No one who watched the BBC‘s recent War on Plastics with Hugh and Anita could fail to be affected by the reality of plastic pollution on our planet. As a dedicated recycler, it was painful to see that much of what we previously thought was being reprocessed is now shamefully polluting other parts of the world. When you consider how easy plastic is to recycle, it begs the question as to why this is happening and why non-recyclable products are still being churned out in their millions.

The ridiculously over-packaged fruit and veg in supermarkets has long driven me mad, especially as most of it is non-recyclable. So I vote with my feet, buying most of my veg loose in local shops or markets. I’ve also switched from supermarket milk in plastic bottles to having local milk delivered in glass bottles. It’s more expensive, but unless we support local businesses and choose sustainable options nothing will change.

I’ve looked at reducing single-use plastics elsewhere with refill options for general household cleaning products and toiletries but hadn’t found anything nearby. I’d looked in the supermarket too, but all the refill options came in more single-use plastic making the whole thing pointless. A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to hear that a shop just down the road was looking to start a refill service.

Maxine at Flowersmiths

Like me, Maxine Smith at Flowersmiths in Horwich near Bolton had hoped that a refill store would open in the village, but then it occurred to her that she could use her own shop. She mooted the idea with customers on social media and was overwhelmed by the positive response. Determined to make a difference, Smith did some research and decided to take the plunge by opening a refill station in her own floristry shop.

To test the market, she started with a basic range of washing-up liquid, laundry liquid, hand soap and all-purpose cleaning spray, all with the option to refill your old plastic bottles or buy refillable glass pump bottles. The starter range has already proved extremely popular so she’s planning to add shampoo, conditioner and body wash soon.

local soapAs well as the refill bottles, she stocks shampoo bars, travel kit tins and tins of Wild Bob’s Amazing Everywhere Balm made in Greenmount, Tottington. There are other useful household items too, like reusable wax wraps for food and bamboo toothbrushes made by a nine-year-old boy from Worsley spurred on by the ecological crisis created by plastic pollution.

Smith says: “After a big response on social media, from the first week we had loads of people coming in from every walk of life, it has been amazing. I’ve been asking online what sustainable items people might want and I’ve been surprised at the reaction, people suggesting everything from biodegradable dental floss to compostable bin liners.”

Smith was worried that household products would seem a bit out of place in her floristry and giftware shop but has always tried to be sustainable. As you enter the shop there are plastic plant pots in a box, free to anyone who wants them. She’s always used handled paper bags and gone out of her way to stock locally made giftware including beautiful pottery, candles, soap, cards and my handmade gifts which are largely made from recycled fabric.wax wrapsFor the last few years, she’s also tried to source locally grown flowers and foliage. Next year, she plans to grow some of her flowers in the shop’s backyard and I’m guessing she’ll also be sourcing even more products for her sustainable range.

Smith says: “I think people are making a shift, starting with small things like customers having their own bags when they come in. So things are changing. I think big companies think we will just do what they want but from what I’m seeing people are moving away from that and thinking more long term.”

I feel strongly that we have to support this kind of local war on single-use plastics and each do our bit to change the way we live. Overuse of plastics is not sustainable and is playing a part in destroying our natural world. Eventually, our health will suffer.

Given the implacable reaction when taken to task from most of the big companies who are largely responsible for creating mountains of unnecessary single-use plastic, it’s obvious that if anything is going to change, we have to demand it or alter our buying habits.

As consumers we wield enormous power as a collective and it’s time to tell multinationals what we want rather than settling for what we are given.

By Claire Fleetneedle