Sustainable Food: It’s the Weigh to Go!
By Sarah Briggs, Sustainability Project Officer, Keele University
Introducing Weigh to Go – a zero waste shop located at Keele Students’ Union, on Keele University campus. Offering dried goods that are plastic free at the point of purchase, Weigh to Go enables students, staff, residents on campus and members of the local community to access sustainable food whilst also supporting a student-led enterprise.
Born from the Keele Food Coop – a fruit and veg bag scheme that launched on campus to provide seasonal, organic and locally sourced fruit and veg to students at affordable prices – Weigh to Go shows what can be achieved when students dream big and don’t give up on their ideas to make change happen. When students wanted to expand the food coop to supply dried goods, they secured funding through SOS-UK and their Student Eats enterprise programme, and the path to creating Weigh to Go was embarked upon.
After some initial challenges to locate suitable storage space for the dried goods and seeing students who’d been leading the project graduating, an opportunity for collaboration with KeeleSU was identified. Times of change can often present ideal opportunities to incorporate sustainability, and a change in the stock and layout of the KeeleSU shop offered just this for our students. Working with the SU Shop team and Commercial Manager, a bid to the Keele Key Fund – funding from Keele alumni – was secured and with the addition of this to the Student Eats funding, it enabled a more ambitious and exciting project to be realised. Rather than utilising a cupboard and offering goods for sale once a week as previously envisaged, this new vision for the zero waste shop would mean dried goods would be available 7 days a week whenever the SU shop was open. Students, the Students’ Union, the university sustainability team, alumni, and SOS-UK's Student Eats all came together in support of the project, and Weigh to Go was born.
Weigh to Go launched with gravity feeders and jars with scoops offering a wide range of goods from pasta and rice to grains, herbs and spices, dried fruit and nuts. Popcorn and nutritional yeast turned out to be extremely popular, regularly selling out. The collaboration with KeeleSU enabled a wider range of products to be stocked too, meaning a greater proportion of students’ needs were able to be met on campus – all plastic free! These include toiletries such as shampoo and shower gel, washing liquid and sustainable products like toilet paper and bamboo toothbrushes.
As sustainability issues do not exist in isolation and the potential of initiatives like Weigh to Go are realised through seeing their connection to other projects and work to embed sustainable practices, the shop has been linked to a wide range of other food and education initiatives for sustainability events and activities. In addition, the enterprise is offering students leading and supporting the shop experiential learning opportunities. Links to modules have been made to both promote the shop and enable students to apply their learning from degree programmes to the shop. Student dissertations have explored ethical consumption whilst Greening Business group projects have researched how to reach a broader customer base for the shop.
Links beyond the shop as an isolated project have also included other sustainable-food related projects, including supplying ‘Drink, Rinse, Repeat’ branded reusable cups, and subsequently the ‘Eat, Rinse, Repeat’ boxes which were launched as a pilot with Friends of the Earth to reduce single-use packaging on campus. Further funding from SOS-UK's Student Eats enterprise programme, together with levies from the single-use packaging scheme, funded new scales and a milk dispenser providing a new avenue for alternative milks to be purchased alongside cereal and fruit or nut toppers. This enabled the promotion of healthy breakfasts to fuel students through lectures and learning.
Over the past few years, Weigh to Go has enabled students to experience how to create, set up and promote a plastic-free shop on campus. Students have built relationships with staff in the SU and the university through networking and understanding how to communicate with different stakeholders; they have built knowledge and skills through attending workshops and conferences; have developed a wide range of resources from recipe cards to social media assets and video content; have been supported to write funding bids to develop their vision and add to the legacy of previous students.
Our students have become inspirational leaders in creating a solution to a problem they saw, and have overcome challenges from reaching new customers, to a global pandemic preventing sales. They have developed resilience through being given a space to test out ideas, apply their knowledge, and if things do not go to plan, evaluate what they could change and try something new. That is the legacy of Weigh to Go – showing the next generation of students what they can achieve.
We are now moving toward a new academic year with another expansion to the shop to create a seating area making the SU shop into a sustainability hub and place to meet, once again supported by SOS-UK's Student Eats enterprise programme. We are excited to relaunch Weigh to Go for 2021-22 and welcome new students and customers to be part of creating the next chapter of the Weigh to Go story.