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The ZERO WASTE refill store that floats to your door – interview with Ella Shone, Founder of TOPUP TRUCK

Close your eyes and imagine a mobile zero waste shop that comes to your door to make package-free shopping as easy, convenient and affordable as possible. Would it be just amazing? Well, Ella made this vision a reality when she created the TOPUP TRUCK, that quickly conquered the streets of Hackney – and we can not be more grateful and excited for her! From laundry liquid to vegan pick ‘n’ mix, her range of ethically sourced and organic products has been specially selected to help you convert your pantry from plastic hell to minimal sustainable perfection.

A mobile Zero Waste shop that comes to your door is now a reality – and we want to give you all the deets. We talked to the lovely Ella Shone, Founder of TOPUP TRUCK.

ZWG: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. When did you start connecting with the zero waste idea/mindset? 

Ella: It has been gradual – I have shopped second-hand where possible since I was a teenager, and have been refilling bathroom stuff for a few years… when I started working for Rubies in the Rubble in 2018 (if you don’t know them they make delicious condiments from surplus produce) it really kickstarted my thinking of all the different ways in which we can reduce waste and be more resourceful – personally and in industry. I started thinking about packaging waste up and down the supply chain and I recall subconsciously dreaming up closed loop systems while in the shower or walking down the street.

ZWG: How did you come up with the idea of the TOPUP TRUCK? 

Ella: I was on furlough leave – as my job at Rubies involved selling into the now struggling restaurant trade – and for the first time in my life, I had time to get creative… the risk of NOT putting my whacky ideas into action outweighed the risk of doing so. I had also been volunteering for Made in Hackney delivering meals to people who were shielding in the first lockdown and it had made me want to feel better connected to my local community. I had witnessed consumer habits changing, wholesalers pivoting to B2C….and all these bits came together to form TOPUP TRUCK. 

ZWG: Who are your suppliers?

Ella: The basics are from ethical wholesalers such as Suma and Essential. We also work with UK growers Hodmedod’s, Mission Coffee (based in Clapton), Nibs Etc (Borough Market), Greener Habits (Walthamstow), the household products are from Fill and Sesi and the Bathroom products are from Cole & Co (Too many amazing sustainable suppliers to list them all!) All of these come through Re:Store whom we are in partnership with. We also stock Rubies in the Rubble of course… and Washed up Cards which are cute cards made from debris found on beach cleans.

ZWG: What are your biggest challenges at the moment?

Ella: The biggest challenge has been adapting to the lockdown restrictions. Pivoting, pivoting back again, and then pivoting back again. We had to create a whole new ordering system in order to be allowed to continue operating and start prepacking all the dried goods into brown paper bags which has been a huge operational shift and has involved dragging the customers through lots of change but I am grateful that we can still trade and still help people reduce their plastic waste.

ZWG: What do you enjoy the most about what you do with the TOPUP TRUCK? 

Ella: So many things… knowing how much plastic we have saved (9669 pieces to date!!), getting to now people across the local community, meeting other likeminded businesses, seeing people’s faces light up when they see the milk float.

ZWG: What do you think the biggest difficulties are in a “zero waste life” at the moment?

Ella: I am quite far into my zero-waste journey but by no means totally plastic-free or zero-waste. I obviously find it very easy to go zero-waste on cupboard staples; bathroom; household products (from TOPUP TRUCK or Re:Store) plus we get an OddBox hence are reducing food waste as well as limiting the amount of excess packaging, but protein packaging is where I fall down… tofu, cheese; yoghurt 😬. Generally speaking, going zero waste requires a bit more thought and planning which takes time to get into a rhythm of. There are overpackaged and over-processed convenience foods tempting people everywhere, and people are too overloaded with work, pressure and information to think about these things much of the time. That’s why TOPUP TRUCK exists – to make it easier for more people to get on board.
Once people get in the groove there are so many benefits to going zero-waste beyond stopping choking our oceans with plastic. There is a great aesthetic to the zero-waste lifestyle – less clutter in the bathroom, minimalist organised cupboards… plus cooking large batches of delicious food from primarily vegetables; grains and pulses instead of buying pre-packed meals are so much better for the planet; so much healthier; more satisfying and not to mention incredibly cheap!

ZWG: Which London areas are your services available?

Ella: We do most of Hackney, plus we have just enlarged our catchment a little bit to the North West after we conducted a survey last year and found a lot of demand in the N15, N4 and N5 areas.

You can book the TOPUP TRUCK here.

Photo and Video credit: Fearghal Corbett @keengreen

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