2019 Eco Challenge – Shampoo Bars & Zero Waste Shops

Firstly, a big apology for the lack of eco-challenge update recently. I’ve been so busy creating new rag rug video content, attending craft fairs and campervanning through Australia that it’s been tricky to find the time. Either way, I’m back now and here is what’s new…

Reducing Waste & Zero-Waste Shops:

Reducing Waste: 

In my last Eco-challenge blog post, I mentioned that my next big challenge would be all about reducing waste by choosing packaging-free options where possible. This was sparked by the realisation that Christian (my boyfriend) and I were taking out the recycling at least once a week, and it’s always better to cut out waste by not producing it in the first place!

This was one of my favourite “challenges”, as it wasn’t really all that much of a challenge. We came up with a few rules for shopping:

  • Any time we went to the supermarket or market, if there was a packaging-free option, we’d choose that. In particular these are the items we found easier to buy loose: citrus fruit, apples, onions, garlic, mushrooms, avocado, aubergine, courgette etc…

Satsumas in supermarket

  • We didn’t buy any single-use carrier bags throughout the month, even if it meant stuffing yoghurt pots into our pockets. We’re lucky enough to live pretty much on top of a large supermarket, so this was manageable, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it for longer distances as we did look pretty foolish 🙂
  • We took our reusable bottles (and coffee cup in Christian’s case) everywhere we could to cut out single-use water bottles and coffee cups.
Swell reusable bottle in blue from Barrecore

This reusable bottle (and also its predecessor as I sadly misplaced one in Australia) travelled with me everywhere in March and April.

These were our learnings / musings:

  • Picking individual fruit and veg made us connect more with what we were eating. When you look at the individual characteristics of a piece of fruit, it somehow makes you appreciate it more. It also meant we could select exactly which ones we wanted.
  • The packaging-free fruit and vegetable options aren’t always the cheapest option (weirdly), so this option may not be viable for everyone unfortunately.
  • Plastic plays a crucial role in keeping food fresh for longer, ultimately reducing food waste, so we shouldn’t completely demonise it.
  • Certain fruit and veg gets pretty bashed up when you leave it loose in your shopping basket. Mushrooms in particular looked like they’d gone through the war by the time I made it to the check out! Be careful with your mushrooms or soft fruits 🙂
  • Most supermarkets are trying to reduce packaging, but it’s a mammoth task that will take a while. If more of us actively choose packaging-free options, I feel like we’re lending them our support and showing that there’s real demand. Viva la revolución!

Zero-Waste Shops:

In my last Eco-challenge blog post, I also mentioned that I wanted to explore some of my local zero-waste shops. Although I never actually made it to any of the London ones (they’re still on my to do list), I did make it over to Bamboo Turtle in Letchworth, Hertfordshire and Naked Foods in Sydney, Australia (while I was on holiday).

Bamboo Turtle in Letchworth Garden City Zero Waste Shop in Hertfordshire

Bamboo Turtle in Letchworth, Hertfordshire

Naked Foods Zero Waste Shop in Newtown Sydney

Naked Foods in Sydney

Bamboo Turtle in Letchworth Garden City has now been open for just over a year and when I popped in recently I was told that it has been a great first year. The shop, located in The Arcade, is a beautiful space full of products helping us to help the planet and shop more mindfully.  You bring along your own containers (think empty, washed jars and bottles) to fill, but the shop also stocks spares that you can use. Everything you buy in the shop is sold by weight which takes some getting used to, but the staff there are so friendly and will help if you get confused. The shop even provides a click and collect service. I was so impressed by the range of products stocked here; downstairs is dedicated to food products, whilst upstairs you can find household items as well as shampoos, shower gels and other beauty products.

Bamboo Turtle Letchworth Garden City Hertfordshire Zero Waste Eco Shop

Upstairs they have personal care products, but downstairs is mostly food…

Bamboo Turtle Eco-friendly shop Hertfordshire

Products are displayed in pretty jars or practical plastic containers…

You weigh your container on the scales before you fill it up, then you weigh it again afterwards. It’s simple really. I loved all the pretty jars.

