When I first made the decision to eliminate plastic containers and bags from my life and “go zero waste,” some switches were easy peasy. Some had me in a panic. Like finding zero waste hair care in general and shampoo and conditioner in particular.
My attachment to my favorite vegan hair care products (sold in plastic bottles) had me wondering if I would just have to make an exception when it came to styling my locks. But with a little time, a lot of research, and an irrational determination to see things through to the end, I made some new discoveries.
I have not yet found a zero waste solution for all of my hair care needs such as styling products (future post coming!). But in the meantime, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learned and what I love so you can get started, too.
It took me decades to figure out what my fickle hair needed — in terms of the right style, the right stylist, the right shampoo and conditioner, and the right styling products.
Of course for all of these decades the main criteria for choosing hair products have been first and foremost: vegan and cruelty-free. (That is, free of animal products and free of animal-testing). I’ve tried a gazillion products over the years, and the brand that ticks all of my ethical, vegan, and beauty boxes is Aveda. Having used and loved this brand for over a decade, the thought of switching brands was not something I relished.
Because Aveda primarily sells their products to Aveda-approved salons, for a time I thought that my solution would be to ask my hair stylist if I could just fill up my existing Aveda containers with shampoo and conditioner from the large bottles she would already have open for washing clients’ hair.
While this would slightly reduce the existence of additional plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles in the world and while I think it’s a brilliant stop-gap (you can steal this idea!), I was open to exploring other solutions that would bring me closer to the zero-waste goals I was trying to achieve.
And a solution I found!
Let me cut to the chase and tell you about the zero waste hair care products I love so much that they successfully helped wean me off of Aveda. Then I’ll provide some other ideas so you have a bunch to choose from. (Keep reading for your 15% off coupon code!)
When I heard about a sister-owned company that made cruelty-free, plastic-free, chemical-free, zero waste, biodegradable, vegan shampoo and conditioner, I had to give them a try! (Plus, they have body lotion and body wash!) They were kind enough to send me some products to test, and I was hooked immediately.
Even so, I wanted to give my hair some time to experience the products before I shared my enthusiasm. Now that time has passed, I’m here to share why my enthusiasm has only increased. I’m hooked.
Plaine Products come in aluminum containers that they refill for customers again and again and again. Here’s how it works:
For your first order, you order the products you want with a pump for each aluminum bottle.
When you run out of (or are running low on) your products, you order a refill! Then, you say “no” to the pump option (since you already ordered them in your first shipment). Finally, you opt for a return label to be sent with your order.
When your new order arrives, you just switch the pump over to the new bottles! Next, send the old bottles back using the same box and the label (that you don’t pay additionally for). They sanitize the bottles, refill them, and send them to their new home for other customers.
As you learned from the podcast episode called Zero Waste: It Ain’t About Recycling, very little of the plastic we buy gets recycled. And because it lasts for so long, every bit of plastic ever created still exists on this planet. Experts predict that at our current rate of plastic use and disposal, soon there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. That is a depressing thought.
What you also learned is that when it comes to materials, glass is indeed 100% recyclable (though we should re-use it rather than recycle it when it’s perfectly functional). So is aluminum. And in the case of Plaine Products, the aluminum bottles are sterilized and used a number of times before they even get recycled. AND, the recycling process for aluminum requires even less energy than was needed to make the bottles in the first place!
What’s more: the boxes they use to ship (which you can use to send your bottles back) are custom-made to fit their bottles. That eliminates the need for peanuts or packaging! AND they’re made from a mix of 95% post-consumer waste and 5% post-industrial waste. Absolutely NO new materials are used in the manufacturing of their green shipping cartons. They even use plastic-free tape.
AND…everything comes in two natural scents: Mint + Rosemary or Citrus + Lavender. Both are divine!
Buy Your Plaine Products for 15% Off!
If I haven’t convinced you to give them a try yet, then experience their awesomeness yourself. Use this link anytime you make a purchase, and enter “compassion” as the coupon code to receive 15% off your order! The shipping is a flat $5, which is pretty amazing.
The Aveda conditioner I was using before cost $44. You might think that’s crazy, but for a fantastic, cruelty-free, toxin-free, vegan, natural conditioner that I loved, I was willing to pay it — especially because I had tried so many others that just didn’t work for my hair.
The fact that I’m paying 1/3 less now for a zero-waste, sustainable, plastic-free, vegan, toxic-free, biodegradable conditioner (and shampoo, etc.) is the icing on the cake! By the time you factor in your 15% off coupon code using this link, I think you’ll be happy with that, too!
Other Zero Waste Options
Shampoo Bars – I’ve never tried them, but I’ve heard mixed opinions about shampoo bars. Give them a try yourself, and let me know what you think.
