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The Eco Pantry is a plastic free refillery based in Sevenoaks and local Farmers’ Markets in Kent. We’ve crossed paths with them at various farmers markets in recent months and when we heard they were opening their first ever shop, we decided to head down and capture the start of what is likely to be a very successful story for them. We visited the Eco Pantry as a team of four, Evan (our head of video), Henry & Hannah (our fabulous interns) and me (Jess, Director of LT). While Evan, Hannah and Henry gathered all the footage they needed for our forthcoming video edit about the business, I took a few snaps, chatted to the customers and absorbed the atmosphere.

Happy shopping at @EcoPantryUK who just opened their first shop at Chart Farm near #Sevenoaks #Kent. It’s such a wonderful shopping experience for dozens of reasons not least that you can see and feel exactly what you are buying and need only get the amount you need. #refill pic.twitter.com/CewpI0hZty

— Level Theory (@LevelTheory) July 24, 2019

The Eco Pantry is run by Karen & Callum, business and life partners. Essentially they are a one-stop-shop for dried foods, cleaning products, toiletries & more but without the plastic headache. As a business and as individuals Level Theory try to be as green as possible but something we struggle with is avoiding the weekly trips to recycling banks to try and return our unwanted plastic wrappings from our food shops. Wateringbury in Kent, where Level Theory is based, falls under the district of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council and sadly we have no home recycling options for plastic, glass or metal.

The concept of The Eco Pantry is so brilliantly simple – bring your own containers, choose the amount of product you want, pay by weight. Being a child of the early 80s I remember being allowed to walk to the local bakery to buy a bun or accompany my mother to the village green grocer and filling brown paper bags then taking them home in an old banana box. It feels crazy that we have ‘evolved’ as a society and yet no longer shop this way. Our plastic consumption and food waste has gone through the roof, our local shops have closed and the community hubs we had to greet our neighbours and catch up on the local news has evaporated. Visiting the Eco Pantry made me feel incredibly sentimental for days gone by, in fact as I write this I have Tina Turner bellowing “If I could turn back time” in my head.

What impressed me most about our visit was the constant stream of customers. The location of The Eco Pantry is somewhat off the beaten track and being that we visited them on an INCREDIBLY hot afternoon on only their second day in business I honestly didn’t expect there to be many customers, but I was wrong. There was a steady stream of customers of all ages; older generations (on the whole shopping in pairs or couples), mothers with young children, 30 yo males solo or in pairs, business women who had stopped by on their way home from work – a real mix. There were no less than 4 people shopping at any one time during our visit with the average shop lasting a leisurely 5-10 minutes. I spoke with several of the customers and was surprised to find they had travelled from all over Kent – one lady had come from Rochester (a good 35 minutes). That’s a  real commitment to no-plastic shopping and it goes to show how big consumer demand is for environmentally conscious shopping!

The second thing that struck me was how calm, peaceful and even RELAXING the shopping experience was. One’s brain wasn’t overwhelmed with a mass of brightly coloured packets and sales messages, there wasn’t the high-speed till experience where the casher throws your purchases at you and everyone in the room seemed somehow friendlier with frequent chats of ‘how do you work that’, ‘that looks good’,  ‘that’s a good container/bag where did you get that’ or ‘we’ll have that after you’. The calm and friendly atmosphere was a far cry from the frantic shopping experiences I have in supermarkets where 2 for 1’s are thrown into the trolley as quickly as possibly before my children have a meltdown because I wouldn’t let them buy a new flavoured thing-a-me-bob!

Staff at The Eco Pantry made the effort to say hello and explain how things worked, everyone was merrily concentrating on how much of each item they wanted and the kids were engaged with dispensing the rice, pasta and so forth into their parent’s containers using the handy ‘press to release’ dispensers.

The final point of real note was how incredibly satisfying and refreshing a concept it was to SEE what you were buying and directly interact with it. When you buy some pasta or dried fruits or chocolates for example you rarely get to SEE what lives behind the plastic packaging. It was somewhat hypnotic getting to look at rows of different coloured and sized goods and it allowed you to have a truly personalised shopping experience, choosing specifically which bits of that item you want and exactly how much you need. Shoppers can take home only what they know they need, the reduction in wasted food is of equal significance to the lack of plastic or packaging waste here.

I was thoroughly impressed with the whole experience of visiting The Eco Pantry and will certainly return to them, I only wish they were on my doorstep and indeed in every village. People often say we have the power to ‘vote with our shopping baskets’ and I certainly vote to support local producers and businesses here in Kent and to be as environmentally conscious as possible. In the words of the mighty disco champions Odessey I’m “going back to my roots”, it seems to be the best way for humans to go forward.

Stay tuned for our video feature on The Eco Pantry which is coming soon! 

We hope you found this news item interesting, if so please hit the share buttons below. You can find out more about The Eco Pantry on their website HERE, or follow them on @Twitter.

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