Local Heroes is a series where we big up the people, small businesses and neighbourhood spots that make London great, and next up is TOPUP TRUCK, a zero-waste delivery service running from an old milk float in North and East London. Founded by Ella Shone in lockdown whilst she was on furlough, TOPUP TRUCK is stocked with over 180 products including tea, coffee, pulses, toiletries, household goods, oils, spices, and more, all free of packaging, so you just fill up whatever containers you like with your goods and pay for them. They’ve also recently introduced their own returnable containers, which you pay a deposit for and then get the money back on their return. This enables you to get your goods without waiting in line when the truck pulls up, in fact, you don’t even have to be there at all as the team can leave your bits in a safe place for you.

Ella set up the business after “thinking for some time about ways to design waste out of the supply chain as I see plastic waste as a terrible design flaw. There is a lot of infrastructure and system-change needed to move to a circular economy but this seemed like a doable and logical place to start.” She operates from a truck to make it as easy as possible for people to shop plastic free by bringing the shop to them – shopping this way requires people to bring containers and jars with them, which can really add up in weight, so the shorter the distance between the shop and the customer’s house, the easier it is.

As Ella said, “I found that as a busy commuter (pre-pandemic), I wasn’t finding the time to get to one of the brilliant zero waste shops that we have in the area, so I thought more people would get on board if the shop were more visible and closer to their home.” You can either book TOPUP TRUCK to come to your area or you can see where the truck is scheduled to go and add your booking onto that, which has the added benefit of encouraging some neighboourly socialising at the same time.

Getting out and meeting people has been a particular joy for Ella, “Seeing people taking to the idea and making it part of their routine has been the most wonderful thing to see – especially how people have taken to the social aspect, getting their neighbours on board and then using the TOPUP TRUCK visit as an opportunity to meet and catch up with people on their street. Going into schools and talking to kids about plastic pollution and how we can prevent it has been another highlight.”

If you’re trying to be more sustainable and reduce the amount of plastic you use, refill shopping is one thing that’ll really make a difference, but Ella also has some other reccies. “If you are going to buy new stuff, ensure it is well-designed made from renewable materials, can be used over and over again and wherein the end of life of the product has been considered. Buying clothing second-hand through online resellers or charity shops is one of the best ways to start reducing textile and plastic waste,” she says. “Also, fruit and veg packaging from supermarkets is very wasteful and full of unrecyclable plastics so opting for farmer’s markets, local grocers, or veg-boxes such as Oddbox and Riverford helps reduce this. Generally just buying less stuff and using what you already have is the way to go!”

Talking of buying less stuff, Ella wants to shout out Library of Things, “an awesome organisation who facilitate borrowing over buying – apparently the average drill is used for somewhere between six and twenty minutes in its entire lifetime. Sharing helps reduce your consumption of pointless items, maximises the value of the item’s parts and raw materials over its lifetime and saves you money. They are opening more sites at the mo – defo one to check out!”