Reporter Tom Gillespie filling some loose tea into a jar in The Habit Store.

Refill Habit Store is cutting unnecessary plastic use in Mayo

By Tom Gillespie

WHAT started out as a market stall in Castlebar during Covid has now expanded into The Habit Store in the county town.

It is where customers can buy food, household products and toiletries by weight. All the products are dispensed into containers that customers bring from home.

And according to proprietor Rosie Joyce, from Keelogues, shopping this way means you only buy what you need so you save money, don't waste food, don't circulate more plastic in the community and support a local business.

Rosie lived in Australia for 10 years and in 2018 wanted to be closer to home and explore Europe so she moved to London.

She told me: “I was there for two years when lockdown happened. Life just happened that way and my partner Alex, from London, and I decided to come home for what we thought was just a few months.

“We had bought a camper van and we planned to travel around Ireland, have a nice few months and go back to London. However, things just happened so we decided to stay.”

She went on: “I am from a creative background. I worked as a photographer in Australia and London where I was the manager of photography studios.

“Covid gave me the time to recess and I decided I wanted a change in career. One of the biggest things that we missed here, as part of our lifestyle, was being able to shop package-free, which we were able to do easily in London.

“When we first moved back we packed our camper van full of dry food from our refill shop in London. We actually had enough to get us through the first few months. When that food ran out we went back to the PAX refill shop in Westport.

“But when we went into stricter lockdown we could not go past 5k and that was really where we started to miss having something on our doorstep where we were able to shop package-free. We were going to the supermarkets around Castlebar and really felt the plastic was accumulating.”

Rosie Joyce filling cleaning liquid into a bottle at the store.

Rosie continued: “When we decided we were going to stay in Mayo, and on many, many walks during lockdown, many ideas were thrown around as to what I would like to do and this was the one that I kept coming back to. It was the one I felt most passionate about and the one that just felt right for me.

“But the worry of setting up a business during Covid, now knowing that it would be something that would take off in Castlebar, was obviously the biggest risk factor.

“I did research and surveys and shared with friends and family and I got over 100 responses back from people saying ‘yes’ they were interested in shopping this way.

“We started in mid-January 2021 in the dark at seven o’clock in the morning, setting up at Market Square for our first day. We were there every Friday along with four other traders.”

People were in lockdown then, she said. Coming to the farmers market to get their local organic vegetables and shop with us was probably their only social outing they had all week.

“I would say it was the perfect timing as we were really able to develop a relationship with customers in a time where people just needed a connection and someone to talk to, while doing something that was really important as waste is a huge problem in the world but especially Ireland. We only recycle about 20 per cent of our plastic waste.”

The market stall went from strength to strength. They started with around 30 products and quickly went to 50 as people were asking for more.

Rosie admitted: “We started running out of table space. Our van was full as everything we buy is in bulk from which we decant things into smaller containers so that people are able to easily refill from them.

“We never dreamed we would have a shop within the first year. We saw the premises was to let. We walked in, saw the big windows, the high ceiling and the light coming in and went ‘wow, we love it’. We got the keys in July and we opened in September.

“Everything that we have now, up to 200 items, is the core things that you need to run your house and there is enough of a selection and variety for everyone to find a few things to refill.”

A selection of the items in The Habit Store.

Customers come in with their own containers, weigh them on the scales, write the weight of the jar empty, fill it and Rosie takes the weight of the jar off the purchase, so the customer literally pays only for exactly what they get.

Rosie stressed: “The big thing for us is eliminating unnecessary packaging. We are also allowing people to get only what they need, meaning they are saving money while also not wasting food.

“Our best sellers vary from week to week - things like porridge oats, washing-up liquid, hand-wash and laundry liquid.”

Looking to the future, she said: “We are really happy how it is going at the moment. Hopefully we can build and expand on more products and reduce packaging on even more things.

“We would love to reach more customers as there are a lot of people in Castlebar who don’t know we exist still.”

One of Rosie’s latest additions are free range eggs from organically fed chickens which are delivered every Thursday.

She concluded: “A lot of our products are organic, all the cleaning products are eco-friendly meaning that they are really safe for anyone with skin allergies, for children, for animals, and are safe for going back into the water system.

“We believe people are ready to shop a little differently and if we all just make small changes it will make a huge difference to the amount of plastic affecting our environment.”

The Habit Store is located at Unit 1 Newtown, Castlebar, beside The Olive Tree restaurant.

Their range of products includes spices, herbs, nuts, salt and pepper, dried fruits, snacks, baking, seeds, grains and cereals, pulses, pasta and rice, coffee, tea and drinks, oil, vinegar and syrup, chilled items, body and face, cleaning, body refills and planet friendly homewares.

Their opening hours are from Tuesday to Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. They are closed everyday for lunch from 2 to 2.30 p.m.