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Carbon Copy interview: want to open a zero-waste community shop? Here are our lessons learned.

Do you know about Carbon Copy? This is a UK charity, inspiring big-thinking local action on the climate crisis. Basically, if you want to act for our planet, no need to reinvent the wheel. Check out what has already been done and copy with pride! Carbon copy is the catalogue of local initiatives that you can investigate to get inspiration and act. You can find them here: Big-thinking local climate action | Carbon Copy

Our Filling Good initiative is one of the initiatives recorded on their website. They have kindly asked us to answer some questions for their newsletter, to inspire other community groups to think about starting their own refill shops and to give them confidence they could do it successfully. So here we go!

Carbon copy: Could you create a mental image for us, the readers, of what The Filling Good shop is?

Nelly: It is a beautiful little shop with loads of refill options, all presented in reclaimed furniture and upcycled material, with a lovely feeling! If you enter the shop, you are first delighted by the delicate (but not overwhelming) smell of the handmade soaps and locally poured candles, then you are probably going to be greeted by a lovely volunteer proposing you help for your refills… You will end up having a chat, trying some smoke seasoned almonds or cold processed chocolate, and promise to come back very soon with more containers!

Carbon copy: Why were you so concerned about the waste problem that it led to you, personally, wanting to do something as significant as start trading?

Nelly: It is the climate change and biodiversity collapse, more than the sole issue of waste, that was a motivation for me, as for Sophie, the other Filling Good director. Filling Good is about reducing your waste for sure, but generally about sustainable living, and hence proposing a lot of organic and vegan options as well as unpackaged – we research a lot the products we stock. The ethical side and the content of a product is as important as its (absence of) packaging for us.

Carbon copy: What was that lightbulb moment that led to the creation of shop?

Nelly: Tired of researching about all the products I needed to buy and finding it very complicated to consume without “harming”, I thought it would be great to be able to go to one shop only where I could blindly purchase what I need, without a bad conscience.

Later, while I was starting to propose some refills on a stall in a shop in the shopping centre of Maidenhead, many of the customers were keen on helping – this is their proposal for help, including the one of Sophie, who made me think that it should become a community project, and not only “my” shop.

Carbon copy: What has been the local community’s response to the shop?

People love the shop! Our refills are really growing, showing that when they are given the opportunity, people are happy to take the steps to a more sustainable future. The kind atmosphere of the shop makes it a nice trip, even if it requires a bit more organization, and re-humanize groceries. No delivery service or big supermarket chain can beat us at this. And our volunteers enjoy coming to the shop and spend time with each other: the community is the heart of Filling Good.

Carbon copy: If another community likes the sound of Filling Good and would like to copy the idea, what are your 5 top tips for how to make a start?

Nelly: Community engagement is key! It is key to take time to gather your first supporters, the ones who are going to shop with you, volunteer with you, and invest in your project. They are the backbone of the whole project.

Second tip is… start small… but not for too long 😊 Having a first idea of the practicalities of the operations will save you many bad surprises when things are getting serious.

Third tip is… collaborate! There are many people around who can help – not to take away the work, but help with their network, talk about you, give you advice. A lot of local businesses are keen on cross promotions, and other like-minded zero waste shops, if they are not physically too close, will be keen on a mutual collaboration.

Fourth tip is… ask for help, and delegate as much as you can early on. We are a community shop, and the more people are involved in it, the more likely it is to survive.

Last one… well, just drop a mail if you have a question, we are a cooperative and happy to help other cooperatives and not for profit projects where we can!

Carbon copy: What’s one thing that you wouldn’t do now with hindsight?

Nelly: I would plan looser timings for the shop opening – and keep our old card machine 😊😊😊

Carbon copy: And, finally, what’s the funniest thing a customer has asked you for?

Nelly: If we take regular supermarket packs, open them, and pour the content in our gravity dispensers 😊People have been fooled several times and it is sometimes difficult to build up the trust!

Have you ever tried to repair an electronic device? If so, you may be interested in Carbon Copy's 'Copy This' podcast which throws the spotlight onto big thinking, local climate action. Their latest episode explores The Fixing Factory, an innovative new project just launched in London which not only gives broken laptops a new lease of life, but uses them to tackle digital inequality, train the #xers of the future, provide training and employment opportunities, plus creates a project blueprint that could be replicated around the UK. Listen to it here:

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