The Surrey people and businesses helping protect the environment

At For Earth's Sake you can fill up your own containers to save plastic waste

At For Earth's Sake you can fill up your own containers to save plastic waste - Credit: Archant

Whether it’s reducing plastic in our everyday lives, or seeking more sustainable ways to shop, it seems we are all becoming more environmentally aware. Zoe Richards meets some of the people protecting our planet from right here in Surrey

Broadcasting legend David Attenborough's TV series Blue Planet, and his impassioned speech at Glastonbury this year have been credited for their extraordinary effect on the public mindset. In both, the environmentalist warned of the effects of our generation's disposable lifestyles. It's estimated that just nine per cent of plastic is recycled worldwide, with the rest piling up in landfills or making its way into our oceans.

It's not just Attenborough who has shone a spotlight on the catastrophic future our planet faces. There was the BBC's War on Plastic documentary earlier this year, a campaign against so-called 'fast fashion' led by Stacey Dooley, and Prince Charles sharing his thoughts on the damaged and destroyed word that awaits us if we don't act now. Plus the big supermarkets are coming under huge pressure to do their bit to limit avoidable plastic waste.

Closer to home, there are all kinds of individuals and businesses taking commendable steps towards sustainability throughout the county.

The responsible blogger

When mum-of-three, Lucinda Frostick first heard about the Marine Conservation Society's plastic-free challenge in June 2017 she and her Dorking-based family committed to sign up. "Once I'd read about the devastating impact of plastic on marine life, how ineffective our current recycling methods were and realised how much waste plastic we were producing in our household alone, I knew we weren't doing anywhere near enough," admits Lucinda. "Recycling isn't the answer. We have to reduce our reliance on plastic." They started out by trying to live without any single-use plastic that month. "It was unbelievably difficult," she confesses, "but once we'd started to make changes, we didn't want to go back."

Most Read

Over two years on and the family is still attempting to limit their use of plastics, and Lucinda has charted their journey through her blog, "I'm the first to admit that we are by no means 100 per cent successful," points out Lucinda. "There's so much more we could and should be doing. But it's difficult to make changes when you're battling the daily juggle of family and work life. Still, we have to act, and I'm a big believer that if enough people make a stand, we can make a difference." There have been plenty of unexpected positives and the family has become much more resourceful and imaginative along the way. Lucinda's three boys - 9, 11 and 12 years old - have had to adapt, but she's proud to say they're surprisingly accepting. Packed lunch may now consist of some interesting combinations and shop-bought treats such as Haribo are largely out of the question, "but ultimately, they understand that we're trying to make a difference for their futures," she says.

The family relies on local shops much more for their food than supermarkets, cutting down on meat during the week to keep costs down. Lucinda now creates many of her own cleaning products from everyday items like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, which limits the use of chemicals around the home. "It can be hard work at times, but it's starting to get easier," says Lucinda, "a couple of plastic-free shops have set up in the area and local retailers are usually hugely encouraging of what we're trying to do."

The slow fashion pioneer

Russ Avery was already working as a marketing consultant in the environmental sector when the movement against 'fast fashion' caught his attention. "I was in Amsterdam on business, and while I was there I visited the Fashion for Good museum," he explains. Highlighting the wasteful cycle of fashion, the messages Russ saw really resonated with him.

"Having worked in sustainability I knew the terrible environmental consequences of the way the modern world is shopping for clothing," he says. On average, we buy 60 per cent more clothes than we did 15 years ago - but we keep each item only half as long. Plus, it is estimated that nearly 60 per cent of all clothing produced ends up being burned or in landfills within one year of being made.

Russ knew that he could make changes in his own habits, but wondered how he could go the next step. He began researching ethical clothing manufacturers and 48 hours later his new brand - Renewabilitee was born. Using established company Teemill's supply chain, Russ discovered that he could design a range of garments of the highest sustainable and ethical standards found in the clothing industry. "What's more, all the items can be returned for free at the end of their life and manufactured into new garments, which all contributes towards a more circular economy." Russ says.

