For Tanya De Afonseca, her dream of opening an environmentally sustainable shop came about as she reached the summit of one of Nepal’s many mountains.
She expected to find there a pristine site with a view over the various ranges. Instead, she reached the top of one of the remotest places on Earth only to find a site littered with plastic waste.
It was a signal to her of just how bad the plastic problem was. She had spent time around Asia and witnessed heaps of plastic waste on beaches, fields and mountains.
When she returned to London, she saw the copious amounts of plastic used in everyday grocery shopping. She decided to try and make a difference.
BRING YOUR OWN
De Afonseca founded BYO in September 2018 to offer the local community in Tooting, south London, an alternative way of shopping.
People were encouraged to bring their own receptacles or purchase bottles, jars or bags to fill with whole foods, household detergents and toiletries — by weight.
“It’s Bring Your Own, ideally,” she told Xinhua.
“Most people bring a container: so if your washing up liquid finishes, you bring the container in, we weigh it and then you fill it up and it’s everything by weight. So you can buy as little or as much as you want.
“So, if you’re making a specific recipe and you only need a small amount of mustard seeds, for example, you can buy a tiny amount. It’s all about buying unpackaged products and not buying new packaging into your home, and as little or as much as you want.”
De Afonseca set out to reduce not only the use of plastic packaging with BYO but also the amount of food that is wasted in homes and communities across the United Kingdom.
Already, De Afonseca has seen interest in the growth of her shop.
“We’ve only been open since the September 1, we’ve definitely seen more and more families, people, independent people coming into the shop,” she said.
“The awareness is huge at the moment, we’re seeing big supermarkets like Morrisons and Waitrose doing similar things, which kind of justifies our business model. This is something that the world needs and that society is calling for. So I think it’s been really good, especially for the community.”
Awareness of the need for sustainable shopping is not just coming from the grassroots level. Major supermarkets in the UK are attempting to change the shopping experience by bringing in reusable bags and changing how items are packaged. But De Afonseca believes that there is a lot more that can be done.
“It’s a much bigger ship to turn, sadly things do happen a lot slower when it’s such a big organization.”
“It would be great if they could do it [become more sustainable] quicker, but I don’t think we can beat them with a stick. I feel that people are trying, and are trying to make really big steps. This is where, in the meantime, independent shops like BYO have a place to give an alternative to shop in until changes are made in the supermarkets.”
For supermarkets to change, consumers also have to change their mindset. De Afonseca believes that with the rise of awareness from government, independent sustainable shops and environmental campaigns, there is a change happening in people’s attitude towards shopping and waste.
“I think there’s some sort of butterfly effect happening, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody who sees a shop calls shop here. But it might mean that next time you have a straw you’ll think about: ‘Do I need this straw?'”.
“If somebody has a plastic bag, or the next time they go shopping, they’ll take one of their own reusable bags. So I think these shops intrigue.”
She also believes that these independent shops can have a lasting effect on the next generation of shoppers.
“The number of children and families that come here, the children are part of it. If anything, we’re teaching the next generation how to shop differently, rather than just walking to a shop and not even knowing how much you’re buying and just grabbing a packet.”
In the last decade, the UK has witnessed a number of independent shops open up across the country. Trends in consumer behavior in 2018-2019 revealed that people were starting to question and challenge brands on their packaging.
The year 2018 also saw an increase in bring-your-own-cup schemes and extensive plastic straw bans.
However, around one million plastic bottles are still purchased around the world every minute, and it is predicted that this figure will rise by another 20 percent by 2021, according to Refill UK, an organization that aims to prevent plastic pollution.
Many conscious consumers have now made the simple switches — also known as the “Big Four”: drinking straws, takeaway coffee cups, plastic water bottles and plastic shopping bags.
De Afonseca believes that independent shops could lead the way in changing people’s attitudes towards environmentally sustainable living.
“I feel it will go mainstream. The very fact that we’re having shops like this open everywhere means that people are shopping that way, and people are wanting an alternative way to shop and make a difference,” she said.