Un_rap founder Hannah Pearce
A conversation with Hannah Pierce from Un_rap a plastic free shop in Falmouth
by Aimee Rigby/1-August-2020
How did you come up with the idea for a plastic free shop in Falmouth?
I went on quite a journey. I was living in Australia, which is where I first started seeing the amount of waste because I was living in a city for the first time and I started seeing the amount of single use coffee cups that were being used and it started to irritate me. Then I decided to move away from city life and came back to Cornwall and started seeing the amount of plastic litter on the beaches here. And also, I visited Indonesia and Malaysia on my way home from Australia and saw the amounts of litter that were over there and saw the islands sort of overfilling with plastic straight into the ocean.
So, I decided to raise some awareness and I went and hiked the Camino de Santiago, which is a long hike in Spain, traditionally a pilgrimage, but I did it all plastic-free and raised money for Surfers Against Sewage. That was where I really started to see the impact that if one person stands up and does something, then the ripple effects are incredible! But I met people all the way along that I impacted, and I impacted people’s thoughts at home. And this was back in 2017, before anyone was really talking about it. It was pre-David Attenborough, Blue Planet, and along that walk one day I just said:
“Why can we not walk into a shop anymore and not see any plastic?”
and that was a seed for the idea really. And I came home after achieving a 500-mile walk with the belief that I could start my own business and just kind of started the ball rolling and went for it. I didn’t stop or think twice.
How accessible is a plastic free lifestyle?
Back in 2017 it was very challenging to avoid plastics. Single use plastics was possible if you went without a lot of things. But now, three years later, I’d say that it easy achievable. It can definitely be done- but it’s a process. So, if you start with single-use plastics like coffee cups, water bottles, single use cutlery- you start with those things and eliminate those.
Once you’ve got into the habit of that, you can start eliminating from your supermarket shops by choosing to shop at plastic-free shops or choosing to only buy things that are un-wrapped or using your local small farmer’s markets. And then once you’ve done that you can move on to your bathroom. It’s a process, you just start small, start taking things little steps at a time and get used to them and then I think it’s 100% achievable. Loads of my customers do it and I’ve been doing it for years.
How do you go about finding zero waste suppliers for your products?
So, we buy in bulk, mainly from two or three main wholesalers. That’s where the majority of our rice and pastas and things come from and then the majority of those things come in large 25 kilo paper sacks which we then give to our customers or the business to re-use or the worst-case scenario is they get recycled. Any plastics or packaging that does come in we send off, that can’t be recycled, we send off to Terracycle, so it’s used to build benches and other things. But the majority of things do come in paper and obviously bulk so you’re reducing massively, and it means the consumer doesn’t have to take any waste home. So, the business is responsible for any waste that comes in, which is a lot more reasonable and much more manageable than expecting consumers to put it in their recycling and then obviously we found out in recent years that we don’t know where that recycling’s ending up. So businesses take the responsibility and you can guarantee what’s happening to any waste, and you can guarantee that the waste is massively reduced. And then in terms of
Above images; Exterior image of the shop Unrap. A display of some of the produce and interior
lifestyle products and other things; we try and source locally. So, lots of our makeup wipes, food wraps, all these re-usable lifestyle products that we stock, they are all made locally out of re-purposed cottons and materials.
Therefore, I can employ a local mum to produce a great product, I’m keeping the money in the local economy and they can drop it off to me without any packaging whatsoever. That’s the ideal scenario and we’ve got quite a few of those. Same with like face creams and things, we support smaller, local businesses which deliver without any packaging. And then other things we get in, we only really stock people who will deliver it in cardboard boxes and recycled cardboard boxes and then we recycle those or give those away to other people to re-use.
So yeah, it’s again, it’s been a bit of a process for us. Like when we first opened, we got some products in which we now discontinued as we’ve learnt. But also, over the years, you just meet people and you hear about people and people approach us now and offer to sell their things through us. So, overtime, our stocks probably doubled or even tripled in the amount that we can we can fit in and source. Again, it is a process. It’s not about being perfect straight away. Everyone’s got to learn and improve as you go along.
What do you do with the surplus food that hasn’t been sold or is spilt or spoilt?
The idea, well the majority of stock that we have is dried, bulk foods, which can last for up to a year and our turnover’s quite high so there’s not much wastage.
Any food, any greens that we drop on the floor, within reason, I tend to eat. My shelves at home and full of floor-food which I bring home and rinse off and then eat when I need it. Other than that, there’s not much and with the veggies, again, me and the staff will take them home if they’re looking a bit sad, if not the worst-case scenario is the local farmer that grows all the veg will take it back for compost and it will end up back in his ground, feeding the next crop. So, as much as possible we eliminate waste all the way up the chain.
How did the Coronavirus affect your business?
Coronavirus- we had to change overnight so, because we’re a food business, everybody had obviously started panic buying and we, because we stock in bulk, we suddenly had a huge influx of people, our regulars but also people we’d never seen before, trying to come in and bulk-buy huge amounts of things. But because of the nature of the business, in terms of, people can bring their own containers and they can touch all the handles and the leavers, we have to… after one day that was almost scary for the staff, we decided to put up a barrier and start serving everybody.
So, there’s now, when you step into the shop, instead of coming in and using the dispensers, there’s a barrier at the front like a counter and then we serve you. Which meant that we could a) limit the amount people could take- we’d still let them have about a kilo- but we kind of limited things at a kilo. We were safe because we’d keep a 2-metre distance, and inside the shop was completely clean apart from me and the one other staff member that were working together. So, we could go around touching the dispensers, but obviously we had to clean everything, following strict hygiene procedures and we sanitize our hands between customers. But it was also really empowering because we could source stock that other supermarkets couldn’t get, for example flour.
At one point we were selling 25 kilos of one type of flour, limited to a kilo per person, in a day. We had huge amounts of flour being turned over and more or less still keep hold of our stock all the way through. It was just very stressful and huge changes overnight, but it was great to have a business and know that it could survive a pandemic. I think you’ve got to be doing something good to be able to stay open and provide what people need. It was just quite rewarding at the same time, I think I need a holiday now.
Where can people find you or follow you online?
We are based in Falmouth, just off the Moor on Webber street. So, if you go towards the library and you take a left down that one-way street, we’re just up on the left-hand side. We are on Facebook, Instagram, and we have a website which is un-rap.co.uk. All the links to our social media are on there and we have a blog on the website which should start picking up traction now we have a bit more time- that’s worth following as well.