are on the move again to larger premises. “Consumers want to buy local and want to support small businesses,” said Fran. “They can see small businesses are making the changes.”
She believes small businesses are at the forefront of green changes because those changes don’t have to be approved by a board. Small businesses have much closer relationships with their customers, making them more agile when it comes to testing new ideas.
Waterproof plastic alternatives are set to become a major market. Lots of companies are unable to do without packaging or disposable items, and are now looking for more eco-friendly materials. In Cologne, Hey! Coffee, a coffee shop priding itself on its sustainable initiatives. They use only plastic-free, biodegradable coffee cups—and that’s a trend that will soon be spreading rapidly.
Goodfayre is an ethical shop in Salisbury. Customers can top up on pasta, beans, dried fruits, seeds, household products like laundry liquid and toiletries like shampoo and soap – reusing containers.
It’s taken them about 18 months to reach a point of being about 80% plastic free, with their founder admitting it’s certainly more work than selling ready-packaged items.
“It’s more of a process to purchase something, getting all that in place and making sure it works, especially on busy days, it’s quite challenging but also, quite fun.” She thinks it is easier for small shops to reduce plastic waste than for supermarkets. “People are really driven by the story behind businesses. It only adds to your business if you are doing something positive for the environment.”
In Frankfurt, they’ve introduced a city wide system, called Mainbecher. It allows consumers to buy reusable, pollutant-free coffee cups made from renewable raw materials and naturally occurring minerals at any participating cafe, canteen or petrol station. Their cup is filled at a reduced price, and then they can either return it for a refund or keep it to use at the next participating venue they visit.
Frankfurt also has stores like that run by Gramm Genau, a green café. Its sister-business is a shop offering ‘unpacked’ (i.e. free of plastic packaging) groceries, household and hygiene products, which the company will also deliver to people’s homes via eco-friendly cargo-bikes. They happily fill shoppers’ own containers or ‘rent’ them a returnable container for a deposit.
Be a Plastic Free Champion
The campaign group Surfers Against Sewage has awarded their Plastic Free Champions award to over 700 local independent businesses, from cafes, butchers and grocers to accountants, estate agents and distilleries.
The group’s Plastic Free Communities project officer Rachel Yates said they had seen a phenomenal response from local businesses across the UK, and that what’s good for the planet is proving good for business too.
“Businesses need time to research solutions which work for them and their community […] tackling items one at a time and balancing savings in one area, with potential added costs in another.
Do you think your business has some great sustainable practices? Let us know!