How zero waste shops work: a beginner’s guide

You may have heard the phrase ‘zero waste’ more of late.

Up and down the UK, consumers are seeking more eco-friendly ways to restock their everyday essentials – and this is where zero waste shops come in.

The zero waste lifestyle

Leading a zero waste lifestyle involves cutting down on the amount of waste you produce. For many, that includes eliminating unnecessary packaging, especially when it comes to food and everyday essentials.

Switching to eco-friendly alternatives such as reusing glass jars and avoiding plastic-covered fruit and vegetables is integral to a zero waste lifestyle.

Each year, the UK generates more than two million metric tons of plastic packaging waste, while the amount of food waste the UK produces is worth around £19 billion a year. By only shopping for what you need and bringing your own containers, zero waste shops help cut down these shocking figures.

What is a zero waste shop?

Most zero waste shops operate in a similar manner. Usually, the store will have a range of loose produce for sale, allowing customers to bring in their own containers and fill them up with the desired amount.

Customers are then charged by the weight of the item, meaning they can purchase as much or as little as they wish.

Most zero waste shops stock everyday items such as rice, pasta, pulses, nuts, and spice. Some will also offer non-food zero waste alternatives, such as refillable washing-up liquid, haircare, laundry detergent, and soap.

You may also find loose tea, oils, sauces, and refillable vegan milk options. As demand for the market grows, zero-waste shops are constantly adding more products to their shelves, so be sure to regularly check your local for new items.

How do zero waste shops work?

Before visiting a zero waste shop, remember to bring your own container. This can be a jar, Tupperware, or even a robust bag – whatever is most suitable for holding your items.

Most products in a zero waste shop are charged by weight, usually per gram or kilo.

You’ll start by calculating the weight of your container so it can be removed from the final cost. All zero waste shops will have at least one scale for customers to operate. A label may also be printed – attach it to your container before filling it up.

Fill your container with the desired amount. One advantage of zero waste shops is that you can tailor your purchase to your particular needs, which is perfect for smaller households.

Take the filled container back to the scales and calculator and find out the new weight. This, minus the weight of your empty container, is what you’ll pay for.

Most zero waste shops operate in this way, however, be sure to ask about the process when you arrive before starting your shopping.

Zero waste shops near me

You’ll find a zero waste shop in most areas of the country nowadays, including many in the Leeds and wider Yorkshire region. Supporting these independent businesses is a fantastic way to cut down on your plastic waste and do your bit for the planet.

ecoTopia has two Leeds-based physical stores as well as an online shop, offering nationwide delivery. The Central Arcade shop is also part of the TerraCycle scheme, collecting hard-to-recycle items such as toothbrushes, biscuit wrappers, and crisp packets, which wouldn’t be accepted in your curbside wheelie bins.

The Refill Jar is another online zero waste shop and physical store based in the heart of East Yorkshire. As well as refillable food items, the shop also offers a number of baby products and personal care items, which are all eco-friendly and sustainable.

Serving the area of Doncaster and surrounding areas is Artisan & Eco, a zero waste shop that stocks a range of pulses, pasta, oils, cleaning products, and more. The shop also sells handy ‘ready to go refills’, including a bread mix, gingerbread mix, and a zero waste basics box.

Other local zero waste shops include:

Online zero waste shops

If you want to try the zero waste lifestyle but don’t have a shop nearby, online zero waste shops could be the answer.

EcoRefill sticks to the zero waste pledge by delivering all items in plastic-free, reusable, and recyclable packaging. The company also offers free returns for all packaging, so no waste ends up going to landfill.

For a sustainable food delivery that will help your home compost, Zero Waste Bulk Foods are another online choice. The company delivers items in biodegradable packaging made from cellulose and derived from renewable wood pulp. The USP is that, unlike some compostable plant bags, these are safe to compost at home. They are also approved for anaerobic digestion and marine biodegradation.


Find out how Forge Recycling can recycle your food waste, reducing your business carbon footprint by cutting the amount of methane and toxic leachate entering the environment.

