Evolution of my Toiletries Bag

When I first went zero waste, I already didn’t use a lot of beauty products. I was proud of my bare bones toiletries bag and loved that I could fit it in a small purse or throw it in my guitar case whenever I hit the road. I thought I was a minimal makeup badass.

But over the past two years my personal care regimen underwent the biggest zero waste evolution of all, with lessons that reverberated far beyond the medicine cabinet. Here are some tips & tricks I've accumulated along with photos of my toiletry bag in various stages along the way!


 Where I started, early 2014. Photo by Megan Tepper.

 Where I started, early 2014. Photo by Megan Tepper.

Documenting my toiletries bag only a month after my initial zero waste awakening was pretty shocking. All the plastic, travel-sized products that I loved for their space saving capabilities were surely convenient, but ultimately not sustainable. The good news is I already had a start with homemade toothpaste (1 - here's a recipe), a vintage soap container (purchased secondhand on Etsy) with bulk, package-free soap inside (2), a wooden, biodegradable comb (3) and a diva cup (4).

Tips for starting the toiletries transition:

  • Make a commitment to REFUSE free cosmetics and samples. Accepting freebies breeds demand for more. While we’re on the topic, be sure to get your five R’s in order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.
  • USE up old products first instead of throwing them away. The point is not to buy all new, “green” marketed products while your old stuff goes in the trash. Plus, the time it takes to use them up gives you flexibility to try out various homemade recipes or research package free replacements before switching. 
  • If you truly don’t use something anymore, post it on craigslist or GIFT it to someone who would use it. I called my sister to see if she would appreciate a very strange care package of tampons, concealer, eyeliner, and lint rollers. She said yes!
  • RECYCLE plastic containers once you’ve used up the product. Check out earth911.com for recycling centers and for recycling guides. Places like Home Depot and Whole Foods accept more unusual types of plastic.
  • RESEARCH DIY recipes & zero waste alternatives. While using up old product I started researching homemade beauty recipes for the things I’d eventually need to replace. I looked for simple, multifunctional recipes with ingredients I already had or which could be used to make other things around the house. For the complicated stuff I was too lazy to make myself I looked for package and plastic free alternatives I could buy from a local source. Check out TIFT’s Zero Waste Alternatives: The Ultimate List and Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Recipes for ideas.
  • BORROW from your kitchen. Coconut oil is a great replacement for body moisturizer, conditioner, and shaving cream to start, but you probably already have other stuff in your pantry like cacao powder, baking soda, and cornstarch to make your own products.


A few months later, I had the opportunity to put my toiletries kit to the test during a fashion film shoot in upstate New York where I was in charge of my own makeup!

Later that summer, shooting a fashion film in Keane Valley, NY. Photos by me. 

Later that summer, shooting a fashion film in Keane Valley, NY. Photos by me. 

Tips for keeping the transition going:

  • REUSE old glass and metal containers by up-cycling them to hold your new concoctions. Give them a nice scrubbing with hot water and castile soap and stow them in your medicine cabinet for later. I did this with a bunch of old Burt’s Bee’s containers and mashed up old lipsticks in them, combined with Shea butter, vitamin E, and coconut oil to make these vibrant lip/blush duos (1).
  • After researching and asking my makeup artist friend Alexandra Massey I replaced my old foundation/concealer with RMS Beauty "uncover" (2) and became obsessed with this brand. All their products are organic, packaged in recyclable metal and glass, and available for me to purchase locally. What's not to like?
  • I continued to REDUCE by using bulk and multitasking ingredients, while also tweaking things to work for my body. I started using coconut oil for body lotion, shaving cream, and conditioner but found it a bit much for my face. Switching to jojoba oil (3 - pictured here in an up-cycled glass vial) made a big difference.
  • I followed up my RESEARCH by taking a stab at DIY hair powder (4) and hand sanitizer (5). I was pretty pleased with both!
  • After RECYCLING my old, worn out travel toothbrush, I invested in a pack of Brush With Bamboo toothbrushes (6) so I could give a few to my friends and family.
  • As you can see here I was still dutifully using up my old sunscreen, in a plastic tube.







Handkerchief has replaced wet wipes for trips (sometimes I bring a few)