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. 

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 along with photos of my toiletry bag in various stages along the way!

STAGE ONE - STARTING OFF

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

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

Documenting my toiletries bag a month into my initial zero waste awakening was pretty shocking. All the plastic, travel-sized products I loved for their space saving capabilities were convenient, but ultimately not sustainable. Luckily I had a firm start with my vintage soap container with package-free bar soap inside (1) homemade toothpaste (2 - here's a recipe), 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 them breeds demand for more. While we’re on the topic, be sure to get your five R’s in order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse (& Repair), Recycle, and Rot.
  • USE up old products first instead of throwing them away. The point is not to buy all new, “green” marketed products right away. In the time it takes to use up the old stuff you can try out various homemade recipes or research package-free replacements.
  • 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. I started researching homemade beauty recipes for the things I’d eventually need to replace, looking for simple, multifunctional recipes with ingredients I already had. 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 moisturizer and you can make many products using stuff in your pantry like cacao powder, baking soda, and cornstarch.
 

STAGE TWO: TESTING THE WATERS

A few months later, I had the opportunity to put my toiletries kit to the test during a 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 some research 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!

 

STAGE THREE - GOING DEEPER

The next time I documented my personal care products was during a move to a new apartment. By now I was getting the hang of things and swapped even more products for zero waste alternatives.

Advanced toiletry tips:

  • I continued to embrace BULK in a variety of ways: I found a place where I could buy essential oils and refill the bottles. I also starting purchasing recycled, unbleached toilet paper and bulk castile soap. 
  • I started to REUSE handkerchiefs (1) and cloth napkins instead of kleenex and wet wipes. To get the effect of a wet wipe I spray homemade hand sanitizer (2) on a napkin - it works just as well. I also SWAPPED disposable panty liners for reusable cloth versions.
  • I made DIY Mascara (3), lip & nail balm (4), and roll-on deodorant (5). I also tried TIFT’s body butter recipe and loved it!
  • UPKEEP of what you already own is important, so I learned how to sharpen my tweezers (6). I also decided to REFUSE getting manicures (already a rare indulgence) and thus purchased a stainless steel nail file (8) so I could do it myself.
  • I REPLACED my plastic body scrubber with a loofah (6 - bought package free from a street vendor). These compostable alternatives can be up-cycled for house cleaning once they’ve passed their prime in the shower.
  • I could now ROT my loofah along with my hair and toenail clippings by adding them to my compost. How do I do that in the city you may ask? Check out TIFT’s great video on How To Compost Anywhere.

 

STAGE FOUR - ROUGHIN’ IT

My most recent challenge was to pack a slimmed-down version of my travel kit for a week in Los Angeles where I wanted my bags to be as light as possible. Here is what I brought!

Tips for the uber-minimal travel kit:

  • I went OLD SCHOOL with the purchase of my first safety razor. They’re relatively easy to find second hand and the blades are super cheap and recyclable (save them in an old metal can until you have enough to take to the recycling center).
  • I brought my nail & lip balm, my new and improved DIY roll on deodorant (I plan on sharing the recipe in another post) and bought UNPACKAGED soap from the Topanga Canyon farmer’s market (soap container not pictured).
  • Buy LOCAL olive oil at your destination to use for moisturizer, shaving cream, and conditioner. Then leave the remainder as a hostess gift.
  • Tea tree oil did double duty as insect repellant and zit treatment and I brought my biodegradable bamboo toothbrush and wooden hairbrush.

I’m pretty proud of what I’ve accomplished in two years. For the future I’d like to find a more sustainable solution for FLOSS (something compostable that doesn’t come in a plastic box) and figure out how to reduce my MEDICINAL waste (pills, bandaids, and the like).

Which of these tips did you find helpful? Is there something in your current toiletries kit you're inspired to swap out for a zero waste alternative? Please leave a comment below and follow ZWR on Instagram for more zero waste toiletry tips!