Supermarket-free Me: New Leaf Coop

I have finally paid a visit to the New Leaf Coop and, to celebrate, I’m writing a post dedicated to it!

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This is a shop I need to support – it’s exactly the kind of place I wish existed everywhere, but not as a chain! Let’s see lots of quirky independent shops with the same ethos (read more about that here) and let us be their dedicated customers – bringing our own bags and the kind of enthusiasm that, quite frankly, it’s hard to muster in the supermarket…

The New Leaf Co-op is in Edinburgh in an area called Marchmont, which I can get to within about 25 minutes from my home. I’ve blogged about Marchmont before in this post (which, if I may say, I enjoyed rereading. It shows me what a difference a year has made in my ability to shop without the supermarket!)

I digress…The New Leaf Co-op is easy to find on Argyll Place, nestled amongst other independent businesses.

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Even before you enter, you know it’s going to be a bit special as it has a bicycle hanging in the window. I’ve no idea why it’s there, but seeing it made me smile.

Prior to the bicycle though, I knew I was going to like the shop as I’d spotted this page on their website (if you can’t see it in the photo properly, click on this link):

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The canisters of unpackaged goods got me more than a little excited because I’m taking part in Plastic Free July and, between you and me, it’s still looking less like a challenge, and more like a nightmare! Those canisters though suggested that they might answer a few of my prayers…Here they are in all of their glory!

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The front of the shop had a variety of goods including fruit and veg, chilled products, biscuits, pasta and even candles. The prices I saw seemed cheaper than comparable wholefood shops that I’ve visited recently. 

This is a relief. I want to be able to justify ditching supermarkets on financial grounds, as well as for ethical reasons. So far though, I’m finding that if I’m spending less then it’s because I’m buying different things than I did at the supermarket, or because I’m using things I had anyway, not because the prices in the independent shops I’ve been to are lower. Some things are lower of course, but I’ve struggled to accurately assess whether I’m actually spending less overall.

Entering the back room of the shop, I felt like Alice going into Wonderland. Finally, here I was in a room full of unpackaged products – all I had to do was scoop them up, pop them in my Onya bag and weigh them. (The New Leaf Coop Shop have Onya bags! I have Onya bags! It’s a sign – I don’t know what of, but surely it’s a good sign!)

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Now I don’t want to burst any bubbles here but because this is my blog and because I do consider honesty to be important, I must confess that I was a bit overwhelmed with the choice of products, and the fact that I actually had no idea what some of them were. Clearly this shop has customers who take their cooking far more seriously than I do!

I was a rabbit caught in the headlights and I didn’t want to start scooping up bags of small black beans that I didn’t know how to soak, so I had to take a moment to calm myself down and think about what I might be able to buy that would be useful.

Moment over, I found there were quite a few things I recognised and that I could certainly stock up on in July, such as dried fruits, spices and oats. There were also products, like those in the picture below, that I didn’t know existed but knew what they were.

 

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Maybe in July, some Exotic Muesli may just be what I need to cheer myself up when I can’t wash my hair, do the dishes or use deodorant because there’s flipping plastic involved in all of these products!! (Kidding, I’ll find alternatives – I really hope I’ll find alternatives!)

I duly filled my bags and weighed them.

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It was easy to work the scales and a label was printed out, showing the full details of each purchase.

I was super-impressed by this, as actually (shopping geek that I am becoming) I do care about what country my product has been flown from and it’s great to be able to see what I’m paying per kg, so that I can price-compare on the internet with the supermarket.

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Of the loose products I bought, two thirds of them seem to be cheaper at the New Leaf Coop than the supermarket equivalents I usually buy.

I left the shop with a spring in my step. Although I won’t be visiting regularly because of my journey time (and because parking in Marchmont is difficult and expensive), I will be back. I’ll be organised so that I can stock up – if you buy a product in bulk, the price per unit of weight comes down.

I’d love to know how well the New Leaf Co-op is doing financially. It certainly had a reasonable number of customers while I was in but my worry about shops like this is that they aren’t appreciated as they should be. Although there are many good quality, special, independent shops in Marchmont, I notice that a Sainsbury’s Local has opened since my last visit, which is bound to have an impact on the area.

Here’s my final word for this post…If you have a special shop near you, then visit it! Spend money there, tell your friends about it, shout about it on social media – let’s love those places and keep them going because if we don’t, then the supermarket may be our only choice in the years to come.

