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21st century scoop shop: Belfast gets first zero-waste store


Susan McEwen who aims to introduce a similar shop in Belfast

Susan McEwen who aims to introduce a similar shop in Belfast

A refill shop in London

A refill shop in London

Susan McEwen who aims to introduce a similar shop in Belfast

Belfast is set to get its first dedicated zero-waste store which will see products sold without any disposable plastic packaging.

Refill Quarter is to open in the east of the city, offering grocery and lifestyle goods aimed at environmentally-conscious customers who use their own containers to buy products.

The venture is the brainchild of yoga teacher Susan McEwen and her two Refill Quarter co-founders, Alice Wilkinson and Phillip Rankin.

The three already run Yoga Quarter, a studio in Ballyhackamore which offers yoga classes.

Established two years ago, it was while running the yoga classes that they stumbled upon the idea of their new business venture, Susan explained.

"When we emptied the bins out, every single time we found single-use coffee cups and plastic bottles," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Alice then began to explore the idea of zero-waste and what we could do to reduce single-use plastic."

The team then made contact with a zero-waste retailer, Zero Green in Bristol - and are aiming to replicate its success here.

The concept of Refill Quarter, which is opening on the Belmont Road, is building on 'scoop shops' which were once commonplace on the high street and offered unpackaged goods for sale to be purchased by weight.

"Old-fashioned grocers used to sell bags of flour before convenience packaging came into it," added Susan.

"This is in some ways what we're offering, for goods like rice, flour and pasta - dried produce. We're working with a co-operative to have olive oil for sale." Susan continued: "We're having what are called gravity feeds, containers on the wall which operate by opening a tap.

"So customers arrive into the shop, bringing a container, which will be weighed first - they say they want lentils, they can then check the weight on the scale, which calculates the difference.

"Customers then pay at the cash register."

Susan (54) said that one of the other advantages to zero-waste shopping is that it can be cost effective.

"This allows you to be precise in what you need," she added.

"If you have a family and you need oats, you can literally bring a pillow case and fill it.

"If you're a young professional, and need less, then you buy just what you want.

"It's good for things like herbs and spices for recipes - you don't have to buy what you don't need."

As well as dried food stuffs, there will also be cleaning products, soaps and shampoos - all zero-waste.

Susan, who has been teaching yoga for the past three years, said that the goal is to get Refill Quarter open for business next month.

"The latest it will be open will be September 1," she added.

"We're going to be in the old Post Office on the Belmont Road, which is lovely as its been a place of connection for the community."

She said that when Refill Quarter was announced recently online, they were left "overwhelmed" by the messages of support. "We have been blown away," she added.

"We've had messages asking 'How can we help', saying 'We think this is a great idea'.

"We want to be a real platform for local designers and makers and, as much as possible, we don't want to import.

"We put a call out on Monday for makers and were amazed by the response."

Susan added: "It's like Belfast was ripe for it and we're just harvesting something that is already there."

Belfast Telegraph