Refilling from Bulk Section – Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco is the closest store to me that has bulk shampoos and conditioners with which you can fill your own bottles. HOWEVER, the brands they have aren’t vegan or cruelty-free. But look to stores near you with good bulk sections!
DIY – Make your own. Good luck. 🙂
REMEMBER TO USE ANY OF THE LINKS BELOW AND USE “compassion” TO RECEIVE 15% OFF YOUR ORDERS
Over the holidays while visiting friends, David confessed something to me. He said that while he supports us buying toilet paper made from recycled materials, he covets toilet paper at other people’s homes because it’s so much softer. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe he didn’t say covet, but he made the point that our toilet paper is a little — rough. (And we’ve been using it for decades!)
I had no plans of changing our toilet paper; I would never buy toilet paper from virgin materials; however, my zero waste journey — by accident — has led to a solution that speaks to David’s desire for soft loo roll and my desire to buy sustainable products.
As I reduce / eliminate the number of things I purchase that cannot be re-purposed and re-used, I realized the recycled toilet paper I was buying comes packaged in plastic! Yes, I know…duh. How did I not see that before? Well, I just didn’t.
So I started researching toilet paper made from renewable resources not packaged in plastic, and I found it in Who Gives A Crap! AND IT’S SOFTER!
As I opened the box, I was thrilled to find the rolls individually wrapped in pretty paper that can be — wait for it — first enjoyed as reading material (lots of fun facts on every roll!), then reused as gift wrapping paper, then either composted (or recycled).
Why is it softer? Well, Who Gives a Crap offers two options for their toilet paper: that made from 100% recycled paper and that made from 100% bamboo. I can speak only for the bamboo, and I can say without a doubt that it is oodles softer than any sustainable toilet paper I’ve ever used!
It’s thick, it’s soft, it’s made from a fast-growing grass (bamboo), and it’s less expensive than the brand I was using. But it gets even better!
Who Gives a Crap donates 50% of their profits to providing sanitation and toilets in developing countries where diseases associated with lack of hygiene is a critical problem. To date, they’ve donated over $950,000. As I’ve said, the paper on their loo rolls includes interesting facts (great conversation starter if you use it for gift-wrapping!), as does their website and newsletter, such as
Did you know? More people in the world have mobile phones than toilets. Think about that next time you’re texting on the loo!
So, until I get a bidet and don’t have a need for toilet tissue, they have a new fan in me! Click here to get $10 off your first subscription to Who Gives A Crap! You should see the $10 off graphic in the bottom left-hand corner.
While I only work with brands which I genuinely believe in and am eager to share with you, Who Gives a Crap sent me a complementary box of toilet paper to try, and I’m a genuine fan because of the product they make and the difference they are making. All of these words and opinions are my own.
Breakfast is my favorite meal. I’ve perfected my decades-long ritual of making my tea (a future post, indeed!), preparing my food, and sitting down for my morning read. This all usually comes after my morning run or workout. (Yes, I wake up early and love mornings!)
My breakfast choices (like with all my meals) tend to change with the season — I prefer fresh fruit and smoothies in the warmer months and oatmeal in the colder months, but one thing that has filled my freezer (and belly) every day for years is Trader Joe’s frozen blueberries. Versatile, inexpensive, perfect for smoothies, oatmeal, muffins, or just eaten straight from a bowl. That’s right. One of my favorite breakfasts is a huge bowl of frozen blueberries, drizzled with some agave nectar, and tossed about with some nuts and/or seeds. However, my freezer is now devoid of these once permanent bags o’ berries.
Changing one of my most regular pleasurable habits is indicative of how serious I am about this zero-waste, plastic-free endeavor. Yes, I could buy fresh blueberries and freeze them, but here’s the rub: blueberries aren’t in season year-round, even in produce-rich California.
And you know what? It turns out it’s fine, because it has forced me to make choices at the farmers market and for my breakfast that are revolved around criteria other than just simply habit or routine. Criteria that include:
locally grown (when possible)
and vegan, of course
I’ve talked often of the benefits and beauty of eating seasonally, but even *I* made exceptions over the years: frozen blueberries encased in plastic being Exhibit A. And so with making choices based on all of my values — not just some of them and only when they’re convenient — I’m buying fruit at the market that’s in season rather than buying a plastic bag filled with fruit grown out of season and out of my region.
It’s February, and the farmers markets are filled strawberries (among other fruits such as citrus and apples — yum!), and that’s what I’ve been centering my breakfasts on. And it’s been lovely. In fact, I never, ever ate oatmeal with strawberries, and now that I have, I love it!
Imagine that! Being open to something new actually reaps other rewards. Get out!
