The Zero Waste Rebellion

By Toryn Whitehead

A zero waste lifestyle is a growing trend in the UK led by hundreds of small, independent shops. These businesses seek to put an end to excessive, single-use packaging by providing a zero-waste alternative that minimises the environmental impact of our consumer habits. In 2016, 221 million tonnes of total waste was generated in the UK alone, of which the average household recycling rate was a mere 45%. So instead of adding to landfill and shipping our recycling abroad to places like Turkey where it ends up on the roadside; why don’t we quit the bad habit altogether and join The Zero Waste Rebellion?

Lentils and Lather

Lentils and Lather is a zero waste shop located in south Manchester, and it is awesome! I first discovered Lentils & Lather almost a year ago and I still remember how giddy I was when stumbled on this hidden gem. It offers a safe haven for those swept up in a wave of plastic guilt and environmental consciousness, allowing you to shop without worrying about your carbon footprint. Lentils & Lather offers a plastic free shopping experience for everything from pasta and rice to washing-up liquid and shampoo. Mason jar upon mason jar fills the centre of the shop with an array of herbs and spices, whilst the edges of the shop overflow with dispensers filled with cereals, noodles and so much more. Although the variety of choices may be overwhelming, it is a wholly unique, fun shopping experience. I’m always discovering something new and often end up leaving with something that wasn’t on my shopping list – peri peri cashews, dark chocolate honeycomb, homemade hummus. So why has this magical land of zero waste not entered the mainstream? First, lets learn some more about zero waste shops like Lentils & Lather and what they have to offer…

1. Local and Independent

When we buy from local, independent businesses rather than national chains there are numerous benefits for you and your community. You often get a better service – I never feel rushed or panicked at Lentils and Lather and someone is always at hand to help out – whereas in Sainsbury’s, especially with Covid, it can be chaotic and stress-inducing. On top of this, you are supporting your local economy. A recent study found that for every $100 spent at a locally owned business, at least $58 is stays in the local economy. This creates more jobs, better public services, and has a lower carbon footprint.

2. Ethos

“Variety is the spice of life” Lentils and Lather

Local, independent businesses are often involved in initiatives supporting the wider community. Lentils and Lather’s ethos is strongly connected to community, supporting several local initiatives. Ecobricks are made from empty 2 litre plastic bottles full of dry plastic waste – Lentils and Lather are currently collecting Ecobricks for St James’ Church in Moss Side who want to use them to build a wall in a play area on their premises. As well as this, Lentils and Lather act as a collection point for the Veg Box People. A Manchester-based organic veg box scheme where most of the veg is grown within 50 miles of Manchester.

3. Environmentally Friendly

“Let’s pick a sustainable future” Lentils and Lather

Simply put – you reduce the amount of single-use plastic in circulation. This is importance since otherwise it could end up harming wildlife, polluting the environment and rotting in landfill for 450 years. In the UK it is estimated that 5 million tonnes of plastic is used every year, half of which is packaging. When you consider that only 50% of plastic bottles and just 12-15% of mixed plastics are recycled in the UK each year – you realise that there is a mountain of plastic building which will harm the environment and live longer than you and I.

The task of having enough containers to fill up with all your plastic free goodies can be daunting. Studies have shown that you could need to reuse Tupperware and other containers up to 100 times before they become more environmentally friendly than the single-use plastic option. This is why you don’t go out and buy fancy new containers. Instead, reuse jam jars and other glass containers, or pop into your local charity shop to see what they have. Lentils and Lather also have paper bags and collect glass containers which shoppers can use for free if you really don’t have anything you can use at home.

Upmarket and Exclusive?

A common criticism of zero waste shops is that they are too expensive and simply out of reach for most people. But is this true? And if so by how much? To answer this question I have completed a price comparison of a broad range of items from Lentils and Lather and Sainsbury’s.

The findings – zero waste shops on the whole are more expensive. However, for the majority of items the difference is small. For example, a 500g bag of Berry Granola from Sainsbury’s costs £2 whereas from Lentils and Lather the same quantity would cost £2.25. Some items are actually cheaper, notably herbs & spices such as oregano and paprika. So the question is – are you willing to pay more for a plastic free, environmentally-friendly product? Unfortunately, as a student this is not always possible. I purchase staple ingredients like rice, pasta and oat milk from Lentils and Lather and source other items from local supermarkets, still trying to buy plastic free where ever I can. Ultimately, this hybrid-approach has still reduced my plastic footprint which can only be good for the planet.

ItemLentils & Lather (£ / 100g)Sainsbury’s (£ / 100g)
Red Lentils(organic) 0.350.18
Basmati Rice0.350.16*
Quinoa(organic, UK) 0.850.67
Noodles(vegan) 0.550.40
Mixed Fruit & Nut0.990.78
Muesli0.220.27
Berry Granola0.450.40
Oregano0.22 / 10g0.75 / 10g
Paprika0.14 / 10g0.21 / 10g
Black Peppercorns0.280.23
Sea Salt0.250.27
Caster Sugar0.380.16
Oat Milk1.94 / litre(Oatley) 1.80 / litre
Shampoo  0.80(TRESemmé) 0.30
Conditioner0.80(TRESemmé) 0.30
Washing-up Liquid0.300.11
Toilet Roll0.75 / roll(Andrex) 0.45 / roll
*price of rice varied depending on how much you bought. £0.16 / 100g is for a 1kg bag.

“The implications of climate change call for consumer change” Someone, Somewhere

The onus should not fall on the consumers to solve the plastic problem, however, we can certainly drive change in the decisions each of us make every day. Zero wastes shops like Lentils and Lather give consumers the opportunity to claim greater agency over their actions and highlight the growing support for a more environmentally-friendly shopping experience. This has contributed to growing pressure on supermarkets to change – with Sainsbury’s committing to half plastic packaging by 2025. Check out Greenpeace’s plastic league table to see which supermarkets are doing the best. However, for a true plastic free experience visit your local zero waste shop and join the zero waste rebellion. You just might surprise yourself.

Photo courtesy of Tom Lush Media