Plastic-free Revolution | People & Places | Living North

Plastic-free Revolution

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Jackie Sewell and Rachael Brien have opened Buy the Kilo, giving customers a brand new shopping experience. Ditching all plastic packaging, the shop encourages you to fill re-usable containers with their wide range of ingredient and products

What we’re trying to do at Buy the Kilo is to eradicate plastics, to eliminate them from the shopping experience.
We sell pasta, rice, seeds, household cleaning products and houseware products, and we encourage people to bring their own containers and to use paper bags. Customers can buy however much, or however little they want – a few people have come in and asked if they have to buy a kilo, and no you don’t! We just want people to pop in and buy exactly what they need, minus all the plastic packaging. We’ve been open for five weeks and the response has been phenomenal – the footfall on a weekend is incredible, and people are only just finding out where we are. Clearly people are looking for this type of eco-friendly shopping experience because we’ve had customers who’ve travelled from across the region to visit the shop.
 
The idea came from a multitude of things, which as a family have changed the way we think about our shopping. 
I started the business with my daughter Rachael, but my other daughter lives in Cornwall and we’ve been visiting her down there for the last eight years. There are loads of shops there that are doing similar things to us, but we saw a bit of a gap in the North East market. As an artist, I work with recycled plastic bags and plastic bottles – I’m very environmentally focused, and the idea tied in together nicely.

We have a combined background in retail, interior design and law.
Rachael was a barrister, but she gave that up about five years ago and started a women’s sock business called A Woven Plane. I was an interior designer in soft furnishings for 30 years and I’ve done a fine art degree within the last 10 years – I share a studio with three other women at The Biscuit Factory. Rachael is eight and half months pregnant at the moment and is due to have her baby this week, so it’s all a bit crazy! 

It just seemed to be the natural next step to do something together, as mother and daughter.
We spend a lot of time together anyway so it wasn’t anything out of the norm. We both had a raft of really good ideas and developed the business together, from the company’s concept to how we wanted Buy the Kilo to come across. It’s lovely when people have just popped in to have a look around, and then they comment on how much they love the layout of the shop.
 
When I realised how much plastic I was bringing into my home, I changed the way I shop.
In 2017, I exhibited my artwork at Customs House. The pieces were made out of water bottles and whilst the exhibition was running I took photographs of all the plastic that I threw away at home. I thought I was quite a good recycler, a bit of an environmentalist and an activist but I took 642 photographs over five weeks, which was about 19 pieces of plastic a day. I was so shocked – the thought of how much plastic I was using was awful. So since then I’ve changed my shopping habits – I stopped going to the supermarkets, started buying meat from the butchers, bread from the bakery, vegetables from the grocer, and local milk in glass bottles. My recycling bin was a third-full instead of overflowing. If I can make a change that quickly, then so can others. Buy the Kilo is a new environmental concept, based on an old idea – the traditional ‘weigh shop’ with ingredients in ‘scoop bins’ which have gone out of fashion really. But it’s now coming full circle.

We hope the on-site gallery will create a conversation, on top of selling our packaging-free food. 
At the moment my artwork is on display, including the Retail Mat piece which was inspired by an old form of recycling during the War when people used to cut up clothes that couldn’t be mended and would use the rags to make mats for the home. My version is made of plastic carrier bags. We also have a new artist called Ali Elly whose work will be on display in the shop from the 2nd April. She does the most beautiful paintings of sealife and she’s really environmentally conscious. We also have a series of exhibitions coming up which artists have applied for through curatorspace.com – it’s had a really good response.
 
We have some really exciting projects in the pipeline.
We’ve got a new large table in the middle of the shop because we want Buy the Kilo to be a community space that people want to come back to again and again. We already have regular customers who bring their containers and pile them up on the table ready to fill, and then enjoy spending time in the shop. It’s a totally different shopping experience. We’re also going to be running a series of workshops after opening hours. We’re going to do crafty workshops; make your own dishcloths, hand towels and things like that and we’re also going to do some waste management programmes with a fantastic Newcastle-based company called Ugly Duckling, to show you how to manage your food at home. The company has an arrangement with certain supermarkets to get food that’s on the cusp of its sell-by date and then they turn it into juices and treats which are sold at events and markets across the North East. We’re also wanting to do some spice workshops. A little girl came into Buy the Kilo one day asking for a particular spice mix which we didn’t have, and she now comes in every week – even though she’s only young, she’s so excited to be involved with what we’re doing.

No. 3, The Sidings, Tynemouth Metro Station, North Shields NE30 2TF www.buy-the-kilo.com

Published in: June 2019

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