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It all started about one month into stay-at-home orders. I had finally made it through the first adjustment period (because there are many so far this year) and decided that I should get back to some semblance of a routine, like washing my face every morning, not leaving a dent in the couch, and putting on something other than pajamas. One fateful morning, I opened my mirror cabinet and all of a sudden, I felt, well, overwhelmed. Not only was there an obscene amount of products staring back at me, but more than half of them hadn’t been opened. And when I tried to remember why they were there in the first place, I couldn’t. Such was the case with things in my closet, in the kitchen cabinets, and under furniture, where products go to gather dust and die. My mind was made up—I needed some sustainable living tips as soon as possible.
I’m totally not ashamed to admit that outside of current circumstances, I wouldn’t have realized what a hoarder I am, and for literally no good reason. As a beauty editor, I’d fallen into the pattern of biting off more than I could chew in the name of product reviews. “Hey, this looks cute and effective. Let’s take it home and add it to the pile of other products I made false promises to.” Do it long enough without holding yourself accountable and you almost start to forget what you like and don’t like, period. Yikes.
I’m also not blind to the amount of packaging these products come in. It’s a lot. And while I could spare myself of at least some of the disposal process in an office, doing it at home made me realize just how wasteful and unnecessary all of it was. I don’t need to go over the gargantuan amount of evidence that proves how this type of product consumption is impacting our environment. It’s all bad news and at this point, more than enough reason to Marie Kondo my bathroom (see below) and start fresh with a new, waste-free perspective.
So, here I am a couple months later and still a sustainability baby learning to walk on her own, but I have learned quite a bit. For one, y’all—it’s really not that hard. The fast-food vibe of our world will have you thinking you need to completely transform your entire life overnight to save the planet.
“On an individual level, sustainability is being able to take on a practice that doesn’t create more waste or harm for the environment,” says Tara Pelletier, founder of vegan skincare line Meow Meow Tweet. “And that practice is able to be repeated in a person’s life over and over. In other words, sustainable gestures need to be sustainable in an individual’s life and make sense with their lifestyle.” In other words, there’s no one “practice” to follow. You gotta do what works for you. If you’re like me and a complete novice, it’s a slow burn. Pelletier recommends starting with something you already do. For me, it made the most sense to start with my beauty routine, but for you, it could be your clothes, your kitchen, or even your commute.
“If you can, look at the places that your existing lifestyle causes a negative impact and make small changes that you can integrate over time. For example, instead of driving alone to work, can you carpool? Can you work remotely for part of the week? Can you bike?” *Adds “buy a really cute bike” to my to-do list. In general, Pelletier has found living minimally to be the easiest way to be sustainable because it’s inspired her to get to Googlin’ and find fewer, but better quality things. “It’s made me get involved in the local food and farm system. It’s made me feel more in tune with my own desires…like do I really need that new thing?”
And beyond the obvious benefit to our planet and local environments, living sustainably is my favorite way to stick it to “the man” and feel empowered because I’m not overly invested in products or habits that rob me of economic power. “I think individual actions can feel empowering, but ultimately policy needs to change for us to truly get somewhere with sustainability,” adds Pelletier. “Climate change cannot be solved by a bunch of individuals making single choices, it has to be done at a systematic level. What we can do as individuals is put pressure on lawmakers and representatives to support initiatives that will make sweeping change.” In other words, after you make changes at home, start brainstorming how you can help spark change on a corporate level because ultimately, we’re all impacted by it, whether we buy directly from certain brands or not, or whether we live in New York City or on a farm.
For beauty, fashion, and lifestyle products specifically, I’ve realized that there’s more than one way to grade their sustainability efforts. Sure, you can see what’s on the product label, but there’s also the packaging, how it’s made, where it’s made, and even where its profits are allocated. Again, it’s easy to get overwhelmed but simply start with what you know and go from there. Ahead are some of the product swaps I’ve made so far to make life a little easier and waste-free. (Pro-tip: MADE SAFE is another great resource for when you want to discover sustainable products for literally every part of your life.)
Reunited With Bar Soap
As it turns out, I love bar soap. Early on, I attempted using a face and body bar (like the Gallinée Prebiotic Cleansing Bar) but they ultimately don’t last long enough to justify the price. What has worked for me, however, is a shampoo bar that I can occasionally use on my body when I’m low on body wash. Right now, I’m obsessed with Meow Meow Tweet’s Rosemary Avocado Bar because it’s clarifying without drying out my hair strands.
