A Hackney-based mobile zero waste shop “TOPUP TRUCK”, made world news this week. Ali Clifford caught up with founder Ella Shone to find out more about this Mobile Zero Waste Shop Milk Float Delivery initiative.
How do we get more people to lead a sustainable lifestyle? The pandemic has brought about an increasing number of new eco initiatives.
Ella’s background is in food and sustainability (and prior that, marketing). And was working for Rubies in the Rubble* before setting up TOPUP TRUCK the mobile zero waste shop, during lockdown.
What is TOPUP TRUCK?
It is a mobile zero waste shop which enables you to do your refill shopping on your street. We aim to bring plastic free shopping to a wider audience.
How did you get the idea for TOPUP TRUCK?
When I was working in food previously, I started thinking about how much packaging waste is incurred up and down the supply chain and I was constantly having ideas for closed-loop systems. Then the pandemic hit and I was on furlough leave last year, I was volunteering for Made in Hackney** delivering meals to people who were shielding and that really made me want to feel better connected to my local community. As I was getting paid to not work, it made me get creative so all this came together to form TOPUP TRUCK.
How does it work?
Customers book a slot, tell their neighbours when and where the TOPUP TRUCK is coming to… and when the truck arrives, they file out onto the street and shop using their own containers.
Who are your customers typically?
People who actually book in the TOPUP TRUCK have usually shopped in a zero-waste shop before, but many of their neighbours who join the booking haven’t, so it does reach new audiences and it is always nice when people say they are new to it all as it’s working in driving awareness of plastic pollution and why we should lead a low waste lifestyle.
What are some of the most popular products you sell?
I sell a lot of household liquids – one of the main benefits of the mobile aspect is that people can stock up on all the heavy stuff without lugging a heavy load.
Where does the milk float come from?
The float is an old electric milk float. I bought it from an electric vehicle specialist in South East London – it used to be part of the Milk & More fleet. It was imperative that the TOPUP TRUCK Mobile Zero Waste Shop Milk Float Delivery be an electric vehicle because air pollution is both a huge health problem in London which disproportionately affects less affluent communities, as well as contributing to CO2 emissions. Re-use over buying new where possible is a core value of mine and of the business so it made sense to use an old repurposed float – plus it evokes a huge amount of nostalgia when people see it around the area.
Tell us what a typical week looks like for you.
I am on the road Friday to Sunday. Thursday is when the TOPUP TRUCK is TOPPED UP at Re:Store and Monday- Wednesday are for planning, admin, customer service, marketing and a bit of chilling (although it is quite hard to fit in any actual chilling as it is a LOT of work!)
How has Covid-19 impacted your Mobile Zero Waste Shop Milk Float Delivery business?
We have had to modify our model for lockdown and take preorders only – which means the dried foods are in brown paper bags. It has been a bit win some lose some: We have had more bookings but not so many people at each booking because many don’t like pre-ordering – although for customers who now pre-order, it has made a lot of them realise how many different products we stock which they didn’t know before so it isn’t all bad.
What would be your advice to budding sustainable entrepreneurs?
We need as much innovation as possible to tackle plastic pollution and the climate crisis and there is a sense of deep satisfaction that comes with aligning your purpose with your values.
What made you choose all the bright colours on the Mobile Zero Waste Milk Float branding?
People are drawn to bright colours (whether they like them or not) and one of the main goals of TOPUP TRUCK is to raise awareness. I wanted the truck to be eye-catching so that people take it in. I also want to extend the reach to new audiences so there is an element of wanting to take it into the mainstream as well.
What is the big vision?
The big dream is to play a part in creating a new circular economy where we design waste and pollution out of the supply chain. We are also forging a new social way of shopping and encouraging people to form local TOPUP TRUCK communities – so I would love to see these communities spreading further afield!
Do you know how much plastic you have saved so far with the Mobile Zero Waste Milk Float?
At the last calculation, we have saved over 12 thousand pieces of plastic from being used! To get this figure, we take how much of each product we have sold, divide it by the typical pack size for each product that would normally come in plastic and make necessary deductions for instances where our bulk pack is or contains plastic. We really hope we can continue to build this figure!
What is next in the pipeline?
We are launching a crowdfunder Tuesday (2nd March 2021) to raise what I believe or hope is a pretty humble £7k to transform the milk float into a ‘proper’ zero waste shop on wheels. I have been working with a fab local designer who has carefully designed a new setup using renewable materials and the crowdfunder will hopefully pay for this. If by some cosmic force we manage to exceed that target, then this will go towards our expansion so we can hopefully bring this to even more communities.
Be sure to follow TOPUP TRUCK here:
And to contribute to their crowdfunder click here:
Other zero emissions deliveries we’ve spotted this week:
intune drinks, deliveries via their own revamped milk truck.
Rubies in the Rubble: make condiments from surplus or out-graded fruit and veg.
Made in Hackney : 100% plant-powered charity & community cookery school
Also check out Polly, Jolly Allotment who is fundraising her Jolly Allotment Goodness Community Cafe and Education Hub
Gut friendly, Organic, Gluten Free, Sustainable Goodness For Wellness – Seasonal Food on the Move.
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