Five eco-friendly Christmas cracker alternatives this festive season

Wearing your paper hat and sharing a festive-themed joke is a classic pastime around many a Christmas dinner table. Despite concerns around their impact on the environment, here in the UK, we pull over 154 million Christmas crackers each year, proving that the snap of the season is here to stay.

Yet there are ways to ensure our Christmas crackers are more eco-friendly. Recyclable and plastic-free crackers are now easy to find in stores and online, while many people have even taken to making their own eco-friendly Christmas crackers.

Take a look at Forge Recycling’s favourite eco alternatives to Christmas crackers for you to enjoy this merry season.

Shocking Christmas cracker facts

Like many of our modern-day Christmas traditions, the pulling of Christmas crackers dates back to the Victorian period. Developed in the 1850s by London confectioner Tom Smith, the original crackers contained sugared almonds and a simple love poem or motto.

In the years that followed, Smith’s sons developed the ever-popular crackers to include the iconic paper hat and eventually also replaced the poetry with jokes or limericks.

Nowadays, we find all sorts of novelty toys and games inside our Christmas crackers. Unfortunately, many of these – as well the cracker casing itself – are bad for the environment.

It’s estimated that around 40 million crackers are thrown away every Christmas. The cheap and flimsy plastic contents often played with for mere minutes, are unrecyclable and end up in landfill.

Crackers covered in glitter or lots of embellishments also can’t be recycled at home, while the ribbons, which typically adorn the two ends of the crackers, also cannot be put in your recycling bin.

To top it all off, the plastic packaging we see on many Christmas crackers again often ends up in landfill, unable to be recycled. All these elements combined makes for an incredibly wasteful tradition.

Eco-friendly Christmas crackers

There are ways to still enjoy a sustainable Christmas ‘bang’ while also considering your environmental impact.

Many large retailers have pledged to reduce or even completely eradicate plastic toys inside their Christmas crackers, including built-to-last toys and recyclable packaging too.

Reusable Christmas crackers

One of the biggest criticisms of Christmas crackers is that they aren’t reusable and, even if recyclable, aren’t zero-waste.

These fabric-covered crackers by Kate Sproston Design are therefore a great and stylish alternative. They have a durable cardboard inner tube made from recycled materials and the choice of either ivory cotton or natural linen embossed with a Scandi-inspired Christmas image.

They arrive empty so you can easily fill them with your own eco-friendly treats that your family is sure to use and love.

Plastic-free Christmas crackers

Reduce the amount of Christmas cracker toys and packaging that end up in landfill this year, with these fun festive crackers from Nancy and Betty.

All Nancy and Betty crackers are handmade in England and are completely recyclable with plastic-free gifts. One tree is also planted for each box of crackers purchased.

Pick from colourful designs including Rudolph and Father Christmas motifs, or go for something classic such as gingham or Victorian-inspired print.

High-street stationary store Paperchase is also offering an FSC approved Christmas cracker, again with no plastic contents. Instead, you’ll find a joke, hat, and a festive trivia card inside your eco-friendly Christmas cracker to share with your Christmas dinner table.

Luxury eco-friendly Christmas crackers

Going green doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality. Cox & Cox is famed for its luxury Christmas crackers, all handmade in the UK with some brilliant environmentally friendly attributes.

The paper is sustainably sourced and printed with vegetable-based inks. While the bows on the cracker aren’t recyclable, the premium quality means they are great to reuse for present wrapping, or arts and crafts. All cracker contents are also plastic-free, meaning you’ll be well on your way to a recyclable Christmas.

Plantable Christmas crackers

Give back to the environment in a more literal way this Christmas and replant your crackers.

These plastic-free Christmas crackers from Ecovibe contain a packet of seeds instead of a plastic toy, which you can plant in your garden. With a variety of flowers and herbs included, you’ll have great fun swapping seeds with your loved ones.

The Christmas crackers are also biodegradable meaning they are completely zero waste and feature a traditional festive design.

Make your own eco Christmas crackers

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Get crafty this Christmas and create your very own eco-friendly Christmas crackers out of these household materials.

