The JarTree: A zero-waste store arrives in Leeds!
Zero-waste shops have been popping up with increasing frequency all over the UK. The idea is that you can buy products package-free and you only have to buy what you need, therefore in theory nothing has to go to landfill! You simply bring your reusable container, such as a jar or tupperware, weigh out your products and pay. The JarTree is the first zero-waste shop to open in Leeds and we’re thrilled to finally have one in the city where Plastic-Free Me was conceived. The store is centrally located in the beautiful Kirkgate Market and stocks a huge range of plastic-free products including staple foods, washing powder, bathroom products and so much more (you can find a full product list here). We interviewed Aimee and Ian to find out more about them, the store and how their first few weeks of being open have been.
Tell us a bit about yourselves, who you are and what your motivation was to create a zero-waste shop?
My name is Aimee (ex-art student, likes cats), and along with my business partner Ian (awesome family guy, loves Disney), we opened Leeds’s first Zero-Waste shop The JarTree.
Last year I began trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle – for me, that meant buying only what I needed; second-hand wherever possible, growing my own food, re-using, recycling, repairing and of course reducing plastic wastage. I really struggled to get food plastic-free, just the basics like pasta were impossible. It’s really not a common way of shopping anymore; to just buy what you need package-free, if I wanted to use less plastic then I found I would have to buy products in massive bulk online. I both couldn’t afford that and had nowhere to put 25kg of rice in my house!
At the point I was trying to stuff a 20-litre jerry can of white vinegar into my cupboard, I thought: there must be an easier way to do this. After a bit of research online I found the concept of ‘zero-waste’ shops but was disappointed to find there wasn’t one anywhere remotely near me. Travelling from Leeds to Sheffield to refill a jar of rice is probably not sticking to the low impact lifestyle ethos.
I didn’t really like my job at the time, and I decided since Leeds didn’t have a zero-waste shop, then I’d just open one. I naïvely thought, well, how hard can it be? (note – turns out it’s harder than it looks). I just felt it was very much the right time for this, we’re at the beginning of a change in the way people buy & consume, and I definitely wanted to be a part of that.
I met Ian through one of the Yorkshire zero-waste Facebook groups, he also wanted to set up a zero-waste shop in the area and naturally we joined forces. As a dad, Ian has the challenge of raising his two little girls while practising sustainable living. He’s brought so much knowledge and practical experience to The JarTree, especially around child-friendly products, recipe ingredients and suggestions of old-school vegan classics such as ‘Sosmix’ (seriously, Ian is Sosmix’s greatest advocate, feel free to email him about it!)
People have been saying to us that, as the popularity of buying food with zero-packaging increases, supermarkets will eventually cotton on and start selling food package free/on a weight basis. Then there will be no need for little independent shops like ours.
Well…. good! I hope they do that, it will certainly make plastic-free more mainstream.
We believe in order for change to happen, people have to influence it. If supermarkets don’t see a demand for plastic-free foods, they won’t supply them. Hopefully if enough people shop this way then it will become normal and something that people expect the big chain shops to supply.
But until then, we’re here to help!
Have you noticed any products in particular that are popular or that people are asking more questions about?
Organic, vegan and gluten free foods are always central to a lot of conversations – people are becoming more aware of what their food contains and where it comes from. Because of this we’re learning a lot about our products just through the questions we get asked – for example the solid hot chocolate we stock *is* vegan, as cocoa ‘butter’ is made from coco bean fats, there’s a difference between ‘gluten free’ and ‘naturally gluten free’, and we now know how freeze-dried coffee is actually made. All things you pick up when talking about food all day!
The ‘basics’ food we stock is always popular – porridge oats, rice, lentils – we go through a lot of those. We were very pleased to be able to offer package-free instant noodle nests (particularly to the students of Leeds! Also, me, I was very excited about those). Our vegan hot chocolate is very popular, so are our vegan chocolate buttons for some reason….
My real passion is in the reusable homeware and personal care products! I scour lifestyle blogs, online ‘green’ shops, zero-waste groups and talk to friends & family about what they’re using, what they’d recommend, what’s on their reusable wish list? I love finding new stock lines to try, recommend and sell. I try to test everything, so when someone asks if I can recommend one of our steel canteens – I can say yes! Absolutely! I trust it so much I’ll even keep it full of water in the same bag as my laptop!
I like talking to people who are looking to swap out their plastic products, and demonstrating how to use our products, for example how to change the blade on a safety razor (I cut myself once while demonstrating this, much to my embarrassment) or how to use solid shampoo. We actually get quite a few older ladies in asking about reusable menstrual products for their granddaughters! We stock reusable sanitary pads and MoonCups – I don’t so much demonstrate how to use these, as describe how in detail.
