PLASTICS CAMPAIGN: Lancaster co-operative’s Single Step to reducing plastic waste

Emily House, Chris Newton, Sarah McGowan, and Noz Tizard.
Emily House, Chris Newton, Sarah McGowan, and Noz Tizard.

Plant based bike oil, Cumbrian candles, and washing up liquid that bio-degrades in 24 hours are just some of the products available at Lancaster’s Single Step Wholefoods shop.

Set up in 1976 as a counter to “globalisation, mass production and fast food”, Single Step’s approach to retail has seen it flourish over the last 40 years, providing a viable and ethical alternative for those who have the environment in mind.

Herbs and spices jars at Single Step

Herbs and spices jars at Single Step

Accessed via a cobbled alley in Penny Street, the workers’ co-operative is not for profit, and run by six members who are currently Emily House, Sarah McGowan, Alasdair and Susan McKee, Chris Newton and Rory Gordziejka.

The line-up has changed over the years, but Single Step’s principles have not, says member Chris Newton, who was co-opted in 2008.

“At our 40th anniversary last year, everyone was really touched to see that it was thriving, and doing what it intended to,” he said.

“Wholefoods took off in the late 60s and early 70s as a counter to globalisation, fast food and other things.

Emily House at Single Step

Emily House at Single Step

“I guess there was a counter culture to mass demand for cheap readily available food which started in 1950s America.

“It all seemed great until you see what the cost actually is.”

There are many things that sets Single Step apart from the supermarkets that have come to dominate our retail experience. The veg is organic and comes loose – the responsibility is on the customer to come up with transport solutions for the crop.

There are pre-used plastic bags available, but Single Step also offer their own brand organic cotton bags as well.

Chris Newton and Sarah McGowan at Single Step.

Chris Newton and Sarah McGowan at Single Step.

Many household items on sale are eco-friendly and refillable.

Handwash, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, laundry liquid, toilet cleaner, washing up liquid and multi-surface cleaner is all eco-friendly and refillable.

The cost to refill a bottle is significantly less than buying a new bottle.

Dried fruit, nuts, cereals, beans, herbs and tea is all loose, with the option for paper bags, although “bring your own containers” is encouraged.

Emily House, who has been a Single Step member for two years, said: “We do a lot of Fairtrade, all the veg is organic, none of it is air freighted, and we try to get everything locally.

“Leeds based Suma and Organic North from Manchester help us supply a lot of goods, and the veg comes mainly from Foldhouse Farm in Pilling, Ward and Thompson in Preesall, Growing With Grace in Clapham, and Claver Hill Farm on the Ridge Estate in Lancaster.

“Our rapeseed oil is from Standish, and we can do refills of that, the nuts are grown in Kent and sold loose.

“It actually works out cheaper than the supermarkets in a lot of cases, for example, we worked out that we sold basil for £9 a kilo, but one major supermarket had it at £100 a kilo.”

Emily said that packaging in general had always been an issue for the Single Step co-operative.

“People would have grown up going to shops where things would have been sold loose, but the advent of the supermarket has changed things considerably,” she said.

Chris said that he had noticed a change in people’s shopping habits over the last few years however.

He said: “We’ve had a lot of students coming in with tupperware boxes and sacks, they’re more aware of the plastic issues, and are also looking to save money.”

Noz Tizard was shopping at Single Step on Friday afternoon.

He joined the co-op in the 70s, left for a while to run his own business distributing organic veg, and then returned for a thirty year stint before retirement.

He said: “Unfortunately issues such as the environment and ethical food are a fashion thing, the supermarkets jump in on something, and go non-organic.

“But we’ve always remained pro-local and pro-organic. It would be nice if the major players of the food industry decided to ditch plastic altogether.”

Single Step member Sarah McGowan added: We can’t just keep on mining stuff out of the ground.

“It’s got to end somewhere.”

Click HERE for more information on our plastic campaign.