Anything But Plastic: Your online haven for plastic-free products.

AnythingButPlastic.co.uk is an online, UK-based store selling the products we need and love, but plastic-free. Here is our interview with the founder, Jenny Derry, as she talks about her motivation, challenges and advice for plastic-free consumption!

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- Hey Jenny! Tell us a little more about Anything But Plastic. 

Anything But Plastic sells and promotes alternatives to plastic products in order to reduce everyday plastic consumption and help tackle plastic pollution. At least, that’s what it says on my business card. Whether it actually does that is dependent on people actually wanting to buy this kind of thing! Which I think a lot of people do, and more will take up this cause over time I’m sure. There is enough media attention and public outcry gaining traction already over plastic pollution. If I fail, I’m pretty much set for a lifetime supply of plastic free products so win win right? …Right?! 

Anything But Plastic is just me. I’m a solo artist who occasionally uses a backup band in the form of family and friends to listen to me moan about my problems and provide critique and encouragement in turn. I’ve been lucky in that most people I know think that Anything But Plastic is a ‘great idea, go for it!’. The positive feedback and support I’ve had from complete strangers who have messaged me since launching has also been inspiring. So far this has all just been one big positive affirmation which has been lovely really.

The main aim of Anything But Plastic is to become a one-stop shop for all your plastic free wants and needs. I’m starting with the basics and expanding around that. I want my customers to drive the direction partly, so if I get a lot of feedback saying that loads of people are struggling to find a particular plastic free version of something I’ll try and source it for them. That’s for the future though as I have a few ideas on the backbench myself as to what I want to provide on my website next. Hopefully I’ll get some more things in soon! 

- What was your motivation behind Anything But Plastic?

There was a build-up of motivations really. Litter in general has always really pissed me off. Seeing more of it around (or aground) year upon year ignited that angry spark inside me that can’t stand that crap. I was fed up of picking up rubbish left by others. It ruins a place for everyone if it is filled with litter. It was obvious that plastic was the main problem as that’s what I came across most. I’d been on a couple of holidays where the litter problem was ridiculous, driving past a field of trash in Morocco and biking past the rubbish tip in the middle of a tiny island next to Bali springs to mind. Those images haunt me. That isn’t even mentioning the UK, which has grown disgusting over the past few years. The last time I went to the Kilpatrick hills just outside of Glasgow I picked up 16 empty plastic bottles, which was all I could carry. Eight in my bag and four in each hand. When did it become ok to chuck rubbish on the floor? Maybe the public perception of litter has changed?

Another motivation was the amount of plastic we would throw away every day at work. Up until a couple of months ago I’d been working in outdoor shops for the last few years. Nearly every item we received to put out on the shop floor was individually wrapped in plastic. When you are selling products that are supposed to be durable and waterproof, this seemed like massive overkill. There is so much unnecessary packaging involved in retail, most of which the customer won’t see or know about. 

One of the final tipping points was plastic microfibres. Working in an outdoor shop, most of what we sold was synthetic materials and oh my days, so much FLEECE. Fleece is one of the worst items of clothing for shedding microfibres, as despite its name, it is entirely made up of synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon rather than natural ones. The problem was getting worse, as I had been in the industry a few years and gone through quite a few season changes I noticed that the percentage of plastic synthetic fibres was creeping up in a lot of different brands wares. In some cases, I had old season stock and new season stock I could compare directly to show that happening. Suddenly, all the new shiny gear and new technologies these brands were developing lost their lustre. I couldn’t bring myself to buy this stuff anymore, me, a previous outdoor gear junkie. I couldn’t really in good conscience sell it for much longer either.  

What could I do? Quit my job and start up Anything But Plastic I guess!

- Well, we’re glad you did! What challenges have you faced setting up Anything But Plastic?

Convincing suppliers to send me stock in plastic-free packaging is the main challenge I’ve had so far. I’ve made a sin bin (which is more of a small sin bag in reality) of the plastic that I’ve acquired in the setting up of Anything But Plastic, and it is actually not that bad. I’ve done much better than I thought I would, but I know I could have done better if I hadn’t made some silly mistakes. 

The problems have mainly been with samples, sometimes there is not always the option to leave a note for the seller to make sure they send things not wrapped in plastic. Occasionally I would forget to ask, because after thinking plastic free 24/7 I forgot that other people need to be told not to use it! Some people also just ignored my request for plastic free packaging entirely anyway. Needless to say, they didn’t end up becoming suppliers. 

The main culprit here is Sellotape. So much of the stuff. I’ve grown to loathe and despise all those little bits of plastic sticky tape stuck to everything. Much annoyance. Paper tape with natural adhesive is available! It sticks, is biodegradable, and is a simple solution that is currently massively underused. Why does no one use it GRRR. I’m in the process of getting some stock of this paper tape on my website because Sellotape is now my number one enemy and I need to provide a weapon for people to tackle it with. 

I know a lot of plastic packing tape that my supplies have come in is there because the supplier has reused the box. So that’s not a mark on them, because reusing is good, but I still have to count it even though the problem is two sources away from me. One supplier uses recycled plastic packing tape, which is a step in the right direction but that plastic has been downcycled and now can’t be recycled again. Landfill later is still landfill, even if it has had a second life after all.

I have had some great wins at this sourcing stuff though. I’m proud of myself for this more than anything else really. Check this out:

Win number one: Convincing one of my suppliers to switch from plastic packing tape to paper tape. Hurrah! 

Win number two: Convincing another supplier to send the product to me without any packaging at all. Huzzah!