I do very much look forward to finding blueberries again at the farmers markets (anthocyanins and all that!), and I do plan on freezing some for future consumption, but in the event that I get to have blueberries or other seasonal foods only certain times of the year makes having them all the more special. And that’s just another added bonus.
DON’T FORGET: When you’re at the farmers market, you don’t have to take home the berries in the container they’re sold in. Simply dump them into your own reusable bag or container, and hand the basket back to the farmer. They’re happy to reuse them.
Before I started this zero-waste journey, I shopped in the bulk section of local grocery stores. I brought my own (plastic) bags to fill up with dried beans, grains, and nutritional yeast, but when I didn’t have my own plastic bags to re-use, I tore one of the gazillion plastic bags off the roll in the bulk section, filled it up, and wrote the bin code on the twisty tie. And repeat.
Before I started this zero-waste journey, I shopped at Trader Joe’s (among other stores) and — as I placed the plastic-wrapped fennel bulbs and the plastic-packaged lettuce into my basket — lamented about how much plastic packaging there was in the produce section. Trader Joe’s isn’t the only store that sells plastic-wrapped produce; in fact, you’ll often find that organic produce is wrapped in plastic where non-organic is not. (More on that in a subsequent post.)
NOTE: When it came to buying flour, I used to buy Trader Joe’s brand flour wrapped in paper. But once I bought Bob’s Red Mill and assumed that surely a company as socially aware as Bob’s Red Mill would use sustainable packaging. NOT SO. They recently changed their packaging for such things as flour to be completely UNsustainable: plastic, non-renewable, non-recyclable. Not. Okay. Just thought you’d like to know.
I can walk to Trader Joe’s from my home, so it’s been a convenient place to shop, especially when in need of frozen blueberries, tofu, or … fennel bulbs, which is often. (I kind of eat fennel every day.) I also didn’t think twice about buying a head of organic cauliflower wrapped in plastic from Whole Foods.
But all that has changed. Now, instead of complaining about all the plastic wrap on veggies and fruits while I’m in the middle of purchasing them, I just don’t purchase them. (Brilliant, I know.) I simply forego buying a vegetable wrapped in plastic and buy a non-plastic-wrapped vegetable instead or I wait until I’m at the farmer’s market or see a non-plastic version at another grocery store — and it turns out I’ve survived. It’s no different than the choices I make as a 20-year vegan. It’s not that I can’t buy / eat something that’s wrapped in plastic / that’s not vegan. It’s that I don’t want to.
Many habits have remained the same: I shop at our local farmer’s market every week, I stop in the bulk section of grocery stores, and I walk to Trader Joe’s. Then, I turn right — to a little locally owned produce store that has what I need when I’m in a pinch. And guess what? They have fennel bulbs NOT wrapped in plastic!
The main difference is that I don’t just take my canvas bags with me for the groceries I buy; I take with me my mesh bags for fruits and veggies and my cotton sacks for the finer-sized bulk items like flour. And I love it.
I was a late bloomer when it came to what I used to call the Trader Joe’s cult anyway. When I taught my vegan cooking classes years ago and would recommend where people could buy products, students would invariably ask me if they’re available at Trader Joe’s. “I have no idea. I’ve never been to Trader Joe’s,” I would reply — to the shock of my audience. I would explain that I shopped at (what was at the time) my local (and locally owned) neighborhood grocery stores such as Farmer Joe’s and The Food Mill — both of which are on Macarthur Blvd. in Oakland. (Farmer Joe’s also opened a second larger location on Fruitvale Ave.)
So, since I started this endeavor, I haven’t really shopped at Trader Joe’s. I get how convenient they are. I get how cheap their products are. I get how many vegan products they have. But I also really get how much plastic is harming wild places and animals — only a small portion of which is getting recycled or even can be recycled at all. (See my post on why recycling is not the answer.)
Just because it’s convenient for me doesn’t mean someone else isn’t inconvenienced.And when it comes to the waste we humans create, we’re inconveniencing millions of non-human individuals.
As for cost, it’s astronomically more affordable to purchase bulk items. So, just as there’s a myth that eating vegan is more expensive, there’s also a myth that zero-waste is more expensive.
Because I live in a city, I’m lucky to have a number of grocery stores with bulk sections near(ish) me, including Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl, but as Whole Foods is expensive and Berkeley Bowl is just too far for me (I hate driving), I started thinking about where else I could shop in bulk. So, I started making a list in my head.
There are a number of small produce / convenience stores that have bulk bins, but I treat them as such: places of convenience; they’re just too expensive for regular groceries.
Sprouts opened on Broadway not too long ago, and their bulk bins are vast, so they’ve become a regular store for me.
Farmer Joe’s also has bulk bins and a good variety at that.
