Recycling is a tricky business. There are seven different categories, regulations that vary by state—even city—and accessibility challenges to boot. In recent years, recycling has become even more difficult because of a lack of buyers willing to repurpose the world’s recyclables. Recycling may not be the saving grace solution it was once envisioned to be, but there’s still value to properly disposing of the non-biodegradable products we use.
Next to my kitchen, the place I encounter the most plastic and other synthetic materials is in my beauty routine. Face masks, mascara, and eye shadow are just a few examples. Beauty items, in particular, come with an assortment of packaging and attachments that can make knowing what to do with them quite confusing.
There’s no guide out there to help you know what’s recyclable and what’s not. So to make the process less daunting, I’ve put together a list of common beauty and personal care items that can leave us questioning, “Trash or recycle??”
Have you ever turned over a product made outside of the US and noticed the recycling symbols are different? Although there is such thing as a “universal recycling symbol”, this indicator often glosses over the nuances most recycling programs abide by. In order to know which products can be recycled and which must be trashed, pay close attention to the different symbols on the product packaging. Note that any item can have more than one type of recyclable material in it. The challenge is translating in order to find the North American equivalent symbol.
Here are helpful links for products with recycling symbols from Korea or China. If you’re encountering another language,I recommend searching for that country’s local recycling website and translating it to English. Ultimately, when in doubt, your default should be repurposing or trashing the item(s) to avoid causing issues for recycling workers.
Most aerosols are made of aluminum—a highly recyclable material. As long as your containers are empty, aerosols can always be recycled!
EYELINER (liquid and/or in plastic)
Ooof. I wish I had better news for you but unless you have easy access to a Terracycle box, this is going to be a trash. Like many beauty items, the tiny plastic pieces in eyeliner containers can get caught in recycling machinery. My best piece of advice going forward is to go for a wooden eye pencil, like this one from Elate or any cruelty-free drugstore brand.
This one is two-part. Pumps and nozzles will always go in the trash. The actual bottles though can be recycled. I also suggest reusing spray bottles in their entirety for DIY cleaners, essential oil sprays, or for repackaging larger liquid products (think rosewater or hand sanitizer).
Have an old eye shadow palette lying around? I can bet most of us do. To dispose of these products, the process is a little more time-intensive and can require some research. Youtuber Shelbizleee has a great video on cleaning out palates and sorting the various types of plastic. Basically, the rule of thumb is that hard plastics tend to be recyclable while flimsier forms are likely trash.
Like we touched on above, pumps go in the trash. Bottles in recycling. But let’s say you’re dealing with a soft squeeze lotion bottle, what then? Like toothpaste, the best approach is to first cut the bottle at its top and use every last drop. While some hard plastic caps can be recycled, the soft plastic tubes, unfortunately, cannot. Separate the different plastics, rinse and dispose of them accordingly.
There are some great take-back programs in place for mascara, like those through Bare Minerals, Pacifica, and Terracycle. But if a recycling program isn’t available or accessible to you, mascara tubes unfortunately will need to be trashed. Hold on to the wands though—in addition to reusing them for eyebrow contouring, you can also check with wildlife organizations, like Wands for Wildlife, to see if they could find a use for your old brushes.
I know they’re glass bottles and in theory should be recyclable but alas, no, always trash.
That’s the rundown of how to dispose of popular beauty items. Something I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments or DM me on IG @dressedtosustain.
Phew, I stink, I think to myself as my arms fly back up in the air, modeling the pilates instructor’s movements, thank god this is a virtual class.
BO. We all have it—some of us worse than others. And while it’s totally natural to work up a sweat and stench, I think we can all agree finding a great deodorant is something that stands to benefit us all. With summer upon us, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate your deodorant and find a product that loves your pits & the planet.
The deodorant and antiperspirant options at my local CVS span a whole five feet of shelf. You’ve got your sprays, sticks, gels, etc. And yet, even with all the different colors, branded packaging, and catchy buzzwords, these products aren’t all that different from one another. Major manufacturers rely on many of the same types of ingredients, using clever marketing to differentiate from others. Deodorants, intended to cover up our natural odors, often contain phthalates (perfumes & scents) and parabens (preservatives), substances known to mess with the body’s natural hormone levels. And aluminum, commonly found in antiperspirants that stop the body from producing sweat, have shown potential links to Alzheimer’s Disease and Breast Cancer.
On top of their health risks, conventional deodorants and antiperspirants use a huge amount of plastic to produce. Although most deodorants and antiperspirants are recyclable, they often “contain more than one type of plastic”. This means in order to be properly recycled, you’ll need to take apart your old container, note the different recycling types by their numbers, and check with your local recycling services to see if they’re accepted. If they’re not, all that plastic goes to landfill.