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Meaner Greener Me: Plastic Free July

Today is the first day of Plastic Free July! If you’ve not heard of this this ambitious personal challenge then it’s probably because it started in Australia only two years ago. I knew nothing of it until this post by @treadmyownpath was retweeted in my Twitter feed a few weeks ago and caught my eye.

I’ll admit that on first read I thought it was an excellent post but not a concept I could ever contemplate. Although a simple idea, surely giving up single-use plastics for a month is impossible? The blogger kindly suggests that if you can’t go the duration then perhaps you might like to try a week or even one shopping trip. Not for me, I thought. Shampoo bottles! Plastic tomato trays! Cling film! I have to admit though that it started some wheels slowly turning in my brain and every now and again I reconsidered whether it might actually be something I could tackle in a lesser form.

A while later a second post appeared on twitter and I realised that I had to take some action – even if I can’t begin to aim for a month without single-use plastics I am going to try and seriously cut it down and if nothing else, I will make conscious decisions about my use of plastics.

(Does anyone else notice that this is eerily similar to when I first read about the concept of giving up supermarkets for a month? I didn’t think I could do it but I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind then of course I did it and it’s changed my shopping habits irreversibly…)

So here goes, it’s the 1st of July and I’m cutting down on single-use plastics, challenging myself on those that I do use and looking for alternatives that will allow me to do better next time.  I’ll incorporate this into my Meaner Greener Me blog and give weekly updates.

Here’s how I got on today…

The first thing that happened was that a big order of things arrived from the Ethical Superstore.  I nervously opened it to find out how badly I’d failed before I’d even started.  My order consisted of:

  • 5 packs of toilet roll (wrapped in ‘plasticizer-free and fully compostable packaging’)

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  • a box of dishwasher tablets (cardboard box with tablets in plastic packaging)
  • 12 tins of sweetcorn &12 tins of tomatoes (each group of 12 packaged in cardboard and plastic packaging)
  • a bottle of washing up liquid (plastic bottle)

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  • 2 bags of dried apricots (wrapped in weird crinkly packaging that says 100% recyclable with a code I can look up to find out how)
  • 2 bags of flour (paper bags)

While not perfect, it could be worse.  Had I bought my usual brand of toilet roll at the supermarket, it would probably have been wrapped in plastic.  I could have avoided the plastic on the tins at the supermarket but I’m guessing that they would have been wrapped like that to survive the journey from supplier to supermarket.  Is there anywhere you can get washing up liquid that doesn’t come in plastic?….I’ve just done a quick search on the web and found these washing up fairies!  Lovely but currently unavailable, I need to search again for the next time I need it. The bags of apricots are possibly plastic – I need to look up their code to find out if they are ‘less plastic’ than those I’d buy at the supermarket or, even better, maybe I can find apricots that are sold by weight and then packaged in brown bags?  I know one or two places that may do this.

Most of my day was spent in the house with my children but we did venture out to get some ‘equipment’ we needed for recipes.  (I am doing much more cooking lately in an attempt to reduce my food waste and my packaging).  We bought some cake tins and some lolly sticks.

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The sticks came in a small polythene bag but to compensate I refused a carrier bag and duly explained to the shop assistant (who couldn’t have been less interested!) that I was refusing a bag because it was Plastic Free July.

On returning home I decided to make some bread in our newly-purchased bread maker. I bought this as I believe home made bread to be healthier (at least you get to control what goes into it) and, in keeping with my ‘meaner greener me’ mindset, to avoid using the supermarket for bread as well as reducing the overall packaging.

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Just as I was removing the newly baked loaf from the machine however I remembered that I usually wrap the finished article in cling film as I’ve not got around to buying a big enough tin for it.  Determined not to use this unnecessary plastic however, I found my largest cake tin, ate the slice of cake that was left in it (needs must!), washed it out and sliced my loaf so that it could be accommodated.

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As I was polishing my halo, I remembered one of the bread ingredients – the skimmed milk powder – comes in a container with a plastic lid!  So more research is needed – I was right, cutting out single use plastics is very difficult!

If you want to read more about Plastic Free July then do look up the official website www.plasticfreejuly.org which is full of great tips about how to replace the plastic in your life and track those taking part with the hash tag plasticfreejuly  Good luck!