An Interview With Juniper – A Rural Zero Waste Community Project

Inspired by the Zero Waste Week campaign in September, Sally Paynter from Beyond Green interviewed Carina Birrell from the Juniper eco shop in Newburgh to get their thoughts on Zero Waste progress in Scotland. 

Beyond Green is excited to support small businesses that foster sustainability in communities and highlight the work that they are doing. In this interview, we will find out more about this inspiring project that aims to strengthen their local community and bring Zero Waste awareness and ethical shopping to a small rural town in Fife.

Photo of the Juniper team - four smiling women in silly Christmas jumpers in front of a brightly lit and decorated shop window.

Can you describe the work you do in a few sentences?

We provide refills for non-consumables for the household such as toiletries and cleaning products, that are as ethical and natural as possible, as well as environmentally friendly. We also sell locally made gifts and household products from local makers and small businesses in Fife and Perthshire.”

Why did you get into this type of work?

“Some local women in the area came together during covid with a shared interest in creating a shop like Juniper to provide refills and eco products within our community. The premise on Newburgh High street owned by local woman Ruth Reid, who also runs craft shop Minerva Blue, was perfect as a prospect for the shop so Carina and Hanah joined her to form a collective and create a community space which could provide the rural area they live in with access to refill products and locally made gifts. They wanted to provide the local community with the chance to make sustainable purchase choices. This also felt like something that could strengthen the community and bring people together as there isn’t anything else like it available without having to drive to large towns and cities.”

What is the biggest challenge you see for people reducing waste?

“Convenience seems to be one of the biggest barriers to reducing waste. Also mindset plays a part. Some people believe eco products aren’t as effective or are more expensive. We test all the products we sell to make sure they are high quality. People need to develop new habits which will take time as ultimately a cultural shift is needed. Hopefully our customers will realise that visiting the shop to do their refills is just as convenient and a lot more sustainable than using their cars to travel to bigger shops or continuously buying single use plastic products for their household.

Photo of the inside of the Juniper store; the store looks cozy and welcoming, with warm natural colours. There are displays of postcards and household essentials like cleaning materials.

Juniper ensures the ethical and sustainable rating of the products that they stock by using the ‘Ethical Consumer Guide’ for trustworthy guidance and information as a buying resource. We asked the local community when starting out, what kind of products they would like to have access to in Juniper and were told that tea and coffee refills would be useful as well as many of the household products we now stock. We also put in a tea and coffee machine as well and a table for customers to be able to sit and have a warm cuppa and use the store as a meeting place. The shop is also popular with children who like to bring their own reusable containers to buy chocolate raisins or other treats by weight, making the Zero Waste experience something fun to look forward to, as well as educational.

What are some of the challenges you are facing as a business?

“We have great regular customers who love supporting the store and coming in for their eco-friendly purchases. The biggest challenge of course is covering costs. Income from the project goes back into purchasing stock and the staff are a team of wonderful local volunteers who are passionate about the ethos of Juniper and creating a Zero Waste initiative in their small rural community. We expect to have a good period in the run up to Christmas with gift purchases and locals coming in for gift vouchers/locally made goodies for stocking fillers and festive cards and decorations. January and February are likely to be quieter and therefore present challenges for small businesses and local shops like us especially with the cost of living crisis. Juniper has a fantastic team of volunteers keeping us running and we could look into the possibility of applying for community interest funding as a way of moving the project forward, as well as potentially holding events or educational chats around Zero Waste and sustainability in store. “

How do you feel about Zero Waste week?

“We were aware that it was Zero Waste week but we are also limited in the time that we can put into social media at the moment as everybody involved in running the shop also has other work and family commitments. We do our best wherever we can when possible. Perhaps we might look into seeking a social media volunteer to help out with our communications as it can be such a useful platform for small shops like us.”

We are a planet conscious small business trying to change the world, one refill at a time!

How do you feel about sustainability in Scotland?

People can only do the best with the information that they have available. Maybe there is not enough awareness yet, and we could do better in many ways with regards to sustainability in Scotland, however it starts with awareness and recognition of the bigger picture. There is a lot of greenwashing especially in large organizations who want to be seen to be being sustainable, and whilst it may be well intended, there are many layers to sustainability and this can be confusing for consumers. It can sometimes be misleading with lack of transparency in packaging and product messages, which is why Juniper can help by doing that investigative work ourselves to make sure everything we sell is as ethical, sustainable and as transparent as possible about where it comes from.”

Where can people find out more about you?

“You can find out more about the shop on the Juniper Newburgh Facebook page or on instagram at @juniper_newburgh.

The team at Juniper consists of the founders ; Ruth Reid, Carina Birrell and Hanna Gell. With support from the wonderful volunteers; Elle Moss, Christina Branton, Jeanie Hill, Lynsey Scotland, Claudia Fleck and Melanie Garland.”

It is clear that like for many small businesses and community organisations in the current economic climate, there are many challenges to survival for the store. We really love the positive energy that you feel when you walk into Juniper, not to mention the delightful aromas from all the essential oils and fragrant products. The passion and hopefulness about creating a better world is tangible and the spark for creating something new and progressive such as a Zero Waste store in a traditional rural setting comes directly from the collective of women who created it and who volunteer their time and energy to the project. 

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Juniper, why not give them a follow – or search for local refillery services in your area to support.