32. That's the number of products that used to live in my bathroom. The number of lotions, creams, masks, and hair formulas—many of them encased in plastic containers—causing clutter in my space and contributing to waste. To be honest, I hadn't ever thought twice about the amount of plastic I used—that is, until I heard a shocking assessment done by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Plastic will likely outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050. Suddenly, a wave of eco-guilt came over me, enough to rethink my entire beauty routine, at the very least. From the excessive mound of beauty products I had stashed away in my cabinets to my daily consumption of disposable products, I realized I was contributing to the problem.
While I'll give myself credit in that I reuse emptied pump bottles for my DIY hair concoctions, I couldn't kid myself anymore—I could be doing more. Way more. So, I decided to adopt a zero-waste beauty routine for two weeks to see how I would fare. In reality, I always had this preconceived notion that zero-waste meant I had to sacrifice parts of my beauty routine, and while that's true for certain items (ahem, cotton pads), it's far less of a big deal than I expected.
Below, find out how I made every part of my beauty repertoire zero-waste, and what I learned along the way.
What Does "Zero-Waste" Really Mean?
Zero-waste refers to using items that don't produce waste and end up in a landfill, and instead can be reused, composted, or recycled.
Step One: My Mindset
The first thing I needed to do before my journey to zero-waste was shift my mindset. While my typical (often hoarder) tendencies meant I tried a new face mask every few days or had three shampoos sitting in my shower at any given time, I needed to accept the fact that I simply needed to use less products if I was going to be successful in this experiment. The logic is simple, really: If I'm using fewer products, there's less chance of waste.
While the 'no poo' method is an option for some, my flaky scalp and dry ends need a good amount of TLC. Enter Ethique, a line of solid beauty bars that include everything from shampoo to face scrub. Beyond using biodegradable ingredients and compostable packaging, they eliminate the use of bottles, jars, lids, and pump dispensers.
I opted for the five-bar hair sampler, with my eye on the shampoo and conditioner. Initial skepticism aside, I was shocked to see that the Frizz Wrangler (which is equivalent to three bottles of liquid shampoo) worked into a rich lather. The Wonderbar, a conditioner that doubles as a shaving bar, is another favorite—it nursed my parched strands back to hydration with coconut oil and cocoa butter.
Ah, oral care. It's one of the largest culprits of waste, with an estimate of over one billion plastic toothbrushes wounding up in landfills each year. I swapped my plastic toothbrush for a bamboo alternative and my toothpaste with something I never thought I'd use, toothpaste tablets.
The toothbrush was by far the easiest item to replace in my routine. The longevity and teeth-cleaning quality of the bamboo brush is just as high, so there's really no sacrifice here whatsoever. The one I choice by F.e.t.e. is both Insta-worthy and sustainable, touting biodegradable nylon bristles and an eco-friendly bamboo base.
While I'll go through the toothpaste tablets quicker than I would my typical plastic-tubed toothpaste, these eliminate plastic altogether and are housed in fully recyclable aluminum packaging. The tablets themselves use activated charcoal—made from sustainable bamboo—to whiten, clean, and refresh my teeth.
When it came to skincare, my main objective was to ditch single-use products (or at least ones you can't compost after using). This meant saying goodbye to cotton pads, face wipes, and sheet masks, and instead opting for reusable alternatives. The thing is, those weren't difficult to find.
These reusable bio-cotton pads do the same exact things a regular cotton pad does—from removing makeup to applying toner. I simply run one under warm water, carefully remove my makeup, and follow with a cleanser. Bonus: it's double-sided for cleansing and light exfoliation, and it's conveniently stored in a reusable bag for easy laundry.
Committed to finding products that serve multiple purposes, I stumbled upon this gem. Not only is it housed in a 100 percent recyclable glass container, it works to hydrate and protect while it neutralizes redness. While I'm not going to give up serum, moisturizer, and SPF, my skin looks dewier, hydrated, and even after applying.
These hydrogel masks (and their plastic trays) are fully compostable and 100 percent recyclable, not to mention made with calming ingredients like aloe vera and bambusa water. I love this particular one on days my clogged pores are in need of a deep clean and major detoxifying.
My body care routine surprisingly only had a handful of culprits, mainly body wash and disposable razors. Still, I needed to limit the products I used altogether.
With its botanical oils and biodegradable packaging, this body wash is both nourishing and earth-friendly. I'm a big fan of their home refill kit, which includes a recycled plastic bottle that's used to refill their 16-ounce glass bottles. Plus, I dig the oaky, woodsy scent it leaves behind.
Dubbed the iPhone of razors, this one gives a clean, stubble-free shave with its water-activated serum and ergonomic handle. And unlike its disposable counterpart, its blade can be swapped out to minimize waste.
The Final Takeaway
If you're anything like me and zero-waste is a new concept to you, it'll take some adjusting to. I needed to actively remember to scout products with biodegradable, compostable packaging, not give single-use products a second glance, and maintain a healthy (versus excessive) stash of products until it becomes second nature. It was hard parting ways with a few beloved formulas, but, for the most part, it was easy to find comparative replacements.
One thing I appreciated throughout this entire experiment was having a clutter-free space. I've also designated a separate waste bin in my bathroom for my recyclables, and I've made a concerted effort to reuse packaging when I can. While it's a far-off thought to assume all of my trash will be able to fit in a mason jar, it's safe to say this experiment opened my eyes and allowed me the space to do better. I hope more beauty brands (and consumers) will make an effort to work toward making environmentally-friendly choices with their products.