“Small changes from a lot of people make a big impact,” The growth of Zero Waste in Sheffield

Zero Waste living is becoming increasingly popular both in Sheffield and across the country. But what is it about whole foods and re-usable boxes which is inspiring so many people to change their lifestyles?

Single use plastics and their relation to climate change have dominated the news and made people more aware of the waste they are producing in their day to day lives.

They have also been realising that their waste production was part of a wider problem.

For Mathew Reynolds, owner of a health food store called The Bare Alternative on Abbeydale Road, researching the impact of waste on the planet lead to a career change.

He said: “I’d started learning a more about the impact that we as a human race are having on the planet, learning some quite shocking things, at the same time I was going to zero waste shop and learning about what they were doing.”

Mathew believes lots of people are becoming more aware of the issue, but they don’t realise shops like The Bare Alternative exist and provide a different way to do groceries.

John Leeson, Down to Earth on Sharrowvale Road

John Leeson, who has worked at Down to Earth on Sharrowvale Road, a vegan wholefood shop established in 1985, has seen the rise of veganism and environmentalism first hand.

“When I started we were really weird; we were really out there on the fringe. There weren’t many vegetarians or vegans and even environmental concerns weren’t particularly at the forefront in mainstream society,” he said.

John believes environmentally conscious lifestyle changes are definitely on the rise and particularly in the past couple of years.

He added: “What was once a niche thing has now become a lot more acceptable in the mainstream.”

Our Shop, Sheffield SU

What kind of zero waste products are there?

Popular items at zero waste shops, like the Bare Alternative and Our Shop, include: loose cereals, grains, pulses, dried fruits, herbs, spices and, nuts.

By stocking large amounts of cooking items, The Bare Alternative wants to encourage customers to make healthier food. They also stock what Mathew describes as ‘sustainable everyday products’, these include shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable coffee cups.

And what do people like the most from the shop?

“Laundry liquid is the most popular seller in the shop, which might seem a little strange,” Mathew said.

While Down to Earth may not specifically brand themselves as a zero waste shop, John is keen to make sure the products are as environmentally friendly as possible.

He said: “All of our in store packaging is biodegradable, so our bags are made out of cellophane [which is made from plants and is biodegradable] our plastic boxes that we use are made out of corn-starch, we use paper bags and we encourage people to bring their own packaging in.”

The Bare Alternative, Abbeydale Road

What changes to our lifestyle can we make?

Zero waste and wholefood shops often have the appearance of being exclusive and expensive, however the owners of the shops are keen to stress that a zero waste lifestyle is for everyone.

Chris, who works in Our Shop at Sheffield Student’s Union, recognises there is a preconception towards zero waste, “I feel like people just assume it’s something that people with a lot of money can afford.

“Come in and speak to people in the shops because a lot of the time things you think won’t be affordable is actually quite affordable.”

Mathew believes people should start with making small changes to their lives and build from there, he acknowledges for people starting out it can be daunting but emphasises that multiple people making small changes to their lives can make a big difference.

He explained: “It’s making small changes, especially if you want to aim for the zero-waste lifestyle, it is quite hard in today’s world, it’s a lot of hard work but I tell people to start small. Whether you come to us and buy one or two products plastic free, whether you’re going to your local butcher and supporting local businesses’.

“I think it’s important for people to look at those small changes, see what you can do, we run recycling programmes for hard to deal with waste. It’s looking for what’s out there as well and just look at swaps you can make.

The Bare Alternative, Abbeydale Road

“People might say ‘yeah I have a bag of pasta at home but when I’ve finished that I’ll look for a container and I can come here and refill with the pasta and it builds up.”

John agrees that people interested in making a change in their lifestyle should come down to shops and talk to the owners as well as learning about what plastic is doing to the environment.

“If you see the effects that plastic is having, particularly on wildlife and Eco-systems it’s quite a sensible and humane thing to move away from single use plastics which are having a detrimental effect on society.”