Now, it’s not surprise that zero-waste and chemical-free options have not necessarily reached the Walgreens of the world. In fact, with few exceptions, these brands rarely advertised on streaming platforms and unless you have some sustainably savvy friends, you probably won’t cross their websites or social media. But if you are able to pay a little more and willing to experiment with a new deoderant, here are some plastic-alternatives worth exploring:
My favorite deodorant option, Meow Meow Tweet’s plastic-free deodorant stick is a pretty natural swap for most users. Their deodorant stick features hard, cardboard wrapping around a soft, but solid, deodorant stick. When you’re done, just recycle the packaging and toss any product residue. My only word of caution with this stick comes at the end of its life. I spent weeks using up the little leftover nub of deodorant that refused to stay in its container. I didn’t love using my hand to apply the product but it was a minor hiccup in an overall flawless product. Nowadays, Meow Meow Tweet is so popular, you can find this brand at Target, Ulta, as well as your local health food stores.
Don’t mind touching your pits? Deodorant cream could be your perfect mate. Deodorant cream tends to have a frosting-like consistency that applies just like thick body lotion. As a product, deodorant cream is very similar to a solid stick. However, in my personal use, I noticed cream tends to be more prone to melting and a little bit of a mess. This particular cream from Sustainyoself is really nice smelling and offers pretty good all-day smell control—although I will say I’ve found sticks to be a little more effective.
If you’re tentative to make the switch to a paper or cream deodorant, this product from byHumankind could be your gateway drug. Featuring hard, plastic packaging, byHumankind’s deodorant solution is very similar to a generic tube. But instead of tossing that plastic after the deoderant is gone, byHumankind allows you to order a replacement stick that you plop right where the old tube was. Whether you opt for their fresh Eauclytis or warm Rosemary Mint, this low-waste product is a step in the right direction.
With all this extra time at home, maybe you want to dive in and make your own DIY deodorant? More power to ya! The blog Simple Green Smoothies uses four ingredients—essential oils, baking soda, arrowroot, and coconut oil—to make their five-star recipe. You can store your DIY mixture in an old lotion container or even spare Tupperware. Making your own product also allows you to tailor your deodorant if you have allergies or a strong preference regarding scent.
Before I jump into the article, I want to be sure to address the matter of affordability. After all, “affordable” is a very loaded term and it means vastly different things to different people.
Yes, truly sustainable products do cost more than their generic alternatives. And unfortunately, this does negatively impact their accessibility. The promising news is that as more people already able to afford these products make the switch, over time, costs will decrease. It’s for sure not an immediate solution, but it does offer some hope for greater access down the road.
Where I am at in life, it is financially feasible for me to make sustainability a priority. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some initial sticker shock as I started exploring these zero-waste swaps. Even if you’re able to make sustainable switches, letting go of comfortable and convenient habits is hard. So to help, here’s the logic I used to see these products not just as purchases, but as investments in a more sustainable future.
Higher quality ingredients – Chemical-free and biodegradable products are naturally derived and therefore better for your body and the earth
Longevity – Many sustainable products are concentrated or purer, requiring less volume per use
Livable wages & working conditions – More money is cycled back to the people who grow and produce these products, so they can achieve a higher quality of life
If you’ve been hoping to switch over to a more sustainable or plastic-free bathroom routine but haven’t known where to start, this guide will help you identify which products can work for your lifestyle and budget. For every product, I’ve broken down the costs and ease of switch to help make your sustainable transition a smooth one.
1. Zero Waste Lip Balm | Ease of switch: 9/10
Currently, I’m using a nice mint stick from Twinkle Apothecary, a woman-founded, small business based in Oklahoma. The large stick, if I recall correctly, was $12 and has lasted me more than a year.
The only challenge I encountered when switching to a plastic-free lip balm was adjusting to the more natural formula. As a devout Burts user, I found my lips more dry than usual at the start, but they’ve since adapted and feel very healthy.
If you’re willing to break from your plastic pal, stainless steel razors make for a great zero-waste swap. Unlike safety razors you find at drug stores or from popular brands like Billie, the steel versions feature two blades that can be replaced an infinite number of times.
I purchased my three-piece Albatross razor from Package Free a year ago, and although we had a pretty rocky start, we’re now very well acquainted. What do I mean by ‘rocky’? Well, bloody. I should preface this with the fact that I’ve never been a very adept shaver. Add to that applying way too much pressure to this new razor and you have yourself a perfect little storm.
