oodles and pinches is an online store that offers everything for a zero-waste bathroom and kitchen. The online shelves are heavy from soap and shampoo bars, staple foods to buy in bulk, and accessories to make a zero-waste lifestyle easy. The shop’s blog also features useful guides, for example, about sustainable toilet paper.
Zuza had a chat with Inge Echterhölter, founder and owner. The conversation quickly turned into a full-blown zero waste hygiene guide.
This interview includes affiliate links to oodles and pinches website.
Hi. Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what you do?
My name is Inge Echterhölter. I’m from Germany, I have lived here in the Netherlands for 3 years. I run the zero-waste shop oodles and pinches. Until last year in March I had a physical shop in Haarlem. When the first lockdown came, I closed the shop because it was too small for people to keep a distance.
The goal of the zero-waste shop is to, basically, offer everything that you need for a zero-waste lifestyle. Things that people need daily but in a more environmentally friendly way. I do not only look at the products but also at their packaging so that it’s possible to reduce the waste we are producing. I have everything from the bathroom and the kitchen, these are my two areas.
How do you find the brands you work with? I noticed that they change.
Yes, they do. I read a lot about them and I try things out. Quite often, the brands contact me and ask if I can add them to my shop. What is really important for me is that everything is as plastic-free, organic, and local as possible. I prefer small businesses that make soap by hand rather than buying from big companies. This way, I can support another small business from the area. I also try to do as vegan as possible, but sometimes there is, for example, honey in a shampoo bar. This one shampoo is great, really good for dry hair, so I keep it. But most of my products are vegan.
In the beginning, I had a lot of magnesium flakes and other ingredients for DIY cosmetic products. But because I am very busy, I do not always have the time to make these myself. For a long time, I made toothpaste at home. It tasted great, it worked well, but it is not dentist-approved and our drains did not like it. I also tried to make deodorant. It worked but it was always so much work with testing and trying different things, so I did not have any time.
Now I try to focus on the things that make a zero-waste lifestyle very easy. Instead of selling all the ingredients to make deodorant, I just sell the ready-made product.
Why do you find zero-waste hygiene important?
I think that marketing and advertising of cosmetic companies led us to believe that we need to have perfect bodies – no extra hair, no sweat, dimples, pimples. You have to be perfect, your skin has to be flawless, and there is always a product for it. Also that everything needs to be extremely hygienic, you need to throw away any “nasty” stuff. Single-use items come from this idea that everything needs to be extremely sanitised. Of course, we have to make sure that what we use is hygienic and clean, but we do not need to overdo it. Many women try to achieve flawless skin with make-up. That is not very good for the skin, so it is the opposite of what you should be doing.
For me, it is important to understand what the body needs and what is the natural way of dealing with it, not to overdo anything. And that also leads to using less highly processed products. I often hear, “Are there a lot of chemicals in this?”, and that is a weird thing to ask. Everything is a chemical. The point is, the more it is processed and lab-made, the less it is good for the body. You can also overdo it with natural ingredients, so you have to be careful with any product. For me, it is important to see what is necessary. Do I really need all this? Maybe I can leave out some chemicals and stop having drawers and drawers of little packets from when I tried to make my skin perfect.
What about the benefits for the environment?
This shampoo bar here lasts me about 30 hair washes, and I have really long hair.
This makes at least one shampoo bottle that I do not need to buy. I have not bought a shampoo bottle in about 8 years. That makes quite a lot of bottles. Also, the shampoo bar does not include any water, you add it yourself. The liquid shampoo you buy in a supermarket already has a high content of water in it, so its volume is much bigger than the bar. Then you need to add the transportation and packaging, and the ingredients that need to keep the water shampoo from moulding. If more people switched to shampoo bars, we would need a lot less transportation, packaging, and weird ingredients.
What do you think are the common misconceptions about zero waste hygiene?
That is a good question. Maybe I am too deep into the topic to know any (laughs). Can you explain?
Maybe there are not any, and that is great, too. I was thinking about zero waste hygiene products that go against the advertising you mentioned before, or against people’s personal habits. I, personally, find the portable bidet pretty controversial.
Controversial? (laughs) Why?
I just never used something like that.
Well, maybe it is because it looks like a weird plastic bottle. See, in other countries, bidets are everywhere and they think using toilet paper is not hygienic. They use water to clean themselves, and a towel to get dry afterwards. I have a smaller one here, it is for kids, with a little whale on it.
To use it, you put water in, whatever temperature you like. I think this bottle is really cool because it makes bidets affordable for everyone, even if you live in a rented place. Besides, if you own the place and you can install it, the bidets that allow for changing water temperature are really expensive. I had one with cold water in the US and I really hated it, it was so cold! I did not use it for myself, it was too cold.
I think this one is a great low-cost, easy alternative to bidets. You have to have at least lukewarm water. I have very happy customers that take their bidets to the office or when they travel.
I also know that bidets work well with small kids. When they are two or so and just learn to go to the toilet, it is really an adventure (laughs). Sometimes they do not want to go to the toilet because the toilet paper is so dry and harsh. For them, it makes it more pleasurable to clean themselves with a bidet.
That is interesting. I also think that deodorant is yet another controversial – to keep using that word (laughs) – product. I have been reading a lot of reviews of different brands and people often say it is not working. What are your thoughts on that?
