Panda Refills is one of our neighbouring stalls in Leeds Market and the newest addition to Leeds’ growing zero waste lifestyle movement.

Formerly the Jar Tree, they’ve refreshed their look, and their offering to bring an environmentally friendly shopping experience to Kirkgate Market.  In this interview, we talk to Aimee Brown, one of Panda Refills owners and loyal Emmaus Leeds customer, about the main principles of their zero waste lifestyle, what you can expect when you visit the shop and what her favourite finds from Emmaus are.

You’ve shared your love for Emmaus Leeds, can you tell me more about your favourite finds and why you like our shops?

I managed to find a huge rubber plant in the Kirkgate market stall! It’s about 6 foot tall, probably 20 years old at least. I thought, what the hell, Emmaus is doing plants now? I was thrilled because I like ‘second hand’ plants – I have loads that have outgrown other peoples houses.

I don’t buy furniture first hand, if I can find it pre-loved, vintage or second hand then I’ll go for that every time – it makes the item more special, they’re usually better made (having survived this long) and quirky. At this point, scoring second hand bargains is a form of competitive sport within our friend group. 🙂

Between Emmaus Leeds, Dragon Bridge reclamation yard and the British Heart foundation, I’ve probably refurbished my whole house.

What was the trigger for you to change your lifestyle towards a zero waste one?

I don’t think it was one big thing, just the mounting realisation of how wasteful I was. Once you realise that sort of thing, it’s hard to unsee it, if you know what I mean!

Is this where the idea for the store came from?

My family used to run a ‘old fashioned weigh and pay’ shop back in the 90’s – the kind with bins full of cornflakes and gravy powder – I used to love it, and i thought it would be a great idea to reintroduce that….if only we could have some sort of automatic dispensers…and it turns out those were actually a thing, and zero waste shops were actually a thing! So I couldn’t wait to open one when realised that.

When did the store open? (You’ve rebranded slightly, please tell us more about the recent changes).

We opened initially as ‘The Jar Tree’ just over two years ago in Kirkgate market. We were Leeds’ first ever dedicated ‘zero waste’ shop, which was a fantastic step for Leeds and I think has influenced a lot of others.

My business partner and I went our separate ways this year to open two new shops – I’ve stayed in Kirkgate market (because I think it’s a fabulous and traditional place to buy things package-free) and rebranded as Panda Refills. I wanted to make the shop as happy, friendly and approachable as possible – I realise it can be a little daunting shopping a different way, but we’re 100% here to help.

We’ve been working to restructure our shop to continue to offer food refills, while still keeping ourselves and everyone else safe during lockdown.

What was the hardest thing for you during your transformation to the zero waste lifestyle?

Non-recyclable packaging when you’re trying to make an ethical change! Like, I’m just trying to switch from cows milk to oat milk, stop giving me non-recyclable containers!

I think people get bogged down trying to do too much and change too much at once – I’m not sure if ‘eco-burnout’ is a thing, but it should be. Especially if you’re trying to follow those perfect zero waste Instagram accounts, I can’t even manage that and I literally own a zero waste store.

Now people are more aware of the environmental issues and want to reduce their influence to the environment. What advice can you give them? Where should they start?

Don’t buy anything if you can avoid it! Look at the thing you’re going to buy and ask yourself, do I need that? Do I actually need it? Changes to buying habits are a big driver for influencing companies to offer more eco friendly products. Changing an electricity supplier to one that offers renewable energy, refusing to buy an item with unrecyclable packaging, buying local, choosing veggie or vegan products are all helpful choices to make. I could go on about small personal changes, like refusing plastic straws, and of course they all add up and make a difference. But in terms of influencing big companies and making significant changes, vote with your wallet.

Can you share any top tips with us about reducing waste? (maybe simple activities people can do)

Composting, recycling, keeping track of your waste will help you notice where you need to focus your efforts! There’s nothing that motivates you like Having to clean and recycle tens of milk cartons a month.

What are the advantages of a zero waste lifestyle?

I’d say it was cheaper, because you’re not buying things on a whim (she says, as she buys her 10th house plant this month).

What are your favourite items in the store? What products will you be selling? (could discuss top sellers or the products that save the most waste).

Sanitary cups, safety razors – I’m a big fan of things you buy once and keep for years. I cannot stress enough the benefits of reusable sanitary products, I’ll happily talk at length about them – to the point where it gets awkward. In terms of best sellers – I can’t believe the amount of cleaning product refills we sell, it’s excellent, I’m really pleased people are on board with that.

What are your future plans?

I don’t know if I should discuss anything and jinx it – the curse of 2020! We’re aiming to make Panda Refills a more budget-friendly basics super-market type zero waste shop, and also diversify into other, more specialist shops…I’ve said enough…I can’t tempt fate…

Panda Refills remains open during lockdown as it sells many essential items. Find out more at or visit their Facebook page

Interview and photography by Tiffany Mazza, Emmaus Leeds Social Media Volunteer.