Food storage solutions at Bamboo Turtle Zero waste shop in Letchworth Hertfordshire

I particularly liked the attention to detail with their product selection – everything is lovely quality and beautifully displayed.

Bamboo Turtle, Letchworth

Cereal containers, Bamboo Turtle Letchworth
Personal care products in Bamboo Turtle in Letchworth

I even bought another set of face wipes to see if these were any different than the others I’d tried previously…

Head with Woods Face wipes in Bamboo Turtle in Letchworth

Eco-friendly zero-waste products in Bamboo Turtle Letchworth

For all you Hertfordshire-based ladies, it’s also worth noting that a zero-waste shop is now open in Hitchin too.

Naked Foods in Newtown, Sydney was on a slightly different scale…

Naked Foods Shop Sydney zero waste environmental shop

My friend Kate meandering through the aisles of tasty food at Naked Foods in Newtown, Sydney.

Zero waste shop australia

I particularly liked how the jars had been individually labelled in beautiful handwriting.

Naked Foods Glass Jars of food for zero waste movement

I was particularly tempted by the amazing nut selection.

Food containers in zero waste shop Naked Foods in Sydney Newtown

They had a slightly more exotic range of products in Naked Foods. Any idea what all this clay is for anyone?

Naked Foods Clay Sydney Newtown Shop with Glass Jars

In Naked Foods, you had the option of using paper bags, which can be recycled.

Naked Foods in Sydney Zero-Waste eco shop for bulk food

So that was just a couple of the zero-waste shops I visited. If anyone knows of any great zero-waste shops near them, please comment below. We want to start a revolution 🙂

Shampoo and Conditioner Bars:

In a bid to reduce my packaging waste, back in March I swapped out conventional bottles of shampoo and conditioner for shampoo and conditioner bars. I chose a shampoo bar from Bathing Beauties (as a friend had recommended it to me) and a conditioner bar from Lush. I trialled them for a month and below are my thoughts…

Bathing Beauties Shampoo bar Review

My friend had recommended this particular brand, but I’m prepared to have a play around.

My Musings:

I wouldn’t consider myself a high maintenance person. In fact, I rarely even blow dry my hair, preferring to let it dry naturally. However, as someone who normally buys particularly nice shampoo and conditioner, switching to bars was somewhat of a challenge for me. Before starting my new routine, I fretted that they wouldn’t work properly and that my hair would look a mess.

Pink punk rag rug headband made using recycled materials

I’m not a high maintenance kind of gal, but I do like my hair to look at least semi-presentable…

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Although it’s hard to quantify whether the they worked as “well” as conventional shampoo and conditioner you get in a bottle, my hair always seemed clean, or at least “non-greasy” afterwards. Both bars lathered up well and had a nice scent to them. I’m still not convinced that the conditioner bar was quite as moisturising as a normal conditioner, but that may just be down to choosing the right bar for my particular hair, which is the case for bottled conditioner as well.

Here are a few more musings: 
  1. The bars were a little difficult to keep in the shower without them getting gungey, which became unappealing after a while. After a couple of weeks of storing them on a ledge in the shower, I started storing them in a pot outside of the shower. This meant I had to remember to take them into the shower with me.
  2. They didn’t seem to last as long as a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, but this may be because half of mine was dissolving away on the shelf in the shower and I hadn’t got my technique down.
  3. The conditioner bar sometimes left my hair a little dryer than it would be normally, but as I mentioned above, this may be due to the particular bar I chose not being best suited to my hair.
  4. I didn’t use my shampoo bars and conditioner while I was in Australia as I was sharing with my friend, Kate, but I suspect they would be lighter and less bulky to travel with, which is a bonus. You’d need to buy a container for the bars though.

