The Plastic-Free Jar Tree

(One of the two Jar Tree founders in his store: Ian Thursfield     Photo: Anna Ehlebrach)

This shop is different. It is all wooden and bright. The shelves are packed with big jars, filled with dry foods: basil, noodle nests, pecan nut halves. Close to them, one can find household items like toilet paper, soap and shampoo.

What you cannot find: plastic packaging.

The small cabin, Unit BS1 in Kirkgate Market, is Leeds’ first zero packaging store. Meaning: no plastic at all. In front of the unit, two wooden chairs are waiting for passersby. Next to them, a sign is indicating pastel-coloured: “Organic, vegan, dry foods, bring your own jars, weigh and pay”. This is the simple business model of Ian Thursfield, 30, and his business partner Aimee Charlotte.

“We want to change people’s minds and perceptions. We want to make them aware of what is going on in the world”, says Ian. “We wanted to do our bit to save the planet and reduce the consumption of plastic in Leeds”, he says. “We wanted to create an affordable way to buy what we needed.”

The shop opened on this year’s September 1st. The hesitating glances of passing people are still indicating: some are not quite sure yet on if to come in or not. But they come in and suddenly, it gets very crowded! Seven customers at once already make this little place quite busy. The card reader is not working. Ian jumps out of the shop into Kirkgate’s halls. “It worked!”, he shouts and laughs.

In every corner of the store, it smells differently. Once there is coffee, then there are herbs. One jar is indicating: “SOS Mix, 70p/100 g”. SOS? “Save Our Sausages”, explains a sheet of paper next to the box, is a vegetarian sausage mix. It contains amongst other things wheat, dried soya, modified potato starch and barley. There is also a website link with recipes on it.

Where do they get their products from? “Infinity Foods” from Brighton delivers natural and organic vegetarian and vegan food. “Suma” from Halifax delivers the liquids and drinking. “We picked the suppliers because they had a wide range of waste-free products”, Ian explains. By now, he has taken a broom and sweeps the ground. “The fun never stops!”, he laughs.

He says that he started to live a more plastic free lifestyle only six months ago. Is it hard? “Once you begin, it is difficult and the supermarket seems just so convenient. But it then becomes a habit and you are getting used to it”. He and his wife, who inspired him and dragged him into the sustainability, are making their own food. Without plastic waste and without the aid of supermarkets.

The Economist published numbers in this year’s march indicating that 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste were produced since the 1950s, but that only 9 per cent of these has been recycled and another 12 per cent has been incinerated.

At the Jar Tree, what is the price of sustainable products? 30p for 10 g of Basil, 1 Pound for 100 g of Shampoo, which is filled into huge cans, instant noodle nests for 50p each. There is also a stock suggestions board, where customers can express their product wishes. They can also send an E-Mail to the store founders. “It then depends on how many people request it – but we really want to get a mix of also what people want!”, Ian says.

“I am confident about the shop, so many people are already coming and using their own jars”, Ian says. “But a lot of people seem not to care. They just say: I don’t believe that plastic is a problem”. He continues: “And until something won’t fundamentally change in this country, starting with whether a tax or a law, people won’t understand.”

The Independent quoted in this year’s August the Local Government Association (LGA), which found out that only one-third of the plastic food containers in the UK were recyclable.

By 2025, the UK Plastics Pact wants to turn 100 per cent of the plastic packaging into being reusable, recyclable and compostable. The initiative aims in creating a circular economy for plastics.

In other countries, there is the existing system of bottle deposit. People return their plastic bottles to the shops and then get a small amount back, which they paid on top while buying the full bottles at first. “Homeless people all over Europe are collecting the plastic to get money. If they could do that here, they would have so much food”, Ian supposes, “not that it would completely disestablish the whole problem of homelessness, but…”, he remains unfinished.

“If every individual does a small hit towards sustainability, that can do a lot over the decade”, Ian concludes.

Anna Ehlebracht