Natural deodorant usually works with baking soda. Not every skin enjoys this. I used baking soda – just powder – as a deodorant for over two years and it worked fine for me, but others can get very red skin from it. Natural deodorants in sticks are also quite hard from the wax, so you have to warm them up to get them smearable. The other option is to have a little pot like this and use your finger. In the Western world, we think that touching our armpit is disgusting, which I completely do not understand. There is nothing weird or unclean about it, especially since we usually use deodorant when we have just showered.
There are different strengths in the cream deodorant. Some you have to use twice a day, some are really strong and work the whole day. It really depends on the person. One other thing about the deodorant. Conventional ones use several unhealthy chemicals, such as aluminium or phthalates. These chemicals then stay in your skin’s pores and close them (read more about this here). Once you switch to a natural deodorant, you may feel like it smells more, but that is because of the chemicals accumulating in the pores. There is a transition phase for two weeks or so, which is why it may be more difficult to use at first. You can do an underarm detox mask – mix bentonite clay with apple cider vinegar. Use it as a mask for about 15-20 minutes. It will draw out the chemicals and make the transition easier.
If you are looking for a guide to cosmetic ingredients, check out our Label Lurking article.
Really, that is cool. I should try it – I am only transitioning to a natural deodorant now. That was the last thing in my zero waste bathroom, I was reluctant for a long time.
Yeah, me too. Also with the shampoo bar – I did not just switch and it was great. I had to spend some time finding the right one for my hair and scalp. In the beginning, I found lots of options that I did not like because they made my hair very sticky. It is not so easy, especially with the shampoo bars. So I made an FAQ page on my website that hopefully answers all the questions about shampoo bars.
That is great! While writing the editorial for this issue, Natural Hygiene, I wondered a lot about whether hygiene is culturally defined. Do you have any thoughts on this? For example, do you sell specific products for men and women?
This is kind of strange. I think shampoo should be for certain hair types, not for certain genders. I do sell a shampoo bar, especially for men because men are looking for a shampoo bar for men. What they may need is a shampoo against dandruff or curly hair, but they will not look for that. I think advertising did this to us – for example, that we need a razor for women. I do not understand that, I think it is just skin with hair. I think it would make more sense to make razors for beards, for legs, but not for women and men. That is the weirdest thing, but it has to do with how the vendors want to reach us. They want to make a group of people feel that the product is specifically for them. You can think, “Oh, I am a woman and this is a razor for women, so I have to buy this.”
What are your thoughts on price differences between sustainable and non-sustainable products?
It often happens that people who want to transition to a zero waste lifestyle start replacing every single thing with a more sustainable alternative. This way, it will be more expensive, but also unsustainable. The first step is to ask yourself, do you really need this?
I think that a zero-waste lifestyle is an overall approach rather than an exchange of products to more sustainable alternatives. For example… Do you know what this is? You could say that it costs more than the regular cotton swab, but I used one for eight years. I have not purchased any plastic cotton swabs. Yeah, I am a q-tip person (laughs). You have to look at the whole picture. It is a lifestyle change – if you are also looking into shopping for furniture or clothing second-hand, then in total you spend less than before. But it really depends on the choices everybody makes.
How are you not losing this cotton little thing? I am amazed.
I know! When I bought it, I bought two because I thought that I would lose it for sure. But Iam still only using the first one for eight years. It is in my bathroom, I take it with me when I travel… when we could still travel. It always comes back home. I love it.
Do you just wash that end?
This end here (left on the picture) is like a spoon with three little bumps. It is for sticky, wet earwax. This one is for dry earwax. There are different types, I did not know this before. With this end, you scratch the dry stuff, and with this, you scoop the wet stuff out. Then you wash it, with soap or just water, put it somewhere to dry, and reuse. You can also boil it for 10 or 15 minutes to sanitize it.
I always thought the reusable q-tip has cotton ending that you then wash. I would lose that immediately.
There are swabs in the form of bendable plastic sticks with silicon washable tips. The bamboo version here is still a disposable item, but it is more eco-friendly. They are good for people that want to switch but are not ready for these ones yet.
Cool! My last question is… personal. (laughs) What’s your favourite cosmetic or hygienic product?
I am always really enthusiastic about new stuff, so I really love the shampoo bars, especially the ones from SeifenDealer. They smell amazing. This one is with walnut oil. It makes my hair soft and I think it is the best solid shampoo I have. I use others but this one is my favourite.
In the beginning, I used a lot of bamboo toothbrushes, but then I wanted an electric toothbrush. Especially for the kids, I figured they may not reach all the spots yet. So we all switched to electronic toothbrushes, and I got really excited to find this replacement head, because… Well, it is made from plastic, but plastic made from sugar cane and not mineral oil. The company does whatever it can to move away from mineral oil – the bristles are made from castor oil. I am very excited about this.
I was also really happy to finally see lipsticks without any plastic – it is a paper lipstick, you open it here and you peel off a little bit of paper. It is like a pen, you can sharpen it, you peel it off, and then you have a longer piece. I am not a lipstick person but I love that this is an option. I hope there will be more alternatives so that you can have mascaras and other make-up items completely plastic-free. This is the one item that I have in stock but have not really used myself.
Nobody does now, with the masks.
That is true (laughs).