Barnet Post

Barnet Post

Saving the planet one refill at a time

Book a mobile zero waste shop for your street

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Ernie, The People’s Pantry’s milk float refill station on a North London street
By Lisa Jones 14 September 2021

Lisa Jones and her husband set up a mobile zero waste shop during lockdown. Operating around North London, The People’s Pantry delivers package-free pantry and household refills from the back of ‘Ernie’, a repurposed, vintage milk float, making plastic reduction convenient and simple.

Over the summer we saw wildfires raging across Greece, Turkey, Russia, Canada and North America, cataclysmic flooding in Belgium, Germany, India and China; and almost in summary a “code red for humanity” issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In their landmark report last month, the IPCC warns of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding. It predicts that the 1.5C warming limit, set by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, could be crossed by 2034. They state unequivocally “humans are warming the planet” and demand “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” in fossil fuel emissions.

It is a report that pulls no punches and leaves policymakers with nowhere to hide. In the battle to stabilise our planet, the home front plays a critical role. It may feel overwhelming, but as consumers, we hold great power by dictating demand.

By rejecting ingredients linked with deforestation, fast fashion, unsustainable energy suppliers and banks that invest in fossil fuel companies, to name but a few quick fixes, we are not just changing our own mindsets towards becoming conscious consumers accepting of our responsibilities, but also holding corporates to account. And from small swaps come big changes.

Reducing single-use, disposable plastics (SUPs) is one of the simplest and most potent swaps we can make. The burning of fossil fuels is responsible for 86% of all man-made emissions and as SUPs – made from crude oil – continue to dominate (to the tune of 900,000 tonnes per year generated by UK supermarkets alone), they are a significant market for the fossil fuel industry. Shockingly, less than 10% of that plastic waste is then recycled, ending up in landfills or being burned.

Thinking that we could reduce our own plastic waste and help others to do their bit we set up The People’s Pantry. When we spotted a vintage milk float for sale on eBay during the dark days of Lockdown 2.0 we knew it was time to take action.

From a rusting wreck retired by Trafford Dairies after 50 years of deliveries (the original zero-waste business model, neatly), “Ernie” is now a gloriously restored piece of British heritage and a new recruit to the war on plastic.

His flatbed has been converted to accommodate two banks of gravity and scoop dispensers, from which customers refill either their own containers or reusable ones provided by us. And he carries stock from 130 mainly organic, package-free products across pantry, bathroom and eco-cleaning essentials; all sourced from independents and vetted for their sustainability and ethical credentials as well as their quality.

Customers can book him for a street visit through The People’s Pantry website – choosing a day and time to suit – with most corralling their neighbours and friends via WhatsApp or emails to join in and create a community event, much as shopping used to be. We call it slow shopping, as it encapsulates all that the slow movement propounds: doing things properly, at the right speed and in a spirit of togetherness.

Bookings started in July and already a wonderful community of both customers and independent producers, all united in wanting to make a difference, has started to grow around The People’s Pantry.

There is also a small book exchange from which customers can help themselves and donate books that they have read for others to enjoy, in the spirit of reusing and sharing. And we actively encourage conversations about what people would like to see on Ernie and how we can make their refill journey easier and enjoyable.

It all seems to have struck a positive chord, possibly accelerated by the pandemic and certainly responding to a call for gentler, kinder times. Which should fill us all with hope for our collective future amidst the apocalyptic gloom.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” said the American anthropologist Margaret Mead; “indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Ernie has operated in North Finchley but we can travel to other parts of Barnet.

For more information and to book a street visit from Ernie:

Email [email protected] Visit thepeoplespantry.biz Facebook /thepeoplespantryldn Instagram @thepeoplespantryldn