Worcester's Zero Waste Living Shop Pack-It-In on Their Best Plastic-Free Products and How We Can All Live More Consciously
"The main mantra that I go by is Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Repair, Rehome, Rot and only then Recycle, as so much of our recycling isn't actually recycled!"
Hi Phil, tell us about yourself, where you’re based and your business Pack It In!
My name is Phillipa Gilfillan and I opened Pack It In in October 2018 after 25 years as a Primary School Teacher. I grew up in Cornwall and came to University in Worcester, settling here after my degree, and eventually opening the shop in the City centre. The Shop is tucked away in an Old Victorian Market Hall and is the perfect place.
What inspired you to start up Worcester’s first and only zero-waste shop?
As a Teacher I ran the Eco-Schools Project for many years and was always a promoter for sustainability however as I got further into the Zero-Waste Lifestyle and it began to be a more popular movement I realised that I couldn't take it any further personally as I couldn't shop for many unpackaged foods locally to me. Also, all the sustainable lifestyle items that I wanted I had to buy online and I'd rather not do that due to the high carbon footprint of deliveries.
As your main goal with this business is to beat the convenience of single use plastic and make zero-waste more accessible, what results have you seen within your community since launching in 2018?
The community has been very welcoming and a lot of the reaction has been "Wow, I didn't think that Worcester would ever get a shop like this!" A lot of groups such as Transition Worcester and the Green Party have been very supportive of the shop and my customer base continues to grow and grow.
Alongside Transition Worcester, around the time that I started the shop, a group of us started Plastic Free Worcester and we work to encourage more businesses in the city to stop using single use plastics and think about more environmental ways of doing things. A few other business on the outskirts of the city are beginning to supply foodstuffs in an unpackaged way and initially I was scared of the competition but I have actually found it to be the opposite! Any business that is in anyway working towards zero-waste creates more of a buzz about the phenomenon and spreads the word of all the business, including mine!
For new customers, can you explain how Pack-It-In works?
When you shop with us we encourage you to bring your own containers. Anything will do as long as it is clean and dry. When you first come in you need to weigh all your containers and either write their weight on or print a sticker out to stick onto your container.
Once you have done this you can fill your containers with as much or as little as you like! We also have paper bags and clean donated containers for you to use if you prefer or haven't brought enough containers.
Once you have filled the containers there are two main types of dispenser. The gravity bins have a handle that you pull down to dispense the food - you need to be careful not to over fill you container as we can't put any food back due to cross contamination.
The other main type are called ski boot dispensers and they have an attached scoop to use. For all the other jars and canisters we have a filling table in the middle of the shop where there is an assortment of scoops and funnel for you to use.
Once you have filled all your containers you bring them to the till and we put it through our special scales which work out the price of the weight of your foods.
When I first visited your shop, I was really surprised (being the total novice that I am) to the broad range of products you had on offer and had no idea where to start. What are the Pack-It-In customers’ most favourite products, and are there any you think are underrated and should be more popular?
As well as all the food items I aim to curate a range of sustainable lifestyle items for people that they may not have even considered.
Over several years I undertook a great deal of research into brands and products and we continue to do this as we add products to our range. We carefully consider customer requests and sometimes redirect them to other more suitable products.
Our bamboo toothbrushes and reusable make-up removal wipes are very popular as are our range of sustainable dishcloths and kitchen scrubbies and we sell an awful lot of refillable cleaning products like laundry liquid and washing up liquid!
We sell a great range of metal lunchboxes which I personally recommend and we sell reusable cloth menstrual pads which are gaining popularity.
Tell us about the eco-friendly businesses that personally inspire you and sustainable products that you swear by.
Now of course I'm more interested in my suppliers - we always look at their ethical credentials, many are worker co-operatives and choose businesses that have transparent supply lines and can tell us about the people that produce the food where possible.
Many brands, especially local ones we have approached and asked them to supply us in a circular way. An example of these is local rapeseed oil supplier Woo Oil who launched their local brand in the year before we opened. We approached them and they now supply us in refillable containers.
With everything that's currently going on, how has your business adapted to the current climate?
Its been a very hard time recently due to Covid, and we had to work quickly to change our business model especially as our shop is quite small.
We have stopped customers coming into the shop and now serve them at the door. We accept bottles for liquids and sanitise them but all food we are currently putting into paper bags. We are also offering a click and collect service or a pre-order for delivery service which has been very popular although very hard work.
Before the shut down everyone took their time and filled their own containers, now we are having to do that too and staff cost have become very high. But as we become more efficient at it it will become easier and we are looking at reacting to changes as they happen over the next few months.
Can you explain to our readers about the benefits of Eco-Briks and the workshops you host to make them?
Eco-Briks are a way of dealing with your un recyclable plastic waste. There is a global movement to make them correctly, train people how to make them so that they are useful and log them all.
In many countries without the waste infrastructure that we have, they become valuable as building materials. However they do need to be made correctly to be usable - to that end I run workshops on how to make them and we are a collection point at the shop from which local groups could take bricks that they need to create projects such as raised beds or garden walls. If used outside they do need to be covered in cob (natural building material made from clay, straw and sand) so that they don't photo-degrade. My website has a whole page about Eco-briks with useful links.
Have you got any tips for our readers on how to maintain a sustainable lifestyle, and any advice for those that are thinking about making positive changes?
There's quite a dichotomy with owning a shop to sell people things to help them lead a zero waste lifestyle in that the first thing you should do is stop buying things!!
The first thing you should do is see what reusable items that you already have. I rarely buy something in a container without considering the options based on the shape of the container and what I could use it for!
You can cut up old cloths to make reusuable cloths to use around your home, sew old net bags to make produce bags for the supermarket. But if you don;t have the skills, or the time then we have the products for you! An easy swap is using net produce bags to take to the supermarket or farm shop to buy your fruit and veg and always have a bag on you for spontaneous buys. But then you need to audit what you are throwing away on a regular basis and think carefully whether you could invest in something that would stop you buying plastic items like loo brushes or razor blades!
I always think how could I change my habits - can you cook more from scratch? That's a big thing to help you stop buying things in plastic!
Are there any other messages you’d like to promote to our readers?
The main mantra that I go by is Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Repair, Rehome, Rot and only then Recycle, as so much of our recycling isn't actually recycled!
We need to turn off that plastic tap and watch out for Green washing which is a major problem!
We don't have industrial composting facilities so don't buy things that have these wrappers unless you have a hotbin!!
Finally, a bug bear of mine is all the shops turning to paper bags rather than plastic.... paper bags have a carbon footprint 4-5 time larger than a plastic bag. So you need to use a paper bag 4-5 time more than a plastic bag which clearly isn't going to happen! Reusable all the way!!!!
What’s next for you personally and Pack-It-In?
Personally, I want to do more talks and help to educate the wider community as a Teacher for many years I love being able to do that and I love that I talk to a really wide age range now from cub groups up to older WI groups!
As for Pack It In we are weathering the current storm having become Flour and Yeast dealers, and we have started deliveries - we would like to have a van that goes around local villages and towns and that might be something to look at next especially as people are disliking supermarkets at present.
We are also extending our product range and aiming to become a supermarket where people can get more and more of their weekly shop.
Where can our readers find you online?
Illustrations by Estée Angeline