Wales is the second best waste recycler in the world and aims to achieve zero-waste by 2050. Sophie Rae,founder of Cardiff’s first zero-waste shop, tells how conscious consumption, can lead to a brighter future ahead.
The Welsh Government is aiming for Wales to be recycling, reusing or composting 70% of its waste by 2025 and be a zero-waste nation by 2050, with all waste to be reused or recycled according to the BBC.
But Wales’ recycling industry is struggling with their bandwidth and resources as people and institutions continue to degrade the planet, ignoring the evidential effects of blindly consuming single-use plastics. People are oblivious to the fact that even recycling is a slow and energy consuming process.
Sophie Rae is the founder of Ripple Living, Cardiff’s first zero-waste shop on Albany Road. The shop offers bulk wholefoods, ethical fashion, sustainable home wear and natural beauty products. She is an eternal optimist who doesn’t think it’s ever too late to make a change. She is dedicated to the cause, to make the dream of a sustainable zero-waste society come true.
She explains the term, frankly saying, ‘’Zero waste can be quite an intimidating term, and the truth is, it’s not actually true. We are not zero waste, but it’s the goal in 20-30 years. I don’t hide the fact that the shop still has its own small plastic footprint…This is certainly the most waste less shop, I could be creating at the moment…for now, this is the best I can do.’’
Sophie was born and raised in Cardiff and moved to London for a few years. She worked as a deputy editor for an ethical magazine Veggie. It opened her eyes to lots of sustainable alternatives that the world could use but also made her realise that they weren’t readily accessible to people. She wanted to take charge of this and that’s how the idea of the shop came about.
‘’I think a lot of us had that moment in 2017 when we watched Blue Planet II…David Attenborough obviously caught the hearts of people when they realised what plastic was doing to our oceans. It was a global awakening actually…it certainly was the final thing that really motivated me to do something. I did my research. I chose to then start living more aligned with how I wanted to be as a citizen of the world. ‘’
Raising funds was the first step to set the wheels in motion for Ripple to happen. ‘’We started the Kickstarter(link) in June and we raised £33000 in 12 days’’ which was a significant help to purchase stock, and cover other capital costs, she says.
Educating the customer and developing a conscious consumer culture while drawing in a more clientele is an added responsibility to her mission.
Keeping this in mind, she chose an ideal location for the shop – a busy high street. ‘’ Majority of people who are coming in are first-timers, they’re walking past and see that the shop is busy…they’re intrigued and they come in…They just need to have the courage to ask the question- why? -why are you doing this, and they will be told with passion.’’
‘’I’m increasing my social media presence, and I’ll keep pushing the message across whether online or in person.’’ Sophie believes in her moral compass and is honest about her endeavours. “I am very vulnerable in terms of how I show up on social media…I show highs and lows of how business works, I’m here to say that being sustainable is not easy but it can be done if everybody makes small changes.’’
Business ethics and an environmentally conscious code are seldom spoken in the same sentence. Sophie agrees, ‘’I am breaking a lot of rules actually. I refuse to believe that business can’t be done with a moral conscience code and I’m not adhering to many traditions that new start-up businesses are doing… I don’t want to be an ‘entrepreneur’, a ‘leader’ or a ‘boss’ and I certainly don’t want to start a sustainable company and not stick to it the best I can.’’
Miss Rae, like everybody, had her doubts initially but was delighted to have her faith restored with time. She says, ”It was only when we opened the doors and the people came flooding in, I realised that people were really supportive. I’m inspired by the people coming through the door every day, they really inspire me to turn up every day, and to make the shop better.’’
Expansion is another vital element for growing a business and reaching out to more people. Sophie has a slightly different take on this,’’ I don’t have any plans right now to expand Ripple. I’d first like to make this one sustainable. I’d like to increase the offering, in terms of what product I can actually offer in here,’’ there’s plenty to keep her busy in the shop, ‘’we’ll be bringing in cooking oils, vinegars, lots more cleaning products, you can see some fresh sections, with some milk and yoghurts and locally made ‘kombucha’,’’ she tells joyfully.
Her journey to success has positively reinforced her motivation, ‘’It’s certainly reassuring to know that the shop has had very good first few weeks,’’ she rejoices. ‘’We certainly hit every target that we made for ourselves and gone above them. That means I can expand the impact quicker…Now is the challenge is to sustain it, as it grows, so that every customer has the same experience and can see how easy and cost-effective it is to shop here.‘’
To conclude, I asked her what is her message to the youth, who wish to act up and be the change they wish to see? Sophie reckons, ‘’Ask better questions, do your research, find out where your food, clothes, beauty products, homeware come from, what effort and energy have gone into making it, is it a sustainable source?’’
‘’Look around places in your city and in the community…and seriously start thinking about will they survive and thrive if you continue to live the way you do?’’, she questions.
One could feel that they are the odd one right now, but in years to come, they’ll be seen as the ones brave enough to make the change. She encourages everybody not to think about other’s opinions, and also remember, ‘’to make a positive change, you’ll always need to be courageous enough to step into it. So be brave!’’