Drifters and The Willow Basket Awarded for Fighting Plastic Waste

The first Henley-on-Thames Rotary Club ‘End Plastic Soup’ Awards were given this Saturday to Drifters Coffee House and The Willow Basket. The two independent businesses were recognised for the significant action they have taken to cut down on plastic waste, and were presented with a framed certificate and window sticker by Henley Rotary Club President Elect, Craig Wilson. Drifters have completely stopped offering disposable takeaway cups, instead replacing them with mugs, whilst The Willow Basket asks customers to bring in their own reusable containers to buy their goods.

Henley-on-Thames Rotary Club has become an active participant in the international Rotary’s End Plastic Soup campaign, designed to minimise plastic waste and prevent the pollution of the planet’s waterways. As part of the campaign, they have created an award to recognise the independent businesses who are doing their part to combat plastic pollution. Speaking about the first two businesses to receive the award, Jeremy Gaunt (Environment Committee for the Rotary Club) said, “The Willow Basket has a long history of avoiding waste by allowing people to come and buy things like cereals in paper bags or glass containers or reusable containers. Drifters have been very brave because they’re right next to a regular coffee shop, but they’ve got rid of take away coffee cups.”

The Willow Basket, in Friday Street, has been supplying Henley with waste-free grains, cereals, nuts, muesli, herbs and spices since 2017. On receiving her award, owner Jane Tutill said, “What an absolute privilege — I’m absolutely chuffed to bits with it. I think it’s going to raise awareness for everybody in Henley that we can all do our little bit. Any publicity is good publicity really, so it’s fantastic.” She continued, “Everybody gets so hung up on not doing enough, but if you just do a little bit, just one little thing can make a difference. If you add it all up together, collectively, as Henley, we can reduce our single use plastic.”

The Willow Basket is celebrating its fifth birthday this coming weekend (12/13 March), and will mark the occasion by giving free ice cream to the children who come in to the shop. She said, “It’s a way to say thank you because it’s wonderful that mums and dads bring them in when they come and get their jars filled, and then the children see that it doesn’t have to be like in a supermarket — everything just thrown in and not really thought about — that mum has remembered to bring a jar or a bag or whatever to fill it, and we can cut down on the use of single use plastic.”

Drifters Coffee House, in Duke St, ditched disposable cups last year, implementing a mug return scheme for customers who forget to bring their reusable takeaway cups. Millie Jeans, who co-owns the cafe with her fiancee, Talia Maguire, said about the award, “It’s exciting. It’s nice to feel recognised because we’ve put the planet before a lot of profit. It’s paid off because people are now getting to the point where they are buying reusables from us as well.”

Much like The Willow Basket, sustainability has been a priority for Drifters since they first opened in 2018, at which point they were using the company ‘Vegware’ for their takeaway cups. Despite promises of their cups being biodegradable, Millie explains that “it became apparent through lockdown that Vegware was an absolute sham. It’s not compostable unless you send it away, so literally 99% of their cups go to landfill and don’t biodegrade.” Instead, the team at Drifters decided to do away with disposable cups completely and started their mug scheme. Millie says, “It’s the future of takeaway. We kind of say to people, get used to it now. Without being too rude to them, if you haven’t got a reusable in 2022, then what are you doing? It sounds mean but it’s true.”

Millie and Talia hope that other coffee shops in town will follow suit and adopt the mug scheme. Reflecting on the Rotary Club award, Millie added, “It’s amazing to be compared to someone like Jane, because she works so hard. We’re proud to feel part of the community, and hope that other shops, independent or not, jump on the chance to give our younger community a fairer chance of a healthier future.”

Craig Wilson, President Elect of the Rotary Club Henley, said about the awards, “I think it will show people in the town that Rotary is trying to save us from using too much plastic. I think there’s a lot of organisations in the town that are really trying to work together now to improve the situation.” He continued, “This is just a small recognition that people can see when they go in and think, oh, what’s that about, and it just creates a starting point for conversation, and we’ll gradually spread the word throughout the town.”

Jeremy Gaunt noted that the Rotary Club are open to suggestions as to which businesses should be given an End Plastic Soup award. He said, “We would like people to nominate people who might fit this criteria, or indeed for companies to say, we’d like an award and this is what we’ve done. We will be giving out more, and will identify more people, but we’re open to people coming to us and being more proactive.”

If you can think of a local business deserving of recognition in their battle against plastic waste, email Rotary Club Henley’s secretary, Phil Fletcher: phil.fletcher@btinternet.com.