During my initial shaves with the Albatross, I used the razor just like my cheap plastic ones. Big mistake. Because the body of the Albatross razor is heftier, applying any additional pressure pushes the blade directly into your skin. Ouch!
But before you write this method off completely—hold on. We’re not talking ER type cuts, just little nicks, easily fixed with a bandaid. A slow learner, it’s taken me almost a year to shave cut-free but now that I have a handle on it, I truly love this product and will NEVER go back. I use it on my legs, armpits, lil mustache, and uh yah, down yonder too. I only need to change the blade every 4-6 months and each replacement costs just cents.
Another benefit of this particular brand is Albatross’ free blade recycling program that lets you mail in used razors to be repurposed rather than trashed in landfill. But if you aren’t able to buy Albatross’ razor and use their recycling program, I advise you collect your old razors in a pill container or Altoids box, something hard and difficult to puncture. When the container is full, put the entire thing in the trash. Never in recycling and never uncovered; the tiny pieces can damage disposal machinery and pose risk to workers. Obviously, this version isn’t completely waste-free, but you are still eliminating new plastics from being produced and added to the environment.
Bar soaps are a cheap and easy way to cut back on plastic at the sink and in your shower. These zero-waste swaps are available in an incredible number of scents, packaging options, and sizes so most people won’t have trouble finding a good fit. If you can find and afford it, opt for a soap that is package-free, chemical-free, and biodegradable.
Something you might also want when making the switch to bar soap is a self-straining holder. These little babies can be helpful in preserving the life of your soap and preventing the bar from becoming soggy. I like this one from the Zero Waste Store, but you can also make your own using rubber bands and a jar top.
Dr. Bronners– $4.69 (I can often find this brand discounted at T.J.Maxx)
If you like breath mints, toothpaste tabs will be a synch. Unlike some of the homemade solutions I’ve tried, toothpaste tabs don’t cause me to dry heave over the bathroom sink. Which is great. While you definitely don’t get the same rush of freshness as you do with a chemical-heavy Crest or Colgate, the tabs still leave your teeth and mouth feeling clean. Oh, and my dentist approves, too!
I personally use Bites, although after doing this cost analysis, I’ll probably switch to Georganics. Regardless, both brands’ are cruelty-free and don’t contain sulfates or parabens. If you’re not a fan of traditional mint, Bites also has flavors like Berry Blast (good for kids) and Lavender Lemon.
As for cost, Bites charges about $.2 per tab while Georganics is half that. My Bites subscription is $30 for four month’s supply that automatically renews, so I never run out. Their refills come in compostable, plant-based plastic, making even that part of the process zero-waste. Georganics, on the other hand, is about $26 for the same amount of tabs and they do not offer a subscription option.
Truthfully, there’s not a huge difference in price or quality between either of these tabs. During this pandemic, Bites is more convenient because I can’t access a lot of local stores. However, after this period is over, buying Georganics makes more sense because it’s slightly cheaper, lets me support local business, and doesn’t require any added shipping.
I use ear swabs for makeup and, of course, a satisfying de-waxing. But daily use really adds up and these small items unfortunately often end up damaging waterways and oceans.
Fortunately, a very smart person invented a reusable & zero-waste swab. I own two different types; one for ears and one for makeup. Both are made out of a squishy, body-safe silicone and are easy to clean using just soap and water. They’re very comfortable and other than regular washing, don’t demand much of an adjustment.
I hate flossing. What normal person doesn’t? But every time I go to the dentist, she reminds me it’s the only way to keep my own teeth. So I floss.
I started using refillable floss a few months ago and am very happy with this zero-waste swap. Before, I did try a low-waste floss wrapped in paper, but found it’s design totally non-durable and by the end of the pack, I was having to cut the floss with scissors.
Refillable floss, however, is just like regular floss but without the plastic waste. The container is made from glass and metal. And while normal floss is typically nylon, a type of plastic, most zero-waste floss is made from compostable 100% silk. The only exception I’ve found is Georganics charcoal floss, which contains some plastic in the form of polyester. Regardless of the brand you choose, always read the materials of your floss prior to buying to make sure you’re getting a wholly biodegradable option.
As you may have guessed, refillable floss isn’t cheap. It averages about $7 upon initial purchase, plus $10 for two refills. I bought my current floss about four months ago, floss 3 times a week (don’t judge me), and still have a ways to go to finishing it. Out of all the products I’ve shared, refillable floss is arguably one of the most expensive and difficult to justify. But if you can afford it, you’ll be removing dangerously small and easy to swallow plastics from waterways and any animals in them.
