Dodging the green-wash how does supporting local businesses help
Published: 18 June 2021
In his regular feature, Denis the Dustcart talks about using local refill shops and how doing so can help keep money in the local community.
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I am generally wary of mass-produced products designed to appeal to people who want to reduce their plastic footprint.
When companies promoting the eco credentials of their products refer to the widely recycled plastic items they are attempting to replace as ‘landfill’ items, I become more than a little suspicious that they are simply trying to take financial advantage of people’s best intentions.
We all know (don’t we?) that refilling is the best way to go: taking a big bottle or container along to a local refill shop and leaving with a fresh load of washing-up liquid, detergent, fabric softener, etc., minus any new plastic packaging, then decanting them into smaller bottles at home.
Good-quality plastic is designed to be durable. We might make a washing-up bottle last several years through refilling.
The problem is that we, as a society, keep buying so many new plastic bottles.
Even if we recycle them every time, we’re still devoting a lot of energy and resources to getting those products remade. Recycling is essential in today’s society, but it’s not perfect.
Refilling isn’t always the perfect solution, either. It becomes a problem when the packet we use to refill our container is more harmful than buying a new container.
Remember those milk pouches sold in supermarkets a few years ago? Touted as using less plastic than bottles. You had to use a special jug with a spike in the bottom to pierce the plastic pouch, and then the pouch had to go into the rubbish bin because it wasn’t widely recycled. And local authorities lost out on the income they would have generated from recycling the HDPE milk bottle, which is about the most recyclable and valuable plastic on the market.
Some companies operate a return scheme for certain liquid products, whereby you can send their refill packet back to them for recycling after you’ve refilled your own small bottles at home. This sounds good, but it really depends on what the packet can be recycled into – and is using a recyclable single-use packet delivered to our door preferable in any case to visiting a local refill shop with our own big bottles to fill with liquid products?
Consider the issue of transport. What is the impact of delivering smaller quantities to individual households (albeit as part of a larger regional delivery) and then receiving them back by mail? How does this compare with the impact of making a special journey to a shop to purchase a small number of items, even if we’re reusing our own packaging?
These are questions that require a larger study to understand than I can undertake. I would always say, however, that if you’re taking the car then it’s best to make your trip to the refill shop a part of a longer journey – a day out or a general shop in town. A large proportion of any product’s impact on the environment is the transport taken by individual consumers to purchase it.
The thing about refill shops, though, is that they’re almost invariably independents, owned by local people. Shopping at these places feeds the local economy – i.e. it helps to keep money in the local community. The more independent shops there are locally, the more the community spends locally; the greater the local economy, the greater the community infrastructure; the more self-reliant that community becomes, the less it contributes to the global consumer rush.
Like with everything eco-related, there is so much to consider. Anyone claiming that there is an easy answer is selling something.
This is why no-one can expect eco-perfection of anyone else. All we can do is continue to learn, keep an open mind, and support local businesses where we can.