Up a little staircase at the back of a vegan café, hides a treasure trove of zero waste products in Keep, a new zero waste shop in Farnham, Surrey that opened a few months ago. I spent a couple of pleasurable hours recently looking around and talking to co-founder Sarah Chatterton.
Where did your passion for zero waste come from?
I grew up with this mindset. Within my family we always made stuff and mended stuff. My family are all quite earthy. I’m from East Sussex and we would spend all the weekends outside – walking, playing in out-buildings, making fires. It’s been instilled in me from a young age. When I was young I used to dream about living on the tip, there was a TV programme about being able to live off what was thrown away on the tip and I thought that would be cool! Working on the tip, living on the tip…. I thought that would be amazing. And having children really opens your eyes to thinking about the next generation and how they are going to suffer.
How did Keep start?
“She was frustrated that she couldn’t find refills anywhere so decided to do it herself.“
Annabel started in May last year with household cleaning and beauty products as a pop-up shop at farmers markets. She was frustrated that she couldn’t find refills anywhere so decided to do it herself. We met at the Farnham Sustainability Fayre in June and decided to work together to find a permanent location for Keep and to expand the range of products we could offer. We did a pop-shop at Okomoko, the vegan café, and it worked really well so we approached Sam, who runs the café and she was thrilled for us to move in.
How did you go about setting up your permanent home?
It feels like it’s gone really quickly. It’s less than a year. We’re growing and evolving all the time. This place is brilliant, with the café – their customers are our kind of customers and vice versa and we’re really happy with it. We’re testing the water – starting out small and working out what works and what doesn’t.
All the furniture and shelving in the shop is second hand, with the exception of the scales because we’d heard really dodgy things about second hand scales and with customers paying for only the amount they want, it’s important they are accurate.
What sort of reaction do you get from customers?
The feedback has been amazing, just really supportive. Everyone has been saying they’ve been wanting something like this for ages. The time is now! Interestingly I wrote a business plan for this back in 2007! There’s been a buzz about it for so long but it’s taken this long for it to really be in the public eye, with documentaries on it recently, like the landfill programme and Stacey Dooley’s fashion programme. Now we get such a variation of people – from people who have been doing it for years and years and have been minimising their waste, to some people who have had a light bulb moment. So it’s good to help people wherever they are on their journey.
We feed off customers so much with things that we haven’t got in stock. We learn about what people want without the packaging and then we can look into getting it in bulk and grow out stock like that. So we added green lentils and muesli recently. We’d like to do a lot more food items but that’s where we’re limited a bit with the amount of storage we have. That’s where we’d really like to expand to meet everyone’s needs.
[Side note – while I was there, one of the customers had come from 15 miles away specially to get her refills. She had a large bag of empty containers and seemed to be restocking her whole kitchen and bathroom: floor cleaner, cream cleaner, face wash, shower gel, spaghetti, bicarbonate of soda, teabags….]
How does it work in terms of packaging from suppliers?
The food all comes in 25kg brown paper bags so storage is a bit of an issue. We’ve had to switch around some suppliers to avoid suppliers who send bulk food wrapped in heavy duty plastic or other packaging that we can’t reuse. Our suppliers now are really good and they are constantly updating what they send out. So now if we do get something that we can’t reuse, we send it back to them and they reuse it, they are definitely upping their game.
What sort of suppliers are they? Are they mainstream or niche suppliers?
We do go for the organic options, we want it to be palm oil free, plastic free and naturally derived. So with the household liquids we want them to be as natural as possible and there is a higher price to it. With each individual item we research it to find the closest supplier geographically to reduce the carbon footprint. Even things like the crochet cleaning pads are made by a lady in Aldershot (5 miles away) and the coffee roastery is in Dippenhall (2 miles away). It does mean we have so many different suppliers and so we’re putting systems in place to keep on top of it. Our latest thing is trying to find yeast flakes because we want to do those in bulk and I think I’ve found someone who will do it in paper packaging but there’s still a risk about how it will actually be packaged when it arrives. The refillable make-up is a good example too. I complained to them that the lids for the compact refills are plastic and they are replacing them next year with metal. So they are constantly changing what they are doing every month to improve.
Do you have much contact with other zero waste shops?
There’s a big support network that most zero waste shops belong to so if you have any queries there’s a fountain of knowledge out there to help from people who have been doing it for years. Earth. Food. Love. in Totnes, one of the first zero waste shops, make all their information public because they want everyone to be helped out as much as possible – all their suppliers and their pricing information and Hetu in London do the same.
What are your plans for the future?
Everyday we want it to evolve and we’re dreaming really big. Ideally we’d want a warehouse with all eco things in it, that’s assessible for everyone. We’d include additional things like second-hand clothes, wine, oils, vinegars, a bigger version of book-swap. We really wanted to have refillable alternative milk but we’d need a fridge so we need more space to expand to do things like that. We’d love to have a baby section too, I was so conscious of so much waste when I had my children so I switched my living then.
We want to get a real community feel to it and getting like-minded people together. Once you start talking about it there’s so many people who are doing certain aspects of things – upcycled, recycled, reused. It would be great to have everyone under one roof so you didn’t have to go to a supermarket, you could get everything in one place.
Keep are upstairs at Okomoko, 18 Downing Street, Farnham, Surrey. @keepzerowaste on Twitter, @keepoldcontainers on Instagram and keepoldcontainers on Facebook. Sarah’s also on Instagram @sarahchattertontextileartist