“We make all of our products in house, so we have an enormous amount of control over what we produce. This enables us to source ethically, from our packaging to the ingredient level,” says Pelletier. “We support organic farming and are working toward the least amount of waste in our manufacturing process and the end of life for our packaging. We do this creatively through a closed-loop bulk refill program and with our compostable materials.”
But Still Making Exceptions for Body Wash
When it comes to my body wash, I aim for big, recyclable bottles that I know will last me long. And because I have eczema, I steer away from anything with synthetic fragrance so my flare-ups don’t worsen. Seventh Generation’s “Not Just Body Wash” line is made with all plant-based ingredients and the bottle itself is made of ocean-bound plastic. Plus, the affordable price is icing on the cake.
No More Disposable Cotton Pads
For as long as I can remember, I’ve used disposable cotton rounds to apply my toner day and night. It feels more substantial than simply splashing my face. It’s also a small part of my routine I was willing to part with…sort of. These days I’m using Versed Down to Earth Reusable Cotton Pads. They can feel a bit abrasive so I dampen them beforehand but it beats running to the drugstore every couple of weeks.
Using Less Product
If you aren’t ready to part with certain products, a super small step you can take toward sustainability is simply being more conscious of the amount of product you’re using. Are you actually using a pea-sized amount of facial cleanser or is it more like a dime size?
Once I started following the directions on the bottle or jar, I realized it took me waaaay longer to finish a product, which in turn saved me money and made me more conscious of how much I was consuming overall. This was especially apparent for my hair cleansing routine. Whereas it would’ve taken me a couple of weeks to get through this bottle of MyKirei by Kao shampoo, it takes me twice that amount of time now (and yes, my hair is just as clean).
Downsizing My Disposable Razor Stash
My throwaway razors haven’t completely disappeared—I still use them when I’ve gone weeks without shaving and need something heavy-duty. But most days, I use this time-saving, rechargeable dry razor (that works in both directions!) on my legs and underarms.
Researching Sustainable Fashion
I am by no means a fashionista invested in the latest trends. I simply like pieces that flatter and fit well. With that being said, I’m not necessarily in a rush to overall my entire wardrobe, but I am exploring sustainable brands to try here and there. Hemp Tailor (the brand I’m wearing the above photo) makes cute staple pieces like casual dresses and the comfiest sweats I’ve ever worn.
For something a little more dressed up, I recently discovered ASOS’s MADE IN KENYA line (made in collaboration with SOKO Kenya) which directly benefits the country’s local communities with sustainable developments and skill-building initiatives. These wide-leg pants definitely turn heads.
Saying No to Straws at the Bodega
Is it just me or does everyone want to give me a straw?! I found myself asking this question when I bought a metal straw to keep in the house instead of hoarding the ones I would get at the bodega or through take-out and food deliveries. It’s a small and simple change that makes a huge impact.
Adjusting to Concentrated Cleansers
If there’s one product I constantly go overboard with (especially during a pandemic), it’s laundry detergent. Using concentrated detergent is definitely a habit change that takes time. To answer the question for you, yes that very small amount of liquid will adequately wash a very large amount of clothes.
Getting Into Weirdly Satisfying Washcloths
Don’t sleep on this Public Goods Ayate washcloth that’s way less harsh than it looks. It provides just the right amount of exfoliation, absorbs water nicely, and dries fast. (Alternatively, you can use it in the kitchen to wash dishes.)
Recycling as Much as Possible
In addition to recycling bottles and paper, I’ve also started transitioning to products that are recycled in and of themselves. Public Goods’s trash bags are 100% oxo-biodegradable and degrade within five years, unlike conventional plastic bags which usually take up to 1,000 years (!) to break down.
Bye-Bye Plastic Bags
In New York City, we don’t have much of a choice, as most stores no longer sell plastic bags. I love storing fruits and veggies inside these reusable cotton bags instead of using the little plastic ones in the produce section.
Learning to Love Old School Floss
Admittedly, it’s so much easier to use floss with a plastic handle. But in the name of sustainability, I’m keeping it old school with string that I have to manipulate with my fingers. By Humankind’s new biodegradable floss is made with actual silk, infused with vegan wax for smooth gliding and jojoba to soothe the gums.
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