A former Manchester United football star has hung up his boots and opened Britain’s first zero waste supermarket that gives the red card to packaging. By Sarah Gibbons.
Richard Eckersley’s zero waste store, Earth.Food.Love in Devon, UK, offers customers a wide range of organic, sustainably sourced products. But, as packaging typically found in a supermarket – usually reams of plastic which goes on to litter our oceans and planet – is banned, customers have to fill up on the food and household items using their own containers.
Eckersley, 28, who began his career playing as a defender for Manchester United before heading to Toronto and New York, was inspired after visiting a similar store, Unperfekthaus in Berlin, Germany. It was to be a game changer.
‘I realised I was living a consumeristic lifestyle,’ he says, ‘and it opened my eyes to how footballers live.’
Financially secure from 10 years at the top of his football game, Richard said to his pregnant wife Nicola: ‘That should be happening in the UK too. There’s nothing like that here.’
On their return to Manchester, where they lived in an apartment block with no recycling facilities, he and Nicola soon realised just how much rubbish they were creating.
‘It was eye-opening the amount of waste that built up so quickly,’ he said.
‘We soon began to notice the accumulation of recycling we (as a family of two) created each week,’ Nicola, 27, wrote on Earth.Food.Love’s website. ‘It was during these trips to and from the recycling plant that we thought ‘‘there must be another way?’’’
Richard adds, ‘I started living a bit differently with a lot more plant-based foods and I became more awakened and questioned why we live like this. I wanted to have more impact on the world. Football inspires people to be footballers but not to help the planet.’
When daughter Willow was born 17 months ago, the family moved to Totnes in Devon and Earth.Food.Love, the UK’s first zero waste supermarket, became a reality.
‘We wanted our daughter to be settled in an open-minded area, where people are aware of the crisis confronting the world. Being one of the most alternative towns in the UK a zero waste shop fits in perfectly.
Stocked full of dried fruits and nuts, grains, herbs and spices, pasta, rice, and cleaning products, the store is designed to inspire customers to shop in a different way rather than challenge and compete with local markets selling fresh fruit and vegetable produce – which is where Richard and Nicola stock up on their weekly groceries ‘as supermarkets give me a real sense of anxiety,’ admits Richard.
‘Locals have been unbelievable in their reception to the shop,’ he says. ‘When they walk in, they think it’s so obvious, why doesn’t it happen elsewhere?’
One of the most popular features with curious customers is the ‘‘grind your own’’ nut butter machines.
‘Filled with both almonds and peanuts, you can re-use your nut butter jar again and again, each time filling it with delicious, sticky goodness that’s been ground right in front of you,’ says Richard.
‘With all our products, you buy as little or as much as you want and gram for gram, we’re competitive compared with supermarket prices. Compostable paper bags are available for first-time buyers or shoppers who have forgotten their reusable containers.
As well as food, the shop stocks an array of organic and packaging-free personal hygiene products, including bamboo toothbrushes and wooden washing up brushes.
‘We’ve built up a regular customer base aged between six and 90 and know everyone’s name. It’s important to me that people trust me and get to know me – we’ve lost that connection by walking into supermarkets.
‘There are a lot of ‘‘off-grid’’ communities here in Totnes. It’s not hippy and weird, it’s just people wanting live close to the planet, working with the planet, not against it.’
Following the huge success of Britain’s first zero waste supermarket, the eco couple now hope to open more outlets in larger cities across the UK.
Because as Richard so rightly says, ‘We believe returning to these simple ways will benefit not only our health, but the planet too.’