I have been asked to write occasional blog posts on behalf of Transition Stroud, a group which aims to make the Gloucestershire town of Stroud, where I live, as green and carbon-neutral as possible.
My first piece is about “Loose”, a new and groundbreaking shop which has opened in Gloucester Street, Stroud to sell food and other goods completely free from plastic or plastic packaging.
There is a revolution happening around the world right now, inspired by horrific reports on the news, posts on social media and television programmes such as Blue Planet II, to begin to rid the world of plastic, and in particular single-use plastic.
We have been horrified by reports of baby sea-birds dying of malnutrition, because their stomachs are full of brightly-coloured bits of plastic which their parents picked up, believing them to be the similarly brightly-coloured fish and other sea creatures which their babies feed on; and others of large floating islands of plastic waste way out at sea, sea creatures caught in discarded six-pack rings, rivers choking with our discarded plastic waste…and the list goes on and on.
One Stroud resident, Julie Brown, had the idea that she (and by extension, the people of Stroud) could make a difference, so she set up a plastic-free shop in Stroud.
Loose, situated at 25 Gloucester Street, has gone from strength to strength since it opened back in April, selling a large and ever-growing list of plastic-free groceries and other items, including plenty of dried goods such as pasta, rice, nuts and even popping corn, alongside other innovative products like toilet rolls from Who Gives a Crap, which come wrapped in paper, and a local range of cosmetics which come in cardboard packaging. Click on the link here to see the full list, which is updated regularly. As much as possible of their produce is organic and Julie and her friendly staff are more than happy to talk to you about where she has sourced her products.
At first, Loose was run on a self-service model, meaning customers came in with their containers, filled them up with what they wanted, and took them to the till. However, as Julie explains:
“In this tiny space, it just wasn’t working. It was chaotic. I don’t think the customers even liked it.”
This is when her friend Tom Gillett, who runs Stroud Cook Club had the brilliant idea (and provided the physical manpower) to change the shop around and allow Julie and her staff to serve the customers with their goods instead. This has made the shop a lovely place to be in. It reminds me strongly of visiting the old-fashioned high street grocer as a child, with produce being weighed out by hand and then put into paper bags or your own container.
And Julie doesn’t balk at customers bringing in plastic bags or other plastic containers either. As long as they are being re-used or re-purposed, the more the merrier. When I was in there, one lady took her rice away in an old plastic bread bag, while I was using some old plastic ice-cream boxes.
The response in Stroud has been great, according to Julie:
“I jokingly said to someone recently, that if all that comes out of this is the people that I’ve met, then it will be worth it for that alone! I’ve met really lovely, enthusiastic, supportive people. I can’t say there hasn’t been any negativity, because that wouldn’t be realistic, but mostly really positive.”
As far as traffic through the shop is concerned, however, progress has been slow. When Julie first set up the Facebook page (before the shop even opened) there was an incredible buzz created, with over 6000 views and loads of “likes” and “shares”. But, sadly, this doesn’t seem to have translated into many actual customers.
“It’s very early days, and I don’t know what a realistic expectation is,” says Julie, “I have about ten regulars now, for whom it’s part of their shopping routine.”
And this is the crux of the problem: people need to get it into their shopping routine. If we want to make the changes that will pull us back from our current reliance on plastic, they are not going to be convenient. We’ve been seduced by the convenience of single-use plastic, and we need to break the habit.
Meanwhile, Julie has big plans for the shop:
“The more we sell, the more we can stock, and the cheaper we can sell it. People have asked me for herbs and spices, different oils and vinegars and all sorts of other things, but until I’m shifting more stock, I can’t afford to buy new items.”
Once Loose can get the customers it deserves, our community will have access to really affordable, organic food and other staple goods and not a piece of plastic shrink-wrap or a six-pack ring in sight.
So come on, people of Stroud, let’s get behind this great little business and help it grow. Our town and our planet will thank us.