Newcastle’s first sustainable shop and their drive to refill online
Nil Living are taking the refill station Newcastle loves so much online to make sustainable shopping easier than ever.
It’s crazy how much our shopping habits have changed over the last 20 years, isn’t it?
It was the seismic rise in global brands like ASOS and eBay that first inspired the ‘younger’ generation (we say this loosely, now being in our 30s and 40s), to skip the high street for our fashion and tech, but it wasn’t really until the pandemic hit that online shopping became an accepted platform for any retailer worth their salt.
We have to admit that we now have way more knocks on our doors from delivery drivers than our actual friends. But with issues like ‘fast fashion’ and the plastic pollution crisis now dominating our collective conscience, our modern way of life feels like a constant battle between convenience and eco-consciousness.
So, what are our options?
The truth us, we don’t really know. Sure, big brands have mostly now made the move to ‘recyclable packaging’ and, if they don’t look too much into it, that may well be enough for many consumers. But what about the actual products we’re buying? And can ‘proper’ sustainable shopping really work if it’s online?
One local brand is determined to prove it can.
HOW TO SHOP SUSTAINABLY
Nil Living – Newcastle’s first zero-waste shop – has been supplying the good people of the city with sustainable shopping from their Grainger Market home for more than three years now, having started out on the market stalls of Tynemouth and the Quayside.
Having pioneered the concept here in the North East, Nil Living are centred around being a refill station Newcastle shoppers can visit with their own reusable containers in tow and refill them with any and every ethically-sourced product on the shelves – thus reducing plastic and packaging and minimising our negative impact on the planet.
But the time has come for Nil Living to focus their efforts on turning sustainable shopping digital.
Now, we’re sure you can spot the potential problem as clearly as we can – if we’re shopping online, what are these products packaged in when they’re delivered to us?
We caught up with Nil Living founder Anthony to find out. Because, for him, zero-waste shopping is about more than a philosophy. It’s a way of life. A few moments of mindfulness to take the small steps necessary for us all to achieve a giant leap for the future health of our planet.
And to us, that seems a mentality worth embracing.
What made you want to set up Nil Living here in the North East?
There was nowhere to shop like we do at Nil Living in Newcastle before us. We had stumbled across another zero-waste store whilst visiting Leeds, fell in love with it and wanted to bring the concept back home.
We started toying with the idea and opened a small stall at Tynemouth market and at the Quayside market to see how much of a demand there was at home. This snowballed into a shop very quickly after winning the Young Traders Market in Newcastle and council members recommended we set up base in the Grainger Market.
Recently, the climate crisis and the way we’re inhabiting the planet has really had a light cast over it. It’s made people think a lot more about the way they shop and what their lifestyle choices are, which has allowed our shop to work in Newcastle and more zero-waste shops to open and grow here, too.
How do online refills work?
Our online refills work in two easy and simple ways.
- Food – we send any food you order in recycled paper bags which you, in turn, can decant into whatever containers work for you at home. Or you can keep them in these paper bags and store.
- Liquids – we have a scheme where you can buy whatever liquid you need in a 1000ml glass bottle; we charge £1 for the bottle and when and if you return the bottle, you can get that £1 back.
- We also have 5L refills that are in repurposed plastic containers that are free of charge, which we have created our circular system with too, if anyone would like to bulk-buy any liquid products.
What are some of the easiest swaps to make for anyone starting out with sustainable shopping?
Our best advice is to always start small. Trying to take on too much at once can end up being overwhelming even for the more experienced of us!
Herbs and spices are always a cheap and easy way to start. Most of us already have various jars and containers at home – you can bring them down to be filled or topped up to avoid having to re-purchase the container. Then you can move on to dried essentials like pasta, rice and beans. Shopping by weight means you’re not constricted to supermarket packets in terms of how much you can buy.
Whether you need 50g or 5kg, refill shops offer you that flexibility.
What about household cleaning products – how easy are these to refill?
Still pretty easy. Again, most of us already have things like washing up liquid and fabric conditioner in containers at home, so those containers can be brought in and filled as much or as little as you like – which is great for testing out new products, without the commitment of buying a full tub! They can also be bought per price rather than weight.
If you ask us for 80p of non-bio laundry liquid to try, that’s exactly what we’ll give you!
What makes Nil Living special?
Nil Living is a family-run business, started by our enthusiasm for change. We’re both from the West End of Newcastle and wanted shopping this way to be more accessible and able to become the norm for people from all backgrounds.
We’re all learning together and we’ve made it so that Nil Living is not only a refill station Newcastle customers can visit, but also a place for people to share and receive advice, tips, tricks and ideas about sustainable living.
What’s next for Nil Living?
We are looking at some potential new projects to take on (which we can’t talk too much about at the moment!), but we have no limits on how much we want to grow the business. We’ll have some exciting announcements over the next six months.