Along with his co-founder and friend, Tim Brown - both Farnham residents - Russ launched the brand at the Farnham Sustainability Festival in June and it's been a success story since. "We're proud of the fact that all of our garments are printed on demand so there's never any wasted stock. They are produced ethically in factories powered by renewable energy and the organic cotton used in their manufacturing is irrigated with rain water," Russ explains. "Not only that, but they're shipped in entirely plastic-free packaging, so every part of their creation is as environmentally responsible as possible."

Russ also ensures he lives by his own values. He shops frugally and consciously and encourages his family to do the same. And his children love Dad's fun, wildlife-inspired designs, of course.

The sustainable shopkeeper

Vanessa Ford-Robbins had spent the last few years feeling rather fed up at the amount of single-use plastic she was seeing at the supermarket. "I couldn't understand why these supermarkets were talking about reducing plastic waste 'in the future', or 'at some point'," explains Vanessa. "Why not 'from now on'?"

It was these thoughts that prompted Vanessa to make the spontaneous decision to rent premises and actually do something about it. "I had a feeling in my stomach that I needed to act," says Vanessa. The result was to set up For Earth's Sake - a waste-free and no single-use plastic shop in Cranleigh high street.

With no retail experience, Vanessa, her partner Nik Huddy and Nik's nephew Charlie Edwards set about providing shoppers with the opportunity to buy local produce, dried goods, chilled food and everyday household items using the most environmentally friendly methods possible. With strong provenance and without costing the earth, every aspect of the business is dedicated to shifting the way we consume products in a more sustainable direction.

"I had no idea whether people would take it up, or have any concept of what we were trying to do," confesses Vanessa. But happily the response has been overwhelming. Within the first three months over 6,000 customers left with no single-use plastic in their bags and despite any hesitation she may have had it appears the people of Cranleigh love the shop. "It's become something of a hub and there's a real sense of community spirit," beams Vanessa.

"Our philosophy is to recycle, revisit, refill and repurpose," says Vanessa. The shop is also run as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, with all financial surplus reinvested back into the business or used to fund educational involvement and projects. Vanessa would love to open a similar concept in every town in Surrey. "My profit comes from the sense of doing good," says Vanessa. "This is such a happy, positive place. A gathering of like-minded people and most of all it's so much fun."

Surrey's eco-friendly destinations

- For another great community-based plastic-free shop try Fetch'em from the Cupboard in Fetcham and Ashtead - a treasure trove for everything from dried fruit and nuts to locally-made soaps, refills of shampoo and washing liquid.

- Friday markets in Guildford and Dorking and farm shops like Kingfisher's in Abinger Hammer, Butchers Hall in Forest Green and Noel's Farm Shop in Sutton Green are great for fruit and veg. If you shop seasonally it does help to keep costs down.

- For higher-end toiletries and shampoo, there's a range of glass-packed products at Neal's Yard in Guildford, shampoo and conditioner refills at Unparalleled Hair in Dorking and Ewell, and myriad toiletries available from Lush in Guildford, where they collect and recycle or reuse the packaging.

- With stores across Surrey, Holland and Barrett has recently launched Ethique, a range of solid beauty bars that promise zero consumer waste.

- Okomoko plant-based café in Farnham serves up a range of 100 per cent vegan treats, and also has its own integrated zero waste shop.

- When you don't have a local solution, there are also some great online plastic-free services to explore, ranging from Who Gives a Crap for toilet paper and tissues to Splosh for refillable cleaning products and Milk and More for milk bottle delivery. The Ethical Superstore and Plastic-Free Pantry are also fantastic for store cupboard goods and other household items.


- The story behind Iida Van der Byl-Knoefel's recipe book: A Kitchen Fairytale - Struck by a rare health condition, Iida van der Byl‑Knoefel made extreme changes to her diet and discovered a passion for plant-based eating that led to her writing her own book of delicious recipes