For anyone who has binge-watching season two of satirical comedy The Politician on Netflix during lockdown, the concept of ‘Zero Waste’ may seem laughable.
Infinity’s zero-waste rules were requirements Payton needed to follow to receive her endorsement, and these rules were no joke. The idea of keeping a worm farm in your kitchen, or taking cold showers only, plugging the tub and using the collected water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking, is enough to turn anyone off the lifestyle for good.
But in reality, working towards zero-waste practises doesn’t have to be that physically repugnant. The term itself was never intended to be taken so literally, and reaching zero waste is not an achievable goal. Generating no waste at all simply isn’t possible, but yet the term has stuck. Instead, as Lauren Wedderburn, founder of Something Good in Newcastle tells me, “the goal is to reduce and eliminate waste, as far as is possible and practicable.”
Put simply, zero waste is about lessening our impact on the planet by being mindful of our consumption and the waste it causes. Refusing what you don’t need. Reducing what you use. Reusing whatever you can. Recycling and Composting.
As we enter Plastic Free July, a global initiative aimed at encouraging millions of people to be a part of the solution to plastic pollution, it’s never been more apparent that if we don’t act now, it will be too late. “Back in 2018 I started to become aware of the call for change in our modern convenience culture, and how damaging our take-make-use-dispose economy really is,” explains Lauren. “I’d watched documentaries about how much waste we ‘throw away’ and where it really goes. I read about the lives of the people who really make our fast-fashion, and how many hungry people could be fed with the food we waste. As an architect, I knew that all of these issues had the potential to be solved through good design. So I decided it was time to do something.”
We wanted to make it simple and affordable for everyone in Newcastle to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
“Me and my partner started to make small, everyday changes to reduce our waste, to live a little slower, and lighten our footprints. We bought less and chose well when we did buy, opting for things that were designed and made to last. We bought whatever we could without single use-packaging, ditched the disposables, learned how to cook our meals from scratch, and chose experiences and learning new skills over ‘stuff’ every time.”
The past three months in lockdown have perhaps taught many of us similar lessons. For Lauren though, simply making changes to her own lifestyle wasn’t enough. “We wished it was easier to live a lower impact lifestyle in our city, and knew there were others who felt the same,” she tells me. “So I created Something Good, to make it simple and affordable for everyone in Newcastle to live a more sustainable lifestyle.”
Opening doors in October 2019 in the leafy suburb of Jesmond, Something Good is light, bright and airy, with a user-friendly set-up. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted a central island which the customers could use as a base when they’re doing their shopping; somewhere to pick up and weigh their empty containers and somewhere to leave their basket of shopping as they do their refilling, and it works so well,” says Lauren. She worked with a local furniture maker for the bespoke island, which is topped with a multicoloured surface made from plastic bottle waste. “It’s probably my favourite thing in the shop!” she says.
Her focus has been on building a range of sustainable alternatives to the things we all use in daily life. She considers style and design appeal to be important to her brand, so ensures everything that is stocked is beautiful, well designed and well made, and is passionate about curating products that support other small and independent businesses who she feels are offering true value to the planet. “Real entrepreneurs with really great ideas who share our ‘people and planet over profit’ culture,” she says. “And of course I always start with what’s available closest to home first.”
It’s a healthy amount. Chocolate slabs and soap bars handmade at the coast in Tynemouth; coffee beans roasted and ground in North Shields; bread, nut butters and natural deodorant handmade within walking distance of the shop; beeswax wraps handmade by one of our customers in Gosforth; and granola made in North Yorkshire. The majority of their 80-line package-free food offering is sourced from a cooperative based in Leeds.
Of course, the current pandemic looms large over the zero-waste industry. There are plenty of perceived hygiene issues to grapple with when it comes to the self-serve nature of zero-waste products, and reusable containers brought from home. In Europe and the US, the plastic industry has used the threat of coronavirus contamination to push back against bans on single-use plastics. The 5p charge for plastic shopping bags was waived for online deliveries to aid rapid food distribution, while the UK government postponed a ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, which had been due to come into effect in April. Even before lockdown measures were introduced in the UK, Starbucks had announced it was pausing the use of personal cups and suspending the 5p charge for paper cups, prompting many other coffee shops to swiftly follow suit.
“The shop had been open for only five months when the lockdown happened,” says Lauren, “so the thought of closing the doors was scary. However, I knew that we had built up a good community of people who shared our view of a better and more sustainable world who we could really support during these scary times, by providing a safe way to stock up on the daily essentials.” She closed for a week, put the whole shop online, created a booking system for collection slots, and launched a click-and-collect system on 1 April. “It was a leap of faith,” she says. “I didn’t know if anyone would be interested in shopping with us this way, but it paid off. It’s been hard work, but the collection slots get snapped up week after week by our regular customers and lots of new ones too!”
Lauren is optimistic about the future. “Through necessity I’ve created a whole new way of running the business which has proved a hit with customers, and I’m about to expand our online shop with lots of new products that will be available for delivery around the whole of the UK, which means we can welcome even more people into our community!”
Lead image © One Big One Small, second & third © High Life North, used with permission.