Cath Conway, founder of Unpackaged, explains what drove her to set up the Unpackaged concept, the problem with plastic and how we can help. Find Unpackaged refills in most Planet Organic stores.
Why did you first set up Unpackaged?
I set up Unpackaged in 2006 - we were the first modern zero waste store. I could see there was a problem with packaging then and wanted to set up a shop where people could just bring their own containers to refill.
Who is Unpackaged and how do you work with Planet Organic?
We went from a market stall to a small shop in Islington, then a larger shop in Hackney. Our dream is to get everyone refilling so it became obvious that we needed to work with other retailers to help them offer products in their stores without packaging, which is how our partnership with Planet Organic came about. We’ve offered an Unpackaged range in Planet Organic since 2015, when we set up in their Muswell Hill Store. We’re now in 9 of their stores, including their recently opened branches in Chiswick, Ealing, Balham and Spitalfields.
Why do you do it and what do you think is the biggest challenge we're facing due to plastic pollution?
We do what we do because we know the devastating impact of plastic pollution on our environment - the equivalent of a truckload of plastic enters our seas every single minute . US and UK citizens produce the most plastic waste at 99kg per person, per year.
Over 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year. And that’s expected to double again in the next two decades. Over a quarter of this plastic is used for packaging; most of which gets used once, and then thrown away. Recycling helps, yes, but we can’t recycle our way out of this enormous volume of waste - only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled - we need to stop producing it in the first place which is where refill and reuse comes in.
Why should PO customers bring their own containers to refill?
We know that by shopping Unpackaged you are making a difference - every scoop bin in Planet Organic holds 10kg of chocolate, stopping 50 single-use plastic packets from being produced from oil (which is running out). This means a reduced carbon footprint and less plastic waste going to landfill, the ocean, and the wider natural environment.
How have things changed since you started in terms of the packaging problem?
Thankfully there’s now so much more awareness of the problem of single-use plastics; whether that’s from the Blue Planet effect, or the increased focus (especially by young people) on the problem of plastic pollution and climate change. Consumers (we should think of ourselves as citizens not consumers otherwise we just feed into the narrative of consumption!) are crying out for businesses to offer solutions.
Where do you see the partnership between Planet Organic and Unpackaged going next?
We’re super excited to be working on a project with the team at Planet to bring new product categories into refill - this might be more environmentally sound household cleaning products, or fresh products but we’re always working to increase the range, and the opportunities for Planet’s customers to refill and reduce their packaging, we love working with Planet!