Cath is the founder of The Plastic Free Shop – she started the shop after being inspired by her brother, the conservationist Pete Oxford, came back from a plastic pollution think tank in Indonesia. He was concerned about the issue of marine plastic, and Cath, prompted even further by the film ‘A Plastic Ocean’, decided to do something about it. She spent a year researching and sourcing products as well as creating a website, and then in early 2018, she launched The Plastic Free Shop. People loved (and still do love!)
Cath’s simple and straightforward approach to the shop and the way that we market ourselves – we only sell products that we find useful, that work well and which are a good swap from plastic-based products. Ranging from bamboo toothbrushes (which back in 2018 were really hard to find!) to plastic free packing tape, bars of soap and shampoo to dog poo bags, products for the garden and many more, we stock items which are either completely plastic free, or which contain a small amount of plastic if a better alternative isn’t yet available. For example, you just can’t get toothbrush bristles which don’t contain plastic. We could choose to not sell them at all, but would rather support bamboo toothbrush companies while they develop the alternatives in the future. We are also trying to work in way that feels truly ethical. We don’t run sales or take part in Black Friday. We simply source great products, price them fairly for our customers, for our suppliers and for ourselves. It means that our customers don’t have to worry that a product will suddenly drop in price for no reason.
Cath was really fortunate to have chosen the name The Plastic Free Shop – it really is a simple and clear name that does exactly what it says it does! The shop quickly became too busy for Cath to manage on her own, and Claire started helping out after a few months. Since then, the team has grown to four of us with the addition of Beck and Ria.
We encourage our suppliers to swap to plastic free packaging as much as possible – it seems a bit daft to sell plastic free cleaning cloths if they originally arrived wrapped in plastic film. We are really proud that a large, and growing, portion of our deliveries arrived at our unit packaged only in cardboard, paper or reused materials. We in turn then reuse as many of the boxes as we can – our customers are used to receiving their orders in boxes that don’t necessarily look Instagram worthy on the outside!
Aside from reducing plastic as much as possible, we also try to source products which are made from natural materials, are good for both the environment and people, and we also try to support small local businesses when we can. Sometimes those aims can compete a little – for example, we currently sell dental tabs which are made in Germany as we haven’t yet found ones made in the UK which don’t contain artificial sweeteners. The balancing act can be a bit tricky at times but we always come back to the question of whether or not we would happily buy and use a product.
In terms of favourite products, we have recently created a ‘Best Sellers’ section on our website – it contains products that are both really popular with our customers, are a good place for newbies to check out and which are all products that we especially love!
Cath’s German Shepherd, Kia, has been an integral part of the shop since the beginning. Both Beck and Claire have dogs too. Cath knows a lot about dog training and behaviour, so seems to spend quite a bit of time sharing tips with everyone about how to keep their dogs happy and well behaved! Ria isn’t a dog person – she has two cats instead.
When it comes to our future plans, this coming year feels pretty unknowable. We got through 2020 thanks to a combination of good luck on the health front, and the fact that everyone suddenly started shopping online and needing soap! We’ll keep working hard in 2021 to keep our customers happy and helping our suppliers get their brilliant products out into the world. We’ve recently updated our website to make it easier to use, and have a few plans which are very dependent on how things progress over the next year. Rather than worry about what may, or may not happen, we’ll just keep on working hard and enjoying plenty of cuppas!
You can find more on the plastic free shop here.