Meet Charrli - the Islington start-up facilitating zero-waste shopping

Monica (left) and Chloe are looking to make a difference in Islington

Monica (left) and Chloe are looking to make a difference in Islington - Credit: Charrli

We are all familiar with persistent climate anxiety. There is the pang of guilt felt when unwrapping food from its plastic packaging because you did not have time to go to the zero-waste shop after work.

And who hasn’t felt the frustrating awareness that even when you do force your housemates to recycle every possible pot and jar, not all of it actually gets reused in the end.

Two Islington locals, Chloe Cronyn and Monica Kras, decided to act on this by establishing a start-up that organises delivery and washing for zero-waste shops to make it easier for people to cut down their plastic waste. What resulted was Charrli - i.e., Circular homes are refilling, reusing, love it. 

Chloe and Monica met at university in their home-country Canada in 2005. Having always wanted to live in London, they then moved to Islington in their 20s. 

“The culture and history is amazing here,” said Chloe, 35. “But we were both so frustrated with the amount that people throw out - we use 400kg of waste per person each year in the UK. Recycling is really ingrained in Canada. Packaging is separated and we didn’t have produce wrapped in plastic. Routines in the UK have so much plastic - it feels literally never-ending.”

“I used to work in advertising, but I had such eco anxiety that I had to do something about it,” Chloe added. 

For Monica, 34, a background in finance inspired an entrepreneurial curiosity. “I would always look at how small businesses started and what skill sets you needed to start them,” she said. 

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Their idea of starting a delivery business for zero-waste shops was sparked by the repurposing of glass milk bottles by milkmen who collect and wash the empty bottles for customers - “we thought we could do that for everyday items and not just milk!” said Monica.

“There is a lot of green-washing happening in the food industry with “flexible” packaging that is often actually non-recyclable. It’s better to refill and reuse packaging,” added Chloe.

Though COVID hampered their plans, they finally managed to launch the Charrli website in May 2020 starting in Islington and Dalston with Re-store in Hackney Downs as the first partner zero-waste shop.

"You come to a startup thinking you can do everything and you do need that naivety to do it,” said Chloe. “It’s a challenge, but that’s nice because not every day is the same.”

“It takes a lot of perseverance and courage because things go wrong all the time. It took a long time, blood, sweat and tears to get to the launch date. But if you believe in something, go for it!” added Monica.

Initially they did everything themselves, but they then worked to create a returnable packaging scheme instead. Now Charrli sends the orders, the shops deliver them by bike and pick up the packaging and then Charrli does the washing and distribution. 

Since launching, their company has grown to nine employees and six shops covering most of London. Following their recent re-launch they are hoping to add a new partner shop every ten days so that by the end of 2021 there will be 15 shops on the platform and they then want to expand across the UK and into an app, which will be available by next summer.

Charrli also now provides a £10-a-year pantry pot scheme so zero-waste shop users do not need to provide their own packaging and containers.

Chloe doing deliveries in the early days of the business

Chloe doing deliveries in the early days of the business - Credit: Monica Kras

When thinking about what they could have done differently, both founders focused on the technology side of the business: “We’re from a non-tech background and asking the right questions was the biggest challenge,” said Monica. 

“It would have been good to have someone with tech experience strategically placed in the company from the beginning - we could have saved a lot of money and it would have been a faster process. But it’s all about learning!”

Asked about their proudest moments, Monica focused on the launch and the satisfaction at the execution of an idea, while Chloe said: “Seeing people change their behaviour is amazing because that’s the hardest part - even die-hard eco people can get super busy, so it’s great to provide them with this convenience of helping them be more zero-waste!”

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