There is a satisfaction to be had and a sense of feeling good about yourself when shopping zero waste – refilling your containers brought from home with pantry staples and cleaning products, or watching nuts being transformed in a machine into nut butter, freshly made, straight into your jar. In recent years, the urgency to live more sustainably has given rise to many of these bulk stores opening everywhere around the UK, making it easier for us to shop plastic-free.
But, since the pandemic hit, followed by the rise in inflation and cost of living, sadly priorities have shifted for many. As a result, many refill stores have had no choice but to close down. We at 91 Magazine have always strived to give exposure to small independent businesses, and support them, especially during hard times. These shops not only better the health of the planet, preventing hundreds of thousands of pieces of plastic from ending up in landfills and oceans every year, they also champion ethical, fairtrade production, as well as local makers and producers, which in turn boosts the local economy and cuts carbon emissions.
For these reasons and many more, we’d like to introduce you to 15 of our favourite refill and zero waste stores around the UK to help with your sustainable shopping, even if it encourages just one small change. Every little step counts, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We believe this way of shopping should become a way of life and the future norm rather than a temporary fad. Hopefully, these stores will keep providing us with high-quality, sustainable produce and products for many years to come.
The Source Bulk Foods, London and Brighton
The Source Bulk Foods has been spreading through London like wildfire, and the franchise now boasts a shop front in Brighton too. Initially founded in 2012 in Australia’s Byron Bay by husband and wife Paul Medeiros and Emma Smith, the idea was brought over to the UK in 2018 by another husband-and-wife duo Patrick Cermak and Makayla Drummond-Murray, following a visit to the land down under. First opening in London’s Chiswick and Battersea, the city has since welcomed more airy, light-filled branches in Richmond, West Hampstead, Crouch End, and Putney, each reflecting the original Australian concept.
Something Good, Newcastle
You’d be hard-pressed to find a zero-waste store as pleasing to the eye as Newcastle’s Something Good with its charming yet minimalistic aesthetic, opened in 2020 by Lauren Wedderburn. Following her family’s lifestyle change towards slower living without disposables and single-use packaging by buying less, choosing better and making things last, Lauren decided to help others in making that same transition. Something Good sells all that one might need – plastic-free and refillable pantry essentials, cleaning and personal care products and well-designed everyday accessories made consciously with ethical materials like stainless steel, glass, or cork to replace your plastics with.
Refill Quarter, Belfast
Refill Quarter launched in 2019 in east Belfast as the city’s first zero-waste shop. Started by friends Alice Wilkinson, Susan McEwen and Phillip Rankin, the trio had already been running a yoga studio together for the past two years at this point, located just around the corner from their new venture with an inviting and rustic flair. Specialising in hot yoga, the studio is clad with eco-friendly infrared heating panels, demonstrating the founders’ existing passion for sustainability. When encountering refill stores in other parts of the country, they decided to bring one to their home city. With an existing community around their yoga studio, the business has done so well that a new branch of both the bulk store and yoga studio has since been opened in south Belfast.
Almond & Co, Bournemouth
When Sam Almond and Eleanor Whyton first met and learned they were both planning to open a zero-waste store in Bournemouth, the pair were worried they would become competitors. Instead, they joined forces as their skills were in perfect harmony – Eleanor’s management and customer service background complements Sam’s experience working as an environmental scientist for the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, implementing the European Commission’s Climate Change Service, which saw him take care of Almond & Co’s business plan, design and branding. The store, like many others on our list, aims to help its customers find better versions of the things they already use and love for a reasonable price – from loose and refillable groceries to plastic-free toilet paper.
If we’re noticing a trend, it’s that the Australasian region is way ahead of us when it comes to zero waste living. Opened in 2018 by husband and wife Harry and Esther Darrah, Chichester’s Refilled was inspired by the couple’s time spent in New Zealand, where zero waste shops thrive. While travelling and working there, the founders admired the support the stores gave to local makers and enjoyed shopping without waste, buying only the required amounts. So much so, that soon after returning to the UK, they opened their own refill store. Met with much success in the first year, the store has since doubled in size and moved to a new location on the city’s high street. And much like they saw in New Zealand, the pair continuously buy from fair trade and small local companies, stocking its shelves with everything from fresh flowers, loose frozen products, and liquid pantry staples like oils and vinegars stored in large laboratory-style jars.
If you’re new to the whole low-impact living concept, Gather in London’s Peckham is a great place to start. Founded by Tash Gorst, her realistic, no-nonsense approach is refreshing, and her cheerful yellow-front shop is a supportive, judgment- and preaching-free space for anyone wanting to learn or make even the smallest of changes for the better. For the founder, it’s about helping her customers live a low-waste life rather than imposing the often intimidating goal of complete zero waste. That’s why she gets excited when finding effective and eco-friendly alternatives for our everyday-use items. Apparently, one of Tash’s favourite finds is a plastic-free scourer alternative, which as someone who has searched for a good and effective one for years now, I for one, can’t wait to try it.