Typically, I don’t buy much online…well clothing. But other than that, I do most of my business IRL. Take that, millennial haters! And so far, my non-digital approach has served me well. I’m lucky to live in an area where it’s easy to find local grocery stores to support and with very few exceptions, I can purchase any household, cosmetic, or everyday essential within just a few miles of my house.
But right now, everything’s a little different. Amidst the pandemic, bulk sections at my usual grocery stores are empty. Healthy and cheap go-to’s like oatmeal are difficult, if not impossible, to find. This on top of having to stand in line for hours just to get into virtually any store. And suddenly, something that was so simple and enjoyable for me just a month ago, is now a stressful time commitment.
For the most part, I’m still trying to get my groceries around the neighborhood. I feel some obligation because of my good health (knock on wood) and access to a car to leave online stockpiles to those who really need them. Online orders also require additional gasoline and resources to ship and the more I can avoid adding to my footprint, the better.
But if you do need toilet paper or some things for your pantry, the good news is you can find affordable, lower-impact options online. The following brands offer more sustainable alternatives to the Amazon’s and other one-stop-shops of the world. And even after shelter-in-place orders relax, you might find them to be a great addition to your lifestyle.
In an attempt to mimic the “value, selection, [and] convenience” of her then current employer Amazon, founder of The Wally Shop, Tamara, split from the herd and started her own climate-conscious venture.
Selling a range of bulk goods—olive oil to chocolate chips—in returnable and reusable containers, The Wally Shop is blazing trails where few digital businesses have ever been before. The site offers different size jars, letting you buy just what you need, and tells you the ideal number of products you’d have to buy in order for the carbon footprint of shipping to be worthwhile. At checkout, buyers pay a jar deposit that they’ll get back once their containers are returned as well as a flat rate for back-and-forth shipping. When your jars are empty, just send them back and you’re ready to start the process over again. Super simple & sustainable.
A smaller and more niche version of Costco, Public Goods is a members-only, semi-sustainable online grocery store. Membership is $59 annually (or about $4 a month) but you can try their products for free through their two week trial.
In terms of quality, I think of Public Goods like a Trader Joes. Most of their products are unfortunately wrapped or packaged in plastic but, from what I can tell, the contents are more planet-friendly and/or healthy for your body. Their toilet paper, for example, is wrapped in plastic. But the paper itself is made from sugar cane and bamboo—bamboo being one of the more environmentally-friendly paper products out there. So it’s a trade-off. They also offer a lot of refillables which, if used properly, can reduce, but not eliminate, your plastic consumption.
Overall, Public Goods scores lower for sustainability but offers really great value and access. If you are trying to limit your plastic use, I’d recommend sticking to their designated ‘zero waste’ section, glass or canned goods, vitamins, and avoid their travel & smaller sized cosmetic products.
Need a fresh shampoo bar, biodegradable dog poop bag, or reusable food storage pouch? The Package Free Store has it all. While their prices definitely fall on the higher side, Package Free has an incredible selection of sustainable products that are helpful in and out of quarantine. Keep in mind that the higher cost of eco-friendly products typically accounts for their longer lifespan and body-safe ingredients. But if that’s not enough justification, you can always try finding products of interest on other sites for a better deal.
Package Free does offer a subscription program which will save you 10% on every order and prevent future oh-shit-I-ran-out-of-biodegradable-toilet-paper moments.
I owe my friend Mikayla for this one! (Hi, if you’re reading!) Like Package Free Shop, I trust the Zero Waste Store implicitly. They carry some of the best sustainable brands and offer a surprising number of smaller and more difficult to find names as well.
The Store offers shampoo and conditioner bars, candles, makeup, kitchen supplies, and more, all with minimal to no packaging. It’s also a woman-owned business and has a great blog if you’re looking for some reading material.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard Tinder’s not doing great with the whole social distancing thing. But that doesn’t mean the world has stopped having sex altogether. Like always, staying safe and comfortable is of the utmost importance. That’s where Sustain comes in.
Sustain, which in the past year was acquired by the subscription-based site, Grove Collaborative, was founded with the intention of destigmatizing intimate health. In addition to organic cotton tampons and pads, Sustain also makes fair trade latex condoms, water-based lube, and even a menstrual cup. Their products aren’t as affordable as K-Y or Trojan but they contain far less compromising materials. So they’re good for you, and better for the planet.
Once I run through the shampoo and conditioner bars I’ve been meaning to try, Plain Products will be my next stop. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been skeptical of how a solid bar of product will interact with my hair. But, at the same time, I’m tired of big plastic bottles and long, chemical-packed ingredients lists.
