No need for plastic. The first zero waste shop opens in North Norwich. The story of Graham Rutherford.

“We made tiny changes at a time and it grew from there.  We found it difficult to find products we wanted and started to research that.”


Ethical Ernie’s zero waste shop opened last week (May 2019) on Magdalen Street in Norwich.

The tagline is ‘Ethical Ernie’s vegan plastic-free products for your body and home’.

It sounds great to me and has an obvious beneficial ethos, but would I actually use it?

I wanted to know more about what goes on inside a zero waste shop and joined the steady stream of visitors who’ve popped in this week.

After spending just a few minutes in this wonderful shop, I can highly recommend it and now there’s no excuse for me to ignore the point and go back to using plastic for the items here.

The range of products on offer is huge.  I hadn’t thought of buying smaller amounts like flour or sugar before or exactly the right amount of spices and herbs I need so I don’t end up throwing out a load that I haven’t used. Similarly why buy new shampoo and conditioner when you can fill up your old bottle so easily?

The store is entirely vegan, so even my dairy-free 1 year old could enjoy the fantastic chocolate fudge on offer. If you live in or near Norwich, go and have a look and if you forget your containers or happen to chance upon the store,  there are paper bags just in case.

There is another zero waste shop in Norwich on Timber Hill, but this is the first in the North of the city.  Ethical Ernie’s is the brainchild of Graham Rutherford, a friendly and helpful man who hails from Nottingham, but decided to open his shop in Norwich.

This is Graham’s story.

What is a zero waste shop?

Ethical Ernie’s is a plastic free, container free, ethical food store.  As a customer, the idea is that you bring your own containers and fill them up with what you want, you can weigh it yourself or at the till and we’ll work out the cost.  You can buy it by either 100g or for some smaller items, by 10g.

What kind of products are on offer?

We have beans, peas, lentils, sugar, flour, different teas, oils and local jam. There are household products including shampoo, cleaning items, bamboo bowls, recycled paper and greetings cards.  There are plastic free cotton buds and washable wipes.

How did you come up with the idea for the shop?

Myself and my partner Laura Colman are both vegan and we decided to make little changes in our lives to try to reduce waste. We then realised it was difficult to find the products we wanted and so we started to research what we could buy and sell.  We started online as a shop a year ago and it proved so popular that we decided to do a pop up shop on Norwich market and that led to this permanent store.

It’s very eye-catching inside, did you do it yourself?

Yes! It’s based on a traditional sweet shop, I haven’t had a shop before so I just learnt as I went along. People have had a lot of fun with the levers and containers.

When is the shop open?


To start with it’s 5 days a week and we do flexible hours. A lot of people pass here on their way to or from work and so it’s better for us to be open a couple of evenings to catch that trade.

What feedback have you had so far?

It’s been great so far. We’ve had a lot of people saying that they have been looking for somewhere like this to go to.

What’s your ultimate aim with Ethical Ernie’s?

I just want to encourage other people to make little changes and try to save on waste as much as possible and I hope the shop makes it easier for people to do this. ernie5

You’ve mentioned it’s also a social enterprise?

Yes, when there’s a good profit, I hope to invest it back into local charities, projects and to support other people.

And lastly, who is Ernie?

He’s not a real person, we both just liked the name.

More information










Published by EJHumphries

Writer, journalist, blogger and communications specialist. Mum of three beauties.

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