Homemade Christmas crackers are incredibly easy to make – you just need toilet rolls, decorative paper (you can use newspaper, comic books, even wrapping paper), thin card, and some string or ribbon – add some cracker snaps for a true cracker experience too.

Of course, Christmas crackers don’t have to be actual crackers. How about replacing them with homemade festive biscuits, Christmas envelopes filled with small jokes or gifts, or even a matchbox with a special Christmas surprise inside. These all make fantastic place settings for your Christmas dinner table that are sure to catch your guests’ attention.

Opted for an eco-friendly advent calendar this year? Those fill-your-own burlap sacks can be repurposed as stylish Christmas crackers. Write your own jokes or facts, pop in a sweet treat or plastic-free gift, and use them to decorate your festive table for your family and friends.

Reduce food waste in your restaurant or café in just 10 easy steps

WRAP estimated that the UK created around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste in 2018, with 70 per cent of that total intended to be consumed by humans. This total doesn’t include the waste redistributed as animal feed or via charity and commercial routes.

While the 2018 figure was down from 10 million tonnes in 2015, I think we can all agree that action urgently needs to be taken to dramatically reduce the volume of food waste being created in this country.

Hospitality and food service contribute 12 per cent of the country’s total food wastage, which costs the sector approximately £682 million annually.

This blog post will explore why food waste in restaurants and cafes needs to be reduced and how that can be achieved.

Continue reading Reduce food waste in your restaurant or café in just 10 easy steps

The ultimate guide to eco-friendly gift giving

Eco-friendly gifts are not just for Christmas. We give each other presents all year round for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and many more celebrations.

By choosing sustainable gifts and eco-friendly wrapping paper, you can make sure the presents you give your friends and family don’t have an adverse impact on the environment.

Here’s our ultimate guide to the best eco-friendly gifts for different occasions throughout the year and how you can give them in a more environmentally friendly way.

Continue reading The ultimate guide to eco-friendly gift giving

How to be a zero waste festival goer

As the UK continues to emerge from the most severe phase of COVID-19 restrictions cautiously, it looks like festivals are back on the menu, along with other crowded events like full-capacity sporting fixtures, cinema and theatre.

But with large crowds comes lots of litter. Waste is an unfortunate inevitability of all major events.

Festival waste management is a particular challenge as there are often relatively few places to dispose of litter while the event is going on.

For a truly sustainable festival, you want to leave no waste behind.

This article will look at ways to host and attend a zero-waste festival, including how organisers can cope with waste clearance and how individuals can reduce the amount of rubbish they generate.

Continue reading How to be a zero waste festival goer

10 eco-friendly balloon alternatives

Helium balloons are a lot of fun, whether they’re bobbing on the end of a piece of string tied to a child’s wrist, or turning people’s voices squeaky at a grown-up party.

But balloons can be harmful to the environment and helium is a very, very limited resource – and we can’t make more of it.

If you’re concerned about protecting the environment, helium balloons are a definite no-no. In this article we’ll take a look at why, and list some of the environmentally friendly alternatives to balloon release and helium balloon decorations for your next party.

Continue reading 10 eco-friendly balloon alternatives

Zero waste makeup: A beginner’s guide

Makeup is something that many of us use, often on a daily basis. Although sometimes we weigh up whether the cost is too expensive for certain products, we need to start understanding the environmental cost that makeup is having on the world.

Cosmetic packaging can take hundreds of years to break down in landfill, which puts many aspects of nature at risk.

This article will delve into the impact cosmetic products have on the environment and how to switch to zero waste makeup.

Continue reading Zero waste makeup: A beginner’s guide

Why food waste should be prevented

Food waste is a huge ongoing global problem that is not discussed often enough in the media. Not only can food waste end up costing you more money, but it can also negatively impact the environment in several ways.

Whether you’ve bought too much from the supermarket, have eyes bigger than your belly when you cook, or have products in your fridge and cupboards that have gone out of date — all that food ends up being wasted.

Likewise, if you run a kitchen in a café or restaurant.

Keep reading for more information on why food waste should be prevented and the ways you can battle the waste.

Continue reading Why food waste should be prevented