Nigel Evans started Roots Larder as a mobile service offering a range of spices, herbs, grains, pulses, cereals, dried fruits, nuts and loose leaf teas, all without unnecessary packaging.
It proved so popular with customers that six months later he needed permanent premises to offer a wider range of stock and he opened Stafford’s first plastic free shop in April 2019.
The venture was inspired by his own desire to cut down on single use plastic, especially after seeing the harmful impact of pollution highlighted by Sir David Attenborough on BBC’s Blue Planet II.
“I saw the devastating impact it was having on wildlife and how much rubbish and plastic was ending up in the sea. I wanted to do something about it. I think it’s up to us as individuals to do what we can.
“I knew there were other shops like this around the country but there wasn’t anything locally. I started on a small-scale from home and then moved on to the van, going to markets and events.
“It got so busy that I couldn’t fit everything in the van so I opened the shop,” says Nigel who also lives in Stafford.
Roots Larder is run as a ‘not-for-profit’ Community Interest Company (CIC), which means any money made gets reinvested back into the shop and projects to support the community in reducing waste, promoting recycling and providing sustainable alternatives to single use plastic.
The shop sells a wide range of wholefoods, loose leaf teas and confectionery, which are all sold by weight, and there is also a refill station supplying household cleaning products, everything from laundry detergent to liquid hand soap and multi-surface cleaners.
Customers can either bring their own containers, help themselves to jars donated by the community, purchase an organic cotton bag or use a brown paper bag.
“It’s proving very popular. We’ve got to the point with the shop that more people are becoming aware that we are here and of what we sell. They are beginning to make their own requests for us to stock certain items like herbs or pasta.
“We find people come in to have a look first so they can get their head around how it all works and then they come back with their containers and jars,” says Nigel.
Shoppers are able to buy as much or as little as they need, which cuts down on waste, and all of the products have been ethically sourced.
“It’s important that everything is traceable. People are becoming more aware of where their food is coming from,” says Nigel.
He also sells a wide range of plastic-free alternatives for items people use in their everyday lives such as bamboo toothbrushes, compostable food bags and reusable tea bags.
“It’s about reintroducing people to a different way of shopping.” says the 41-year-old, who also offers a delivery and collection service.
Nigel’s advice for anyone looking to cut down the amount of plastic in their lives is to start small, rather than trying to do everything all at once which can be overwhelming.
“I recommend starting with one or two items or one room in the house, there is usually a lot of single use plastic in kitchens and bathrooms. Do a plastic audit of each room and look at what you are using in a week or a month. We buy a lot of things out of habit or convenience. Then start to make a few changes to cut out the plastic items. A lot of it is about going back to how things used to be like bars of soap and wooden washing up brushes,” he explains.
The range of plastic-free alternatives is growing all the time in response to the demand from shoppers.
“Every time I make an order there seems to be new suppliers and new products because they’re getting more popular,” says Nigel.
He is also passionate about recycling and has been awarded funding from the Safer Communities CIC in Stafford to provide people with a way of ensuring items that can be harder to recycle don’t end up in landfill.
Working with Justine DiCesare, from neighbouring business Aroma by Tranquility, he collects items including crisp packets, Pringle and other crisp tubes, toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, pet food pouches and treat bags, chocolate and biscuit wrappers, baby food pouches, pens, felt tips and batteries.
With the help of volunteers, the items are sorted and sent to Terracycle to be processed, where they are then turned into new items, such as children’s playground flooring or park benches. Some of the items collected also raise money for charities and Roots Larder’s chosen good causes are Childhood Cancer Parents Alliance (CCPA) and Kicks Count.
“A lot of councils don’t accept certain types of plastic but people still want to recycle the plastic they use so it doesn’t end up in landfill or polluting the environment.With Terracycle you can nominate a charity to support. We’ve raised £1,500 so far just from the likes of crisp packets and Pringle tubes,” says Nigel.
He believes if we each do our bit by making small changes in the way we shop and the products we use in our homes then together we can make a difference.
“There was a popular quote around a few years ago – ‘It’s just one plastic straw – said eight billion people.’ If every person cut that one straw out, that’s eight billion less straws and it could make a huge difference,” says Nigel.