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Student blog: Sustainable and low waste shops in Norwich

BA (Hons) Animation student Valentina Huckova talks us through the ethical and low waste shopping options in Norwich and shares her tips for those looking to become more conscious consumers. 

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With the current state of world affairs and apparent global issues, it is hardly news that a number of radical changes need to occur to help the planet and the people. Every one of us, when turned into an environmentally-conscious consumer, wields the power to bring about positive social change.

There are many ways to do this and even more things to keep in mind, which can initially threaten the comfortable voice in our heads that is used to convenience – but persevere! The main question is not what to buy, but how much.

We live on a planet with finite resources, and the only real way to reduce our impact is to consume less of them.

Norwich is one of the greenest communities in the country and many of its independent businesses are doing their bit to work and live sustainably.

I’m going to discuss the local ethical and low-waste shops in the city and what they offer to the conscious consumer (and specifically to students).

Rainbow Wholefoods

Rainbow was the first organic wholefoods shop to open in Norwich in 1976 as an alternative to conventional shops, supplying the city with organic naturally sourced food with a high standard for selection of their commodities.

It’s the only place in Norwich to bag their own independent organic commodities, which at the moment are unfortunately wrapped in clear plastic, but they are looking to switch to compostable packaging in the near future. 

They stock a wide variety of goods from food, to personal care, to vegan makeup and when in season (which is now!) they also sell potted herbs and plants. Their priority is in organic foods with no GM, and everything they sell is vegetarian, whilst most things will also be vegan.

Apart from refills on cleaning products from Ecover, they offer the same on a hair-care range from Faith In Nature – they follow strict trading policies, however, so only exact bottle and product can be refilled (all such products are marked with a green ‘refill’ label).

They also supply a good selection of freshly packed bakery goods which are vegan and/or gluten-free. Following the store’s policy of being fair for everyone, Rainbow offers no discounts, neither loyalty cards, but you can often save money by targeting their ‘bargain bin’ for both dry and refrigerated goods.

The Green Grocers

What the name says and so much more, the ‘GG’ have been around for ten years as the first low-waste store in Norwich – they run an independent cafe, bakery and whole foods shop all in one place, with an emphasis on organic and local food and drink.

They are dedicated to reducing plastic waste by offering a wide selection of 40 package-free organic nuts, seeds, pulses, cereals and rice from dispensers, which you purchase by weight, as well a liquid refills section for cleaning products and shampoos, conditioners, body wash that you can pump into your own jars – which is guaranteed to be cheaper than the same product new!

The café serves all-day food with vegetarian, vegan and GF-options and Thursday to Saturday they also offer delicious sourdough pizza.

Re. Source

Re. Source is a low waste ‘unpackaged’ general store and cafe which opened earlier this year, its main ethos to limit the frustrating amount of plastic packaging that shoppers face, and to offer a more sustainable alternative to shopping.

They offer a variety of package-free dry foods, fresh foods, refillable cleaning liquids and personal hygiene liquids and also fresh fruit and local veg, as well as homeware and personal-care items such as recycled pots, stainless steel razors and toothbrushes.

The benefit of this store is they are almost completely plastic-free and sell their bulk items from glass containers, rather than plastic dispensers. Furthermore, the cafe which offers fresh vegan food and drink serves in-house ethical oat milk which is produced from oats delivered in huge sacks and so little-to-no-packaging is involved.

I can strongly recommend their ready snacks such as package-free bombay mix.

Ernie’s Zero Waste Shop

The newest addition to the zero-waste scene in Norwich started as an online business and in May 2019 opened a store which offers all cupboard staples package-free.

The process is simple: bring your jars or cloth sacks, weigh them up at the scales and mark the container weight, then fill them up at the dispenser of your choice, then weigh again – the difference and price will be calculated at the till.

Talking to the owner about student budgets I was pleased to hear the shop plans to introduce a student discount and sell commodities either on par or for cheaper prices than big brand stores like Tesco or Asda. Minus the packaging waste, this makes it the affordable place to fill one’s pantry with anything from rice, pasta, flour, pulses and nuts to even tea and sugar.

The selection of spices is confirmed to be cheaper than brand stores, and I was pleased to find a refillable stand with oils to pour into your own jars!

Apart from food you can also find refillable cleaning products and personal hygiene liquids, and a variety of sustainable alternatives to many mainstream products, including reusable food packaging, glass-packed toothpaste and fabric sanitary towels. They follow the ethos of the 5 R’s – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot and use the principles of circular economy where possible.

“Every one of us, when turned into an environmentally-conscious consumer, wields the power to bring about positive social change. “

I’ll sign off with a few tips and tricks:

  • Remember you can’t shop your way into a low-impact lifestyle; limiting how much you buy is the key. Take your time thinking through what you already have and what you really need, how you can reduce, reuse and recycle.
  • Make sure to carry a cloth/net bag with you in case you end up shopping for food (just make sure you use it often enough to make up for its energy and resource-heavy production process and to start gathering the ‘positive points’ as compared to plastic bags; also consider to bring (home-made) cloth sacks or reusable packaging to transport fruits/veg/pastries/bread from shops, instead of plastic bags.
  • Plan your day and shopping ahead if you can – if you’re like me and uni has you craving for coffee, invest in a durable reusable cup (which also gives you up to 35p discount in most places) and reusable water bottle. Also consider bringing around your lunchbox and own cutlery – for takeaway you can always ask them to put it in your lunchbox instead of a plastic box or a paper bag (and some places, like Moorish Falafel Bar, offer a discount when you bring your own!)

Consider how much of the packaging that’s given you really need when getting things to take away – do you really need a paper bag to walk two minutes to campus? No waste is better than low waste!

Follow Valentina on Instagram.