So, in conclusion, I plan to keep using my shampoo bar and conditioner for everyday washing, but I’m still not ready to entirely ween myself off conventional bottle shampoo and conditioner (lots of weddings this year!) Oh well, even if I use 50% less shampoo and conditioner from bottles, I’ll be doing my bit and that’s what this eco-challenge is all about 🙂

Bamboo Toothbrush:

It was hard to switch about too much in April as there was a lot going on what with me going on holiday for two weeks, but I did take along a new bamboo toothbrush to Australia with me.

Georganics bamboo eco-friendly toothbrush

The main draw of bamboo toothbrushes is that they can be completely composted once their lifetime is up, which means they’re not clogging up landfill. I mean a toothbrush is very much a toothbrush to me, but I chose a set of four georganics natural bamboo toothbrushes because they’re biodegradable and are made from 100% renewable resources with BPA-free bristles. I’m still using mine, but I found this handy guide online on how to go about disposing of bamboo toothbrushes, which I’m sure will come in handy further down the line.

Below are some of my observations: 
  • The bristles did get pretty uneven over time, more so than with a normal plastic toothbrush, but that didn’t really bother me all that much, and if it had, I’d have just trimmed the ones that were out of place.
  • Some people don’t like the feel of wooden products on their teeth – if you’re one of those people then bamboo toothbrushes probably aren’t for you. Christian is one of those people unfortunately.
  • In my opinion, they look so much cuter than a conventional plastic toothbrush 🙂
Apollo Campervan in Australia

The bamboo toothbrush was perfect for travelling around Australia in our campervan, Bruce.


May Household Substitute:

In May, I am replacing plastic sponges with natural ones made from cotton and hessian from HandmadeByLDavies on Etsy. These unsponges not only look pretty, but are plastic-free and biodegradable.

Unsponge Plastic-free sponges made from hessian and undyed jerry cloth

At checkout, you’re not able to choose the pattern that comes through to you, but I was pleased with the design I got…

Unsponge plastic-free, eco-friendly sponges

The pack came with two “unsponges”, one with a hessian back for scrubbing, and one with a terry cloth back. I’m intrigued to see how they stand up to lots of washing up and whether they dry as well as conventional plastic sponges. I’ll also let you know what happens when they go through the washing machine! 
Unsponge hessian and terry cloth eco-friendly sponges

If these unsponges are a success then I will make them myself going forward (although possibly not as neatly!) Watch this space…

May Eco-challenge:

As well as my household substitute, my eco-challenge for May is to go meat-free during the week. I’m quite partial to a good steak from time to time, but apparently livestock farming produces from 20% to 50% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, so even reducing your meat intake by one day a week can have a real impact over time. I’m looking forward to discovering some interesting new veggie dishes.

Raspberry and Blueberry Smoothie Bowl

I look forward to eating more delicious meals like this smoothie bowl…

Right, that’s my latest update. Hope you found it interesting and inspiring. Subscribe to the Ragged Life Newsletter to be the first to know how I get on with my May challenges or stay tuned on our social media channels below 🙂

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As always, thanks for reading.

Elspeth x

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Fran Armstrong
Fran Armstrong
4 years ago

We visited The Refill Pantry in St Albans for the first time today. We didn’t have any containers with us so didn’t actually buy any food but bought bamboo toothbrushes and Denttabs to try. It is a lovely shop with lots of interesting products and very helpful staff. I will certainly try to go back again soon with a shopping list and containers.

5 years ago

You can either re use paper bags for mushrooms or make a fabric bag from scraps to take in with you. I had to try 2 different shampoo bars and conditioners to get the right ones for me. I have an IKEA holder that fastens onto the shower pole and has holes in it so it drains and they don’t get manky. Make cleansing pads using cotton on one side and teeshirt fabric on the other. I don’t, but lots of people make theiown yoghurt so they don’t need plastic yoghurt pots, although that’s best if you can source milk… Read more »

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