Cardiff, too, gained its first zero-waste shop in 2018 with the opening of Ripple, named in the hopes of creating a ripple effect of change. Former journalist Sophie Rae founded the not-for-profit refill store in the effort to promote a more sustainable way of consuming in the Cardiff community. And it was clearly well-received by the locals as Sophie raised over £33,000 in less than two weeks on Kickstarter in order to open the store. Within the first six months of opening, Ripple saved around one million pieces of single-use plastic from being bought and expanded into its next-door space. Then the pandemic hit, which has slowed things down a little, but Sophie remains hopeful. The new shop extension was let go of in favour of the original space with counters clad in glossy white tiles, contrasted by brightly wrapped chocolates and toilet paper stored in colourful wire baskets. After all, eco-friendly doesn’t have to mean ugly or dull.
One zero-waste store that seems to have been spared by the brutal hit of the pandemic is Kilo in north London, which opened right in the middle of it all in August 2020. In a way, the lockdowns aided the shop – while most supermarkets were forming queues around the block, Kilo swooned customers with its inviting open doors.
The business was started by a former commercial interior designer Jordan Perata, who one day realised that she was often talking the talk, but not so much walking the walk when it comes to sustainability. So when she started shopping in bulk shops, she fell in love with the experience and decided to open her own. The shop was set up in a run-down building in Holloway, where the founder put her design experience to practice and restored it to its current glory, dressed up with polished wooden floors and industrial-style shelving made with silver pipes.
Based on the picturesque coast of Cornwall, Un_rap was opened in 2018 by Hannah Pearce after completing the world-famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage stretching across Spain. The founder hiked the trail to raise money and awareness for Surfers Against Sewage, a marine conservation charity, as she had seen first-hand the oceans’ plastic pollution when visiting the likes of Indonesia and Malaysia. So she set out on the 26 days it took her to complete the hike, without any single-use plastics. That’s when she realised how much impact one individual can have and was inspired to help her Falmouth community do the same – rid their life of plastic waste and promote a low-impact way of living. And that is what the zero-waste shop has been doing ever since.
Liberté Chérie, London
One glance at the name of Portobello Road’s first zero-waste grocery store reveals the French background of Liberté Chérie’s founder Charles Pelletier. It’s no surprise that on top of getting your fix of sustainable, high-quality groceries, you can also enjoy a selection of natural wines in its new wine shop and bar. Given Charles’s experience as a restaurateur, which initially brought him to London when opening a second branch of his Michelin-star Hong Kong restaurant Serge Et Le Phoque, the Frenchman has always had a knack for the finest sustainably-sourced food. So, when no other stores in his local area of London’s Notting Hill were offering this kind of produce, Charles decided to open his own in 2019. He now also offers a great cup of coffee as Liberté Chérie recently partnered with sustainable coffee roaster, Kiss the Hippo.
Aptly named, Fulham-based Bygram is a bulk store selling its goods ‘by the gram’. Opening its doors in 2020, they believe that every neighbourhood should have its own refill store to enable the community to shop sustainably and plastic-free. Founded by Tonia and Chris Krokatsis, the duo combined their previous experience in graphic design, business growth, corporate finance and investment banking. If anyone was going to have a thriving store with a beautiful design, it was going to be them. Paved with honeycomb-shaped floor tile and filled with light wood fixtures, the store displays it’s organic produce and locally made homewares in design-led perfection.
The Clean Kilo, Birmingham
Founded by Jeanette Wong and Tom Pell in 2018, The Clean Kilo was inspired by the pair’s longing to do something about the plastic pollution of the environment and Tom’s memory of a bulk shop he frequented when studying in Australia. Fast forward four years, and the UK’s largest zero-waste supermarket now boasts not one but two stores in the city of Birmingham with the broadest selection of everything you would expect to find in a regular supermarket. There are even plastic-free crisps on offer. The stores have recently been joined by the founders’ newest venture – bringing the UK its first zero-waste cafe bar and refill taproom called Kilo Ziro.
Jarr Market, London
Opened in 2019 in south London’s Herne Hill, Jarr Market is a direct response to the scarcity of plastic-free options in UK’s supermarkets and the lack of action from the government regulatory bodies to do something about it. So instead, founder Jessica Rimoch quit her tech office job and started her own zero-waste shop with the aim to cut down on unnecessary food packaging and help others do the same. One jar at a time, as reflected in the store’s adopted name. And even though the difficulties that independent businesses face are very real, including this one, Jarr Market opened another branch in Stoke Newington last year.
The GreenHouse, Ripon
Unlike most of the other stores that made it onto this list, The GreenHouse specialises in eco-friendly household and garden supplies. So rather than finding pasta and beans refill stations, you can expect a range of refillable cleaning products, set alongside an offering of reusable kitchen accessories and beautifully made homewares to help make your home a green house’. Based in North Yorkshire’s small and charming cathedral city of Ripon, this is also the newest of the stores on our list, opened only this year by Rebecca Crallan. She already knows how to get us through the doors by offering locally-roasted coffee to enjoy while you browse. Why not pick up a reusable bamboo cup while you’re at it?
Refill Larder, Teddington
Refill Larder is a quaint refill store located on Teddington’s high street on the outskirts of London. Founded in 2018 by Kate Chesshyre, the business was inspired by similar stores that Kate had encountered in other cities in the UK, as well as Cornwall’s town of Penzance, which was named the first coastal plastic-free town by Surfers Against Sewage. This achievement was partly possible thanks to local small businesses reducing their waste. Kate wanted to bring the same sensibility to her local area, helping minimise waste both for its customers and in its supply chain. So, organic foods and refillable dried pantry staples sit alongside cleaning and bathroom products, including refillable bath salts and copper scourers.