Local Heroes is a series where we big up the people, small businesses and neighbourhood spots that make London great, and next up is charrli, a zero waste grocery delivery service that aims to make shopping sustainably easy and convenient. The business was founded by Chloe Cronyn and Monica Grundy, two Canadians who moved to London and were shocked by the amount of plastic in shops here and the differences in recycling practices. “Recycling techniques are ingrained in us from an early age. We were trained to first wash your plastics, then separate the plastics, from cardboard and paper, & glass and lastly compost. It is definitely a religion in Canada, if you don’t do it, you’re scolded by your neighbours!” say the women. “Coming here there was a culture shock, especially seeing the amount of plastics in grocery stores and products individually wrapped for just one portion. It was distressing to see.”
Confronting the “piles and piles of packaging waste, from tetra packs to plastic wrappers and a million shampoo and body wash bottles” and the recycling habits of their partners (or lack thereof) pushed the pair into action and they set up charrli, where you can shop everything from peanut butter to vinegar to body wash, which gets sent in returnable, refillable packaging via fuel free delivery. As well as using as much sustainable and reusable packaging as possible, there’s also a focus on natural, vegan, cruelty-free products and working with local stores who stock brands that share those values.
“We’ll also be adding many more independent food shops from the high street that share similar ethos and embrace ethical, regenerative practices,” say Chloe and Monica, who are aiming to bring on more shops, hitting about 40-50 stores by the end of 2022, and expanding the reach across London and beyond. Encouraging more retailers to get on board with more sustainable practices is a big part of charrli’s mission and something that the women believe is key to making a real difference to the issue of waste, “we think there’s a long way to go and grocery stores should really lead the charge here. We are seeing some positive steps and pilot programs but it’s only in select stores, it’s not going to make much of a dent when less than 1% of your retail portfolio is taking part.”
When it comes to getting consumers involved, convenience is key, which is why the pair went down the delivery route rather than opening a bricks and mortar shop. “We both lead busy lives, and didn’t always have time to go down to our favourite refill store and stock up, let alone remember to bring a container to fill up. And then the daunting task of lugging things back on the tube. So we took the hassle out of it all, and thought we’d bring it to people’s doorsteps ourselves,” they explain.
If convenience is central to getting more people to take up sustainable habits, going slow is the way to make them stick. Instead of trying to implement loads of different practices at once, Chloe and Monica say it’s best to be specific on hows and whens because “you’ll start becoming a lot more conscious on your buying decision and notice the places you can really cut back. You can start one room at a time or product at a time. Maybe its that pesky Fairy Liquid – time to change a refillable one or switch to a brand that comes in a sachet and you only add water. Maybe its switching to a plant based milk which saves on emissions. It’s the small changes that make the difference. And when you get used to one good habit, stack on another. Here’s a start, ‘I’m going to shop sustainably with charrli, and order every Monday night at 9pm in the kitchen.'”
When charrli first launched, Chloe and Monica were doing the doorstep drops themselves, biking around East London all day long and in all weather. “When we dropped off an order we would collect empties at the same time so our customers would get into a routine of leaving their empties out on delivery day. Washing and refilling bottles is so satisfying because you know nothing is going into landfill during the process,” they say. Seeing those empties get left out was confirmation that they were onto something and that they had people along for the ride, “we’d have a BOOB dance – that’s Bins Out Of Business. It’s really exciting to see and build something with purpose that we hope will benefit a lot of people.”
As they’re in the zero waste game themselves, it’s not surprising that Chloe and Monica have come across a lot of other sustainable brands that they love, like “what Dabba Drop is doing with returnable Indian takeaways – they are just delicious. Fill is always top of our minds as they were one of the first to introduce refillable drums of cleaning and household products”, and of course, the zero waste partners they work with, like “Re:Store, BYO, Jarr and Greener Habits, they are the local champions empowering the zero waste movement.”