Bea Johnson’s TED talk Two adults, two kids, zero waste and her Zero Waste Home blog and book, as well as Lauren Singer’s Why I live a zero waste life TEDxTeen talk and her Trash is for Tossers blog were, first, a big eye-opener where I truly saw the amount of trash I produce in my daily life and, second, a big inspiration of what I could do to reduce it. While recognizing that for things to change, changes at the policy level for governments, corporations and others, are key and the most important, I truly believe that any individual effort and action, no matter how small it is, counts. I believe sending to the landfill two empty toothpaste tubes a year, rather than four, can have an impact. Imagine if all 7 billion plus humans on this planet did this. Or if this individual action inspired your neighbor, your mother and your best friend to do the same. I believe these actions can have an impact on those policies.
When I decided to reduce the waste I produce, I thought the bathroom would be one of the easiest home spaces to start with. They say that to reduce your waste, you need to first understand where your waste is coming from (yes, I was one of those who went through her kitchen trash bin, a few times). This exercise in my bathroom took me to a fun practice of sorting and organizing things; using and enjoying things I did not remember I had (those moisturizer samples, hotel mini shampoo bottles and other freebies I have decided to refuse now), and gifting to friends eye shadows and concealers I never used (why would I buy a concealer if I know I never use them?). Gifting and using all those things I found in my bathroom took some time, but it was an enjoyable process. I am at a good point now, where I do not think I have anything I do not use or want to keep.
Once this was done, the next step was to find alternatives to products I use in my daily routine that would help me produce less waste. Below are my 7 rules when choosing what to use and at least one easy solution:
Rule 1. If available, products with no container are my first choice.
Example: Shampoo bars for my hair and soap bars for my body. These are very easy to find today in almost any supermarket in New York. It took some time for my hair to get used to the shampoo bars, but now I love them. When my hair is dry, I use a bit of oil (coconut oil is the one I use now) on the ends.
Rule 2: If the product needs to have a container, I choose reusable over disposable.
Example: Henna in bulk (yes, I can buy this in Brooklyn!) and refillable dental floss (like this one here).
Rule 3: If the product needs to have a container, I choose glass or stainless steel over plastic.
Example: Moisturizers and face oils. My go-to place in New York is Brooklyn Herborium, mainly because of the ingredients they use, philosophy and love in everything they do, and their use of plastic is relatively low.
Rule 4: If I can easily do it myself, I do it rather than buy it.
Example: Deodorant. My sister Elena, with four children and a job that keeps her away from home a few hours a day, is passionate about DIY products, and she has inspired me for years with her commitment and care for the environment. She makes shampoo bars for me and recently showed me how to make deodorant. I did my first batch a few months ago and they turned out great (post with recipe coming soon)!
Rule 5: If I cannot entirely eliminate single-use plastic, I will try to reduce it.
Example: Toothpaste. I do my own toothpaste with baking soda, coconut oil and essential oil (recipe from Trash is for Tossers here). However, I want a toothpaste with fluoride (to prevent cavities). I added cocoa as I read it has properties similar to fluoride, but the taste (and look) was pretty disgusting. So I decided to alternate between home-made, plastic-free toothpaste and a fluoride toothpaste tube, so that even if I do not completely eliminate plastic, at least I will partially.
Rule 6 (Consolation Rule): If I still use single-use plastic, it is fine.
Example: Everything related to contact lenses. I have not yet found an alternative to the contact lenses case, cleaning liquid, let alone the contacts themselves. And it is fine. Has anyone found an alternative?
Golden Rule 7: Less is better.
Example: Why do I now have two moisturizers, one in cream and one oil/mist formula? Why do I keep on buying lipsticks in the hope that one day I will find one that I like? Maybe I should give up and just accept that life without lipstick is good? Why do I keep on buying mascara, if I use it just once every six months and I always end up throwing it away because it is too dry to use? At least I now say no to free samples and other freebies.
I am fully aware that these individual choices are contingent upon economic resources (and other factors), and some of the alternatives above are not cheap, such as shampoo bars, refillable dental floss and moisturizers in glass jars. However, some others are, like the bulk henna, soap bars, or the home-made deodorant and toothpaste. These are not universal rules at all, just some that have worked very well for me.