As inspired by the internet as the countryside, Steve and Carol at Nature Made UK make, forage and craft their products to help people stop using plastic. Putting to use traditional skills in wood-turning, herb lore and soap making from their home in Tayside, Nature Made UK sells a carefully tailored selection of items to help you wash and shave without harming the environment.
Nature Made UK is contributing to our box this October as part of the theme 'Wildlife'. Here's our interview with Carol on learning, community and where to start on sustainable living:
How did Nature Made UK start?
The reason we started Nature Made UK was on the back of the Blue Planet series. Personally, we'd always been keen on making things ourselves and had looked into the effects of plastic before. But when we watched the series last Christmas, we saw awareness of plastic pollution and its impact going nationwide.
First we created a Facebook group called Turn the Tide to share what we'd do about it. We were just interested to see how it would develop. People shared all kinds of advice - they were interested in soap tablets, in making their own cleaning liquids. We had been making our own soaps for over 15 years, so that got us thinking.
By the time we reached over 2,000 members all over the world, we were ready to create Nature Made UK. We'd realised that plastic pollution mattered to so many people. We started buying in soap nuts and Steve used his wood turning skills. He'd already made a shaving brush before and now he began making safety razors too. It's gone really well!
The anti-plastic movement is huge and I felt inspired by the enthusiasm of others. I loved the posts I'd see on our Facebook page. It helped me feel good about the world.
What are the values behind the products you make?
As much as possible we source materials in the UK and, as much as we can, we source them naturally. We'll make from materials such as naturally-shed antlers and foraged wood. Soap nuts are an exception as they're imported, but we do our best to reduce the impact by buying in bulk. We use plastic-free packaging and paper tape. We're careful not to use peel-off labels for things.
It's become a way of life for us. We take part in beach cleans when we have the time and we get asked to do talks for sustainable groups about how we live and the work we do.
We're not entirely plastic free. I've had the same plastic bottle of cleaning fluids for eight months which I refill now with my own cleaning liquids. I don't buy plastic bottles of shampoo - I just use shampoo bars. Conditioner is a fallacy. When I was young it wasn't even around and you just combed the tugs out of your hair. I don't use any pump-action plastic soaps.
It gets harder come Christmas. It's inevitable that someone will give you a body wash in plastic... something packaged... More people are thinking about it now, though from time to time I have to remind my family.
There's a lot we can do ourselves, but we do need big companies to make a change too. If Amazon would change their packaging, that would make a huge difference. The most wasteful thing they send are those plastic air pillows. Supermarkets too have a big impact - think of all those black plastic ready meals. Local authorities don't have the facilities to recycle them.
What's it been like running your own business?
It's very refreshing given it's quite new for me. It's great to have the satisfaction of doing something that's real. When you work for a big company, it's the company that gets all the benefit. You have no personal bond. Dealing with individuals has been such a brilliant thing - people who are taking little steps towards making things better. Surely if everyone did it, we'd be on a good path.
What's the process from idea to product?
Each new idea comes about from a combination of our experience and research on the internet and YouTube to learn what we don't yet know. That's how we learned to make shampoo bars which are picking up in popularity. Steve studied herbal medicine and has a knowledge of herbs which we brought in too. We try out all our products first on ourselves and on family members. They're made from natural ingredients so it's never that complicated.
We take courses too. We'll go on a course around birthdays and Christmas instead of buying presents for each other. Last week we were at a basket weaving class. In May it was a pottery course. We have a potters wheel now and the neighbour has a kiln so the plan is to start making shaving pots. They'll be on sale in the next few weeks if they come out ok. Steve and I learn by doing, not reading. We'll watch a YouTube video and then we'll be out to put the stuff into practice.
What's your favourite product?
The shampoo bars. We're saving so much money and plastic waste not using conventional shampoo and conditioner. We tend to keep it natural as that's what people like, though sometimes I'll play around with the ingredients.
Our bathroom shelf is just about empty now since we switched to bars. Any plastic bottles we did have, I'd pour into ceramic pump dispensers anyway. I like natural stuff, probably because I have a keen sense of smell. I've always preferred natural scents and the benefit of that is you have nothing harmful going down the drain and into the environment.
The soap nuts are really useful too. When I've fully used up mine in the laundry, I'll boil the nuts up and use the liquid for cleaning. Or I'll just put the nuts inside a squeezy bottle with a bit of vinegar and clean with that.
Do you have any advice for people taking steps to live more sustainably?
Realise it's doable. Don't be put off by commercialism. You can do it.
Take small steps as, realistically, you can't do everything yourself. Source providers who can help and are based in the UK. Share your good news with people so they might think about doing it too.
Campaign if you can. Large companies are taking steps to be more sustainable, but we have to campaign if we want to make a difference. Sign petitions, join groups... Don't do the simple things I see people do like putting loose groceries into plastic bags.
They're small steps. The more we can tell people what's possible, the better. On TV you might hear it's improving - don't believe it just yet. We're on a long journey. Keep on that journey and make it happen for those around you... and don't believe the commercials - you don't need conditioner. You don't need to shave your underarms with a plastic razor. Look for alternatives because they're out there.
Nature Made UK have contributed a very useful, natural item to our October Home Box - get yours here.
To try out the handmade products in Nature Made UK's plastic-free shop, all you need to do is visit them on Etsy. If you want to keep up with Carol and Steve on your plastic-free journey, you can join their Facebook group Turn the Tide.