The Focus Article: Good Life Refill

Thinking about Climate Change and sustainability I have started using shops which refill products. There are several of these locally. Here is my interview with Heni from the Good Life Refill shop on High Street in Leighton Buzzard. My questions are in bold. (Revd Joy Cousans)

Can you give a bit of background about yourself. My name is Heni and I run The Good Life Refill – Leighton Buzzard’s first low-impact living and refill shop. We sell organic, drygoods without plastic packaging, as well as cleaning and lifestyle products. We source our goods from co-operatives, try to choose fairtrade, and support local makers too. The aim is to make it easy for people to make sustainable choices because we’ve done most of the legwork for you. The business was set up in May 2020. I began by trading on markets and took on a permanent shop in June this year. I grew up in Leighton Buzzard but have lived in various cities over the last eight years. I’ve always been driven to make a positivedifference to the world but often felt frustrated that the work I was doing didn’t really make an impact. Pre-pandemic, I was pursuing a career in documentary film editing. I kept thinking: You can watch a film and feel inspired, but if you don’t have a space or community to help turn that inspiration into action, then what difference has it really made?

In September 2019, I moved back to Leighton Buzzard to support my dad through chemotherapy. Along with the pandemic, it put a lot of things into perspective for me which ultimately led to setting up The Good Life Refill.

What started your interest in issues of sustainability? Like a lot of my generation, growing up with social media made sustainability a constant background issue. For a long time, trying to recycle properly and having a reusable coffee cup felt like I was doing my bit.

Three years ago, that changed when I worked for the United Nations Communication Centre. Everyday I had to do a daily summary of the news headlines. Everyday I was reading about forest fires, floods, famines, species extinction, plastics pollution, refugees. Climate change was no longer an abstract disaster in the future; it was impacting people right now across the world. At the time it made me feel kind of hopeless because I was in this place where it felt like everyone sat around talking about it, but not making any real changes, both on a personal level or governmental.

From there, it was gradually teaching myself more about how everyday decisions make a difference. Then making that change. And then always asking: “what next?”

I really recommend a podcast called “A Sustainable Mind” where they interview ordinary people whose jobs are all about sustainable living, from foraging workshops and organic farming to clean energy production and green investments.

Why do you think it is important? As Greta Thunberg said: “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

We can’t just shut the door and pretend it’s not happening. We also can’t turn a blind eye because the fire is impacting our neighbours worse than us.

The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are the highest they have ever been. Humans have caused the world to heat up by 1.1C in the last century and we’re already seeing the impacts of this in volatile weather conditions. Limiting the rise to 1.5C was the goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. We’re going to hit that before 2040. Every degree of warming matters. Taking urgent action ensures we can maintain a stable, liveable environment.

But sustainability is more than gloom and doom!

It’s important because it’s also really exciting. Sustainability asks us to be creative and imagine what healthier world can look like. It needs us to focus more on our local communities as we saw during the lockdowns. It’s about reconnecting with what makes us human and that it really is possible to thrive without harming the planet.

What inspired you to start the Good Life Refill shop? A lot of people would like to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, but feel overwhelmed with choices: What’s the best option? Is it recyclable? Is it better value for money? The main inspiration behind The Good Life Refill is making it possible for people to shop for good food without having to worry about those questions.

I spent a lot of time growing vegetables during the pandemic and thinking to myself: “wouldn’t it be amazing to have a shop where you really knew where your food had come from?” So, a big inspiration behind Good Life Refill is knowing who the suppliers are and sharing that with customers.

Supporting my dad through chemo, I did a lot of research on how food impacts your health. This definitely inspired the shop stocking a wide range of products (now over 250). Variety really is the spice of life when it comes to food and health.

The refill process is inspired by other shops across the world that do the same thing. I’d used some of them in other towns and loved their simplicity. Many people said it wouldn’t work in Leighton Buzzard, but we’ve got a strong and growing customer base that prove refill shopping is the way to go.

How does it work? It’s simple: 1. Bring your containers to the shop. We’re really not fussy. Don’t feel you have to buy new containers either: jam jars and old take-away tubs are perfect. We also always have paper bags as an alternative. 2. We weigh your containers and zero the scales. 3. Select the product you want. We’ll fill up your jar with as much or as little as you like. There’s no minimum, so if you only need 50g of icing sugar for some cupcakes, that’s okay with us. There’s no maximum, so if you need 10kg of oats, that’s okay too! 4. We weigh it out for you. Then only charge you for the weight of the goods. You can also just pop in for a chat. The other shop assistants or myself will happily answer any questions about our products, pricing, or suppliers. We can offer recipe suggestions and sustainability tips. Plenty of customers like to come in to rant about the state of the world too.

What’s the best thing about running the Good Life Refill Shop? And the worst?

Connecting with people about sustainability and making eco-friendly living accessible to them is the best thing. I sometimes can’t believe I get to talk about food and the environment all day with other people who are also passionate about food and the environment. I also love when my customers share their newest sustainable discovery with me. The shop feels like a real community space.

The worst is refilling turmeric. Wonderful spice with so many health benefits... but it gets everywhere and dyes everything yellow.

What top tips would you give that people can do at home to reduce their carbon footprint?

A big percentage of carbon emissions actually come from big companies. As individuals, the best was we can reduce our carbon footprint is spend our money on greener alternatives. This looks like:

  1. Switching energy supplier to a renewable energy company, like Bulb, that use wind and solar.

  2. Reducing the amount of animal products you eat. Not always the most popular tip, but animal farming requires more land, water and energy to produce, so even just cutting out meat or dairy for two days a week has a big environmental impact.

  3. Refusing single use plastic packaging. Waste has a big carbon footprint, even recycling plastic requires energy. Buying your fruits & veggies loose, or using a refill shop, is an easy way to reduce your footprint. Choose one item and commit to buying it plastic free.

As we approach COP26, what do you think are the most urgent environmental issues to be addressed?

We need to hear about the “how” underpinning the promises. The majority of governments in richer countries should be promising net-zero emissions by 2030. What is really urgent is an agreement on what that path looks like so that these commitments can be upheld. Secondly, that plan needs to make sure we don’t leave people behind as we transition. Like with agriculture. There have already been some moves towards regenerative agricultural practices, by accelerating this transition we can boost food production and resilience to unstable climates. However, we need to make sure young farmers and small farms are consulted and supported in these plans too.

What is your favourite recipe? I don’t always have time to eat a proper breakfast, so these easy to make granola bars are perfect for on the go, or as an afternoon snack. Amazingly you can get all of these ingredients (except butter) without plastic packaging as refills. 100g butter, plus extra for greasing 200g porridge oats 100g sunflower seeds 50g sesame seeds 50g chopped walnuts 3 tbsp honey 100g light muscovado sugar 1 tsp ground cinnamon 100g dried cranberries/chopped apricots/ raisins STEP 1 Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 3. Butter and line the base of a 18 x 25cm tin. Mix the oats, seeds and nuts in a roasting tin, then put in the oven for 5-10 mins to toast. STEP 2 Meanwhile, warm the butter, honey and sugar in a pan, stirring until butter is melted. Add the oat mix, cinnamon and dried fruit, then mix until all the oats are well coated. Tip into the tin, press down lightly, then bake for 30 mins. Cool in tin, then cut into 12 bars.

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