Why did you choose Leeds as the city in which to open your store?
Both myself and Ian are local to Leeds (Living in Armley & Morley respectively) so it seemed the obvious place to start!
There seems to be a community of eco-conscious people starting to get organised in Leeds, with initiatives such as the Real Junk Food Project, Leeds Wood recycling, Zero Waste Leeds, Leeds by Example (recycling) and Seagulls Paint. There’s also a great presence on social media platforms with the ‘Journey to zero waste Yorkshire’ Facebook group going strong.
Both Ian and I visited, talked to and were involved with these groups before The JarTree, and we knew Leeds needed its own zero-waste shop!
Shops like ours have been steadily appearing in other major cities around the UK, it was just time that Leeds has its own. We chose Kirkgate Market as a location as it seemed perfect – the market already offers so much in the way of plastic free produce such as meat, fish and vegetables. Our wholefoods, dry foods and spices seemed to compliment these other offerings wonderfully. Kirkgate market is a huge and central place which is great for people who live locally, the student population and the people from the surrounding areas who come in for their weekly shop.
Leeds has been good for us while setting up, we were able to make most of our shop fittings by upcycling wood from a local reclaim yard, we’ve been able to buy our glass jars from a local supplier (all made in Yorkshire), our soaps and solid shampoos from a local maker too. Some of our homeware is made by craftspeople living and working in Leeds – Our beeswax wraps are made by a local beekeeper, and our make-up/baby wipes are all sewn by a local seamstress. We look forward to working more, and stocking more locally made products, and we are always happy to hear from people who are making their own reusable/zero-waste wares!
Have you faced any challenges in making your idea a reality?
Though we’ve both worked in retail before, we both come from corporate/office backgrounds – this is our first shop, and we certainly like a challenge! Starting any new business is a massive learning curve – and starting the first zero-waste shop in Leeds was even more difficult. There’s nowhere currently in central Leeds which sells food this way at this scale. With nothing to compare to we had to ask ourselves: so, what do people want to buy package free? What foods do people buy most of? What would I buy?!
Cupboard staples such as rice, pasta, etc seemed obvious – but what about spices, teas, cereals, homeware; there is so much choice, and a finite amount of room!
We’ve learnt a lot in only three weeks, and we’re constantly adding to our stock list. We’ve been getting great feedback and suggestions from people in store (we have a handwritten suggestions list people can add to), via social media & by email. We’re always grateful for suggestions and recommendations, especially products people use and really like. There’s nothing better than an enthusiastic recommendation from someone about a product they’ve found super useful!
There have been more practical problems too, like; what are you going to do when the jars people bring won’t fit under the dispensers? The paper bags won’t stay closed when people carry them home! Tea is light and it’s difficult to know when you’re scooping out a 100g…These problems can be solved with measuring jugs, supplying people with kitchen scales and some good old-fashioned paper tape. There’s a lot of little things we didn’t even consider when we opened, but we were well aware of by the end of this first day 😃
One of the main challenges is trying to explain the concept of a ‘zero-waste’ shop to people who may be sceptical – the best way I’ve found so far is to compare it to the old style ‘Weigh-and-Pay’ shops we used to have in the UK - where you could go and buy your cornflakes without the box. I used to visit one with my grandma when I was younger (before they all closed), and when I told her I was opening one up again, she was delighted.
What advice do you have for others trying to live a Plastic-Free lifestyle?
Going ‘plastic free’ is not an easy thing to do – everything we do has an impact, plastic seems to be everywhere these days. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. What is one person swapping plastic straws for metals one’s going to matter in the grand scheme of things?
You’ve got to remember that little changes add up, and the more people who make the little changes then speak up about them, the faster the word spreads. Yet more and more people become aware of what they can do to help be part of the change. Being social; talking about sustainable living, sharing hints and tips and working together is how we’ll make a real difference in the end.
I would say start small, make a few changes and keep working on it. Take pleasure in sustainable living! – many of our customers tell us how satisfying it is re-filling their own jars with just the right amount of produce, or how fresher and less ‘chemical’ their clothes smell now they’ve switched to using soap-nuts or share proudly how the safety razor they use has been going for 20 years now.
Personally, my favourite changes have been a switch to safety razors (certainly a learning curve, definitely don’t use them for the first time when you’re in a rush!), swapping tampons for a MoonCup (lots of money saved there) and replacing most of my personal hygiene products with solid shampoo, some bicarbonate of soda and a nice bar of soap.
My main advice would be; just do your research, be informed, start slow and keep motivated, keep going.
And, obviously, visit our shop 😉