Talking ‘zero waste’ with Greenbean
We had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Forge from the Greenbean team in Warwick to give us more insight into the advantages of ‘zero waste’.
How would you define ‘zero waste’? Why is it important?
Michele – ‘Zero waste’ to me means nothing going to landfill, but I am not sure that this is practical or possible in today’s consumer-driven economy.
Greenbean does not purport to be a zero waste shop – what we want to do is raise awareness that there can be better ways of shopping for household products, that do not have to be overpackaged in shiny plastics and that have a better environmental footprint in their manufacture – buy only what you need, reduce your contribution to food and household non-recyclable waste, and look to recycle and reuse wherever possible.
It’s not glamorous, but it is mindful, and I think when you are more mindful about how you spend your pounds and think about how much of that pound is then thrown away, we become more conscious consumers. I think that more conscious consumerism is important to the future health and wellbeing of the planet and reminds and reconnects us humans to our place in the world.
What motivated you to set up Greenbean?
Michele – Stephen and I had been travelling in New Zealand and had seen for ourselves how the New Zealanders think differently about their beautiful country. It’s not strange to see eco and locally manufactured shopping choices readily available on supermarket shelves right beside the usual global big brand name products. Purchasing loose products plastic free and by the kilo is not unusual for the Kiwis. By comparison, shopping in the UK in supermarkets feels soulless and thoughtless. We wondered if we could do something similar to the New Zealand model in the shop we rent beside our sister business Bread&co on Smith Street. As a respected local business we have established meaningful relationships with many like-minded local small artisan producers. We thought the time was right to “give it a go” – to see if our local community was willing to try a return to more thoughtful shopping and to provide a platform to showcase some of our fabulous local produce.
What has been the most surprising thing since opening Greenbean?
Michele – COVID-19. Suddenly people have discovered us and become amazing ambassadors for us!
Is this a more expensive way to shop?
Michele – No, not at all. You only buy what you need, in the quantity you want. You don’t collect unnecessary and unrecyclable plastics as part of your shopping, and you get a proper welcome with real service with a real smile. It’s a joy and a pleasure to shop in Greenbean, and we ensure that all of our products are only of the highest quality, and often with local provenance. Customers often ask if we can get in something if we don’t stock it, which we generally do. And that creates opportunities for conversation and engagement with our customers and between our customers. It’s a more rewarding and fulfilling way to shop.
Do you believe enough is being done to combat issues like plastic pollution and food waste?
Michele – Not at the moment. Too many big players have invested too much into the way things are currently made and sold, and wasted. But small initiatives, like Greenbean, can help to change the way individual communities shop locally, which might help to change the way we think about shopping globally.
What do you think of the supermarkets that are trialling zero waste options?
Michele – Every little step has to help. When the big players embrace it fully, then you know it’s mainstream.
Any tips for novices or those who have never entered a store like yours before?
Michele – Try us! Not scary – it’s really fun.
What are the core products that you would recommend switching to zero waste first?
Michele – Bamboo toilet paper! Wooden toothbrushes! Milk in glass bottles! Make your own trail mix! Apples from a basket not wrapped in plastic!
How do you or your team like to get out and enjoy the countryside?
Michele – We are so lucky that we live in such a beautiful part of England. Every morning I travel to a local farm to make and bake the bread we sell at Greenbean, and I see the barley growing, and the rabbits and muntjack and wild birdlife in the fields and hedgerows, and the lambs and cattle, and the may and elderflowers blooming. It’s such an every day and yet such a rare delight.
Is there anything you believe is missing that would better protect the local environment?
Michele – I think the COVID-19 lockdown has had a real impact on people’s appreciation for the little things in life. Like having the time for a walk in the park, not having to rush to and from work. I think people have enjoyed slowing down and experiencing our local environment without the noise of cars or the pressures of daily life. Hopefully having been made more conscious of our local environment means that people will make better decisions about it in the future.
What other ways do you suggest people in Warwickshire can do their bit to protect the countryside?
Michele – Pick up a piece of litter when you see it and dispose of it properly. If everyone just did this on a daily basis, there would be so much more beauty for us all to enjoy.