Making Cents: Package-free shop is good for the pocket and planet

When it comes to taking action on the environment, a counter argument frequently put forward is that the cost is too high for individuals and families. 

We have seen that line again in the days since the Green Party saw multiple new candidates elected in the local elections; threatening suggestions that any actions on sustainability will be disastrous for ordinary families.

I think over the years this message has subconsciously taken hold with many of us. 

We understand the planet is in trouble, and have a genuine desire to help, but worry that making a difference comes with a price tag that is too high for households already juggling mortgages, childcare and all the rest.

When it comes to grocery shopping, this leads to households doing their level best to recycle all the plastic that comes in their weekly shop, which is to be commended. 

But they don’t take the next natural step, which is to shop in a way that uses far less plastic in the first place, because they think it is the preserve of those with plenty of disposable income. 

But a growing number of shops around the country are determined to fight that impression and show that shopping without plastic can be good for your pocket and the planet.

One of the newest arrivals on the scene is Leafling Mercantile in Ballinspittle, Co Cork. Shannen Keane, who also runs a bakery and cafe in the village, recently opened the shop with the help of business partner Tim O’Kennedy. 

She utterly rejects any suggestion that the grocery store is not a realistic option for anyone doing a family shop on a budget. 

If anything, for many products she says they are selling goods for a fraction of the supermarket prices.

“There is a big misconception about what this all costs,” she says. “People come in and get their little bit of whatever they need and they are only spending a few euro. 

"People get just what they need because they are bringing in their own jars. To refill your washing-up liquid or laundry detergent costs €1.50 for 500ml. 

"Plus you can buy just what you need to buy, you don’t need to overbuy. You don’t need to buy 5kg of spuds, you can buy three if that is all you need.

“People are in shock at how little they are spending. It is a total misconception that it is exclusive or expensive, it’s a shop.”

While they have compostable bags for customers who arrive unprepared, Ms Keane said long-term they encourage customers to use and reuse their own packaging.

“What we really want to encourage people to do is change their shopping habits and bring in their own containers,” she says. 

“Whatever container they have we can refill it, that is the big thing when it comes to reducing your waste. Plus buying only what you need.”

In addition to cupboard staples like rice, oats, grains and flour, Leafling Mercantile sell loose vegetables, local eggs, and meat from a local butcher. 

They also sell a full range of cleaning products which can be poured into refillable jars and bottles.

“We have laundry detergent, toilet cleaner, washing-up liquid, and multi-surface cleaner,” Ms Keane said. “We also sell Castile soap, shampoo and conditioners and coconut body washes.”

In addition to being free of packaging, these are also gentle products for those concerned about toxins in their home and bathrooms.

It is also worth pointing out the double cost of plastic packaging. 

In addition to paying for it at point-of-sale, households also have to pay to dispose of it afterwards, through waste or recycling costs. These bin charges are rising and likely to continue to do so. 

Buying your food and cleaning products in cloth bags and glass jars that are used again and again eliminates those costs.

Leafling Mercantile is one of a growing number of refill shops popping up around Ireland. 

Why not give your local one a try, you may be pleasantly surprised.

As Ms Keane says: “It is going to need a mentality shift but when you look around at the amount of plastic in an average store, something has to change.”

Deal of the week

If you favour tradition when it comes to Father’s Day gifts, this year you have the opportunity to do some good for charity when buying your present.

The Irish Cancer Society has teamed up with the Galway-based company Irish Socksciety to bring out their first ever Father’s Day socks.

“Show your dad he is No.1 and get your pair today,” the spokesperson said.

“Why? Because we want to walk all over cancer and we know the dads of Ireland do too!

“You’ll not only be giving your father the best present ever but you’ll also be supporting the fight against men’s cancers. A win win if you ask us!”

Numbers are limited so they are encouraging people to order early to avoid disappointment.

Socks must be ordered before June 12 to ensure delivery before Father’s Day.

The socks cost €9 per pair and can be ordered from www.cancer.ie.

If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at makingcents@examiner.ie.

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