Win number three: Getting another supplier who normally attached their product labels with plastic elastic to send the product with the labels unattached. Hooray!

This means I’m making a difference in their supply chains too. Hopefully it’ll catch on. These small changes make a big difference in the long run!

- Wow, you’ve been busy - and it’s really paid off! Do you have previous experience in retail, business or online sales?

Plenty of experience here, as I’ve spent the last three years since I graduated Uni working in outdoors shops. I enjoyed it for the most part, as I love the outdoors and you find loads of like-minded people working in these shops. I liked learning about the gear and also helping people find the things they need to enjoy the great outdoors. It wasn’t all a walk in the park as it could get incredibly boring when there were no customers, and you are generally undervalued and worthless to the company in the grand scheme of things which is demoralising. 

This experience in retail has been really helpful in setting up Anything But Plastic. I know the ropes and I am trying to use what I have seen work in practice in retail and avoid what I found didn’t work in the shops I was employed in. Having mainly been front of shop while I was working in retail, I am having to learn a lot of back office stuff that I had no idea about before. It is definitely a learning curve but I’m having fun with it. 

I don’t like being a salesperson. That is not how I operate. I was good at my job because I helped people find what they want, rather than push a load of crap they don’t need on them. If we didn’t have what they need I’d point them in the direction of somewhere that did, instead of selling them something similar but not quite what they were after. I’m pretty candid so if something was shit, I would tell the customer. If something was great I’d wax lyrical about it. It didn’t matter if they bought something or not as long as they were given the information they needed. If that info was: “you don’t need this why are you wasting your money?”, I would say so. This isn’t a popular method with employers, but as they are the one saying it’s all about the customer, then screw them. 

I haven’t changed, so my website is not going to stock things that aren’t good quality or don’t work. I’m totally honest about my supply chain, the materials, everything. If I don’t use it, then I don’t want to trick others into using something they’ll just end up throwing away. I know that’s the way of a lot of businesses, but I would rather eat a plastic bag than work that way. I’m not doing this because I love making a sale, I’m doing it to make a difference. I think more businesses should follow this model, because people do care about more than just a bargain so stop distracting them!

- What would you like to see for the future of Anything But Plastic?

WORLD DOMINATION. …Well, not seriously but it would be nice to have a company that actually cares about people and the environment do well rather than exploitative tax avoiding and environmentally damaging company’s for once. (*Apple* cough *Starbucks* cough) What, you heard the names of two big businesses in my coughing fit there? I didn’t say anything, honest, it must simply be the power of your imagination. Buy local, think global. 

I’ll settle for making the UK more plastic free and having people think harder about their purchases, especially in terms of their full life cycles. We know fast fashion is bad. We know that insanely cheap prices mean that someone or something is losing out. We know disposable consumer culture is morally depraved, because nothing is really worthless when we live on a planet with finite resources. Hopefully with my business I will help burst this bubble of ignorance we find ourselves in and make sure we really know what we are buying, including showing the real costs and consequences of our purchases. 

- Are there any moments in which you get disheartened in your plastic-free lifestyle and what do you do to overcome them?

It can be easy to get disheartened when you start trying to give up plastic. Suddenly, your favourite foods are off limits, your personal hygiene takes a step back while you trying and find good replacements for your toiletries which all had plastic containers…. But once you do find replacements you appreciate those things so much more. I love the products I do use now whereas before I would have thought nothing of them. It is weird to suddenly become enthusiastic about small everyday use items, but why shouldn’t we enjoy what we use? I would now rather feel grateful and appreciate a product that works and is plastic free than zone out and use something just because it is convenient. It makes you happier enjoying those little things every day believe it or not. 

I’ve got a couple of other strategies to stay positive about going plastic free which you will find in a recent Anything But Plastic blog post. Give it a read if plastic pollution gets you down rather than going!

- What advice do you have for consumers who are also trying to live plastic-free?

Going cold turkey is hard work, so treat going plastic free like a journey, don’t beat yourself up if you cave and buy something in plastic. Take your time and cut things out at your own pace, as that is still better than not doing anything about the problem. 

Food shopping is where I normally fall down. (I’m a fussy eater, I’m not a massive fan of most vegetables, which is unfortunate as they are normally plastic free gold!) There is a distinct lack of bulk food places in the UK so it gets difficult. If I cut all plastic out of my food shop straight away I would probably starve. Which I don’t really want to do, so I’m giving some things up, I’m shopping around trying to find others. Most importantly, I don’t treat myself like a failure if I can’t find something and end up buying some plastic. It isn’t a crime (yet…) I’ll get there, it is just going to take longer for me to food shop plastic free than others. Don’t be afraid to challenge people about plastic free or no packaging, (speaking from experience) a few arguments with the fishmongers in Morrison's will be worth it in the end! 

Just work on the problem, whether it be food, cosmetics, clothes or whatever your plastic free sticking point is and seek out people and places that help you on your journey rather than hinder you. It’s much more fun that way. 😊 Networks such as this one at Plastic Free Me are incredibly helpful when you start out on your plastic free journey, we are all doing this together after all so it is encouraging to get the support of others for your efforts! That’s one of the best parts of the whole thing really, lots of very passionate individuals who are inspired to make a change coming together and kicking plastic ass.  

Thanks for taking the time to listen to me warble on! Hope you found it marginally entertaining and/or helpful. 

Helping to kick plastic ass, one piece at a time.

- Jenny.

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We love Jenny and her ass-kicking attitude! Got a plastic-free tale of your own to tell? Please, get in touch!