A desire to make a positive difference to the environment has led to two people with very different backgrounds going into business together and opening Watford’s first zero waste shop.

The Watford Observer is supporting Watford Borough Council’s ‘Shop Local’ campaign this Christmas by shining a spotlight on some of the independent shops and hospitality outlets in the area.

RefillAbell, in Haydon Road, Oxhey, is owned by Sameer Kassam, whose background is in archaeology and pharmacy, and Jane Hopkins, who had 40 years of nursing experience and was more recently a professional gardener.

Sameer said: “We aim to reduce single use plastics by allowing customers to bring their own containers in to fill up their essential household goods such as rice, pasta, laundry liquid, spices and much more. We source from ethical sources and use organic suppliers where possible. We provide glass jars and paper bags (food compostable) for those who haven’t brought any containers in to fill.”

Watford Observer:

The front of the shop in Haydon Road

RefillAbell is located where Abell Chemist was once situated. However, the premises became vacant and in need of transformation when the pharmacy became part of the new Bushey Medical Centre.

Explaining how the idea for the business came about, Sameer said: “Having grown up in Uganda and appreciating the beauty of nature, I have always wanted to do something that will benefit the environment. The single use plastic problem is becoming more and more apparent with nightmarish images of our oceans being polluted and the micro - plastics being present in pretty much everything.

“This had to change, and we believe change happens in your own home, so we wanted to provide an opportunity to make swaps and make a difference.

“I shared my dream of a zero waste shop with Jane, as we met through the first lockdown at the pharmacy, and we just so happen to share similar views and ultimately the same dream.”

Watford Observer:

Jane and Sameer opened the RefillAbell store in July

Jane said: “Having worked on an atoll called Kiribati, I’ve seen first hand the problem of rubbish that can’t be disposed of and rising sea levels on a landmass that reaches less than 1m high at its highest point.

“I’ve been very aware of the climate emergency and wanted to do something positive that would help the environment and have an impact on the local community.

“Owning an allotment has made me more aware of where food comes from and how valuable it is, and the importance of having a circular economy when sourcing food and not wasting food or anything for that matter.”

Sameer and Jane believe “a smile goes a long way” when dealing with customers and also keep as customer request book and will get a product if it is asked for several times.

Sameer said: “Our customer service is very important to us and this is certainly one of our unique attributes.

“As we have worked / lived in the area of Oxhey, our relation and trust with local residents has been steadily building and it is something we are very proud of and will continue to build upon.”

The business partners are ambitious and would like to expand their business and make a difference in more areas of the country.

Sameer said: “Over the next five years, if the opportunity arises, we would love to expand and open in other locations around the UK, as well as have an ecommerce site that is running sustainably and in a ‘green’ way.

“Over the next ten years, we would like to be a part of a wider group of zero waste shops to help one another and really make a difference to reduce single use plastics across the UK.”