That’s why Plain is super cool. For $30—$27 with an ongoing subscription—you can get 16oz of liquid conditioner or shampoo. The product comes in metal bottles that you use and then send back to be refilled. No plastic. No waste. Plain has a range of body products, including lotions, body oils, face wash, and toner, all of which follow their low-impact system.
If you’re looking to cut back on plastic within your beauty routine and can swing the higher price, Plain is a really good option. As someone who washes their hair 2-3 times a week, I can go four to five months on 16oz of product. That’s just cents per wash!
During this month of low-spend, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I have and how to make greater use of it. Although I didn’t necessarily think it then, I now realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a household where “elbow grease” was the prescribed solution for any burnt pan or sticky mess and where a piece of clothing hadn’t served its purpose in life until it had been worn, ripped, patched, worn again, and then used to wipe oil off my dad’s lawn mower. My parents and their parents before them had grown up poor. And being poor meant using everything you had and never wasting a thing. For them though, I can only imagine this decision was purely economic, driven by the need to stretch each dollar. But what they may not have realized is just how sustainable their waste not, want not lifestyle really was. So, as I transition to a low-impact lifestyle, I’m trying to channel some of my inner penny-pincher and striving to put every resource to its fullest use.
One of the simplest ways to get more life out of any household item is learning to DIY. You don’t have to be some crafter extraordinaire to DIY. You just need access to the internet and a little extra time on your hands. A simple and cheap example of this is multi-surface cleaner. Tired of all the chemicals and spending money on products whose companies I knew didn’t have my health or the environment in mind, I started making my own surface cleaner out of distilled water, white vinegar, lemon juice, and essential oils. For me, this was a natural and convenient switch. White vinegar costs under $4 per gallon and can be used for so many household cleaning needs, like dish soap and even removing salt stains from leather shoes. Plus, the solution itself is also very environmentally friendly, with all ingredients being chemical-free, 100% compostable, and available in recyclable packaging. And yes, to answer your question, it really does work.
Another easy DIY project is making your own makeup and nail polish wipes. On top of their non-recycle plastic packaging, makeup wipes themselves contain serious amounts of plastic. In fact, wipes are the cause of 93% of drain blockages in the UK alone and in 2018, there was a 400% (yes, 400%) increase in the occurence of makeup wipes washing up on beaches. For me, the saddest part of this situation is that makeup wipes are totally unnecessary—a ploy made up by companies to sell more product. Water, soap, and a washcloth do an equally good job removing makeup, not to mention cost you and the earth a lot less in the long-run. But if you do prefer the size and contouring of a wipe, consider making your own. All you’ll need are some old clothes—preferably something soft—and a sewing machine. Litterless has a great tutorial on this and while she seems to have purchased her material, keep in mind that using something you already have is always the more sustainable option.
While we’re on the topic, I should mention that sewing is a truly underrated skill. I cannot count the number of times sewing has saved my favorite shirt or underwear from ending up in the trash. What’s more, basic stitching is so easy to learn and once you know how, you become a mending machine. There are of course great video tutorials online and, if its an option, consider taking a local sewing or design course to really master the art.
Next on the list is cooking. Americans are responsible for over 1.3 billion pounds of food waste per year. To put that in perspective, that’s 30-40% of the entire world’s food waste. Yeah, we wasteful AF. Just like sewing, learning how to cook can mean the difference between very ugly-looking, ripe bananas and delicious banana bread. Unless food has truly gone bad or is inedible, it’s important to try to make the most of it. Lemon rind, for example, can be used to make a basic cake, deluxe. Squishy cucumber can be added to a smoothie. And soft carrots can be seasoned and baked for a healthy and hardy meal. So before you throw something away, type, “What can you do with ________” into Google and see if there’s an alternative to the can. Or, if you really can’t stomach it, hop on an app like BUNZ to give your food to someone who can put it to good use.
Lastly, I want to mention that not all sustainable repurposing is DIY. One of my favorite and most affordable switches is repurposing glass jars. While I made the mistake of going out and buying new jars and containers when I first started transitioning, I quickly found that after a few months of peanut butter, olives, and pesto, I had more than enough containers for meal prepping, food storage, and carrying my lunches to work. Best of all, it didn’t cost me anything extra.
The moral of the story? Just like us, our stuff isn’t here to serve a single purpose. That’s why it’s so important we use our clothes, food, and household items to their furthest capacity, caring for them as best we can and knowing ways to repurpose them when they do eventually reach their limits.