But I also started wondering where I would find smaller bulk items, such as unsweetened cocoa powder, baking powder, active yeast for baking bread, maple syrup, olive oil.
And then it hit me. I had completely forgotten about a staple in Oakland known for its bulk bins: The Food Mill, which I used to shop at all the time when I lived in that neighborhood. Not only are they even closer to me than any of the stores mentioned above and not only do they have the most affordable bulk items (including organic), but they also have the items I didn’t think I’d be able to get in bulk, namely unsweetened cocoa powder, yeast, baking powder, olive oil, and…maple syrup! (They also carry a huge variety of spices and dried herbs, but I also love my Oaktown Spice Shop for those.)
My husband makes fun of me all the time, because I do get pretty excited about this stuff, but I was giddy with delight filling up my jar with maple syrup and cocoa powder. (I realize other stores have these items in bulk, so this might not be news to some of you, but it just feels good to returning to support a neighborhood store in my beloved city of Oakland.)
Still, the point is: I have options — and more than I realized or remembered. I understand that I live in a city, so my choices tend to be a little greater than someone who lives in a more suburban or rural area, but even I had forgotten about some stores that are right in my backyard. Perhaps you have, too.
Have you explored stores near you that have bulk bins? What are some near you? What are your favorite bulk finds?
Organic Cotton Muslin Bags (great for flour and fine bulk items — in a variety of sizes)
Cotton Flour Sack Towels (great for wrapping and storing veggies / bread)
*if you buy from Amazon, you can send them an email telling them that you would like a note added to your account that when you place orders, you would like to avoid plastic packaging and avoid extra packaging when possible.
Today was our first trip to the farmers market since starting my zero waste endeavor. As someone who for years has already been bringing a bevy of canvas and cotton bags to the market to avoid getting plastic bags for my produce, I would have thought I wouldn’t have to make any changes in this particular scenario.
I was wrong.
In the past, it’s true we would never take a new plastic bag for any of the fruits and veggies we bought, but some lettuce mixes that David preferred already came in plastic bags, my favorite Medjool dates were sold in plastic containers or plastic bags, and I never even thought about the twisty ties and rubber bands that bound many veggie bunches together. Also, this time I brought glass jars with me in case I bought more delicate items (like mushrooms or berries).
So, in scenario one, David decided to forego getting the braised greens in the plastic bag (he was going out of town anyway so wasn’t going to have time to eat them), and in scenario two: after paying for our edible wares, I politely asked the vendors if I could give them back whatever was holding our bunches together — rubber bands or twisty ties — and they enthusiastically agreed saying they would re-use them. However, I forgot to do so at one stand, so three bunches of kale came home with twisty ties, which I’m thinking I’ll bring back to the same farmer next week.
And then came scenario three: the true test of how serious I am. David asked if I wanted to get my dates, which I get every week from the same (and only date) vendor that happens to have the plumpest, juiciest Medjool dates. I walked over knowing that they didn’t have open bins for their dates and that the only option they offer are pre-(plastic)packaged bags/containers.
In my mind, I had already decided that I would forego buying my favorite dates but decided to ask about package-free options anyway just as another couple was approaching the table. Those who know me to be an unabashed, outspoken vegan might not know that I’m actually someone who doesn’t like to call attention to myself, so when I asked if she had any dates not packaged in plastic and she enthusiastically responded with “oh, are you zero waste??” for fear of sounding arrogant or seeming trendy, I quietly said, “well, yeah, just doing the best I can to not buy plastic.”
She went on to say that she hates how much plastic they use (and said “they use a lot”) and that she’s trying to get the company to use less or even go zero waste and that even though they don’t normally do this, if I wanted to, I could pick out individual dates from their sample box and put them in my own container. I. Was. Thrilled. I whipped out one of my glass jars.
At the same time, I was self-conscious about the other couple who had just arrived and overheard my conversation. The gentleman was quietly telling the woman he was with that I was asking for dates not wrapped in plastic (I thought he was annoyed I was taking up so much time), and so I looked directly at him in indicate to him that I could hear him, and so began a lovely conversation about how prevalent plastic is in our world, how challenging it is to try and live plastic-free, how there’s evidence that even more plastic is bring produced despite the zero-waste movement — but how it was worth it to try and do our best.
As he walked away, he said, “We can all certainly do more to reduce,” as if contemplating this endeavor for himself, patted me on the shoulder and said, “keep up the good work.”
The entire encounter was validating and heartening and left me hopeful about how people are inclined to do the right thing. It just takes us stepping up and asking for what may seem like a small, insignificant thing but what may make all the difference in the world. Our asking for what we need to reflect our values in our behavior — whether it’s vegan versions or plastic-free options — actually has the power to inspire others as well.
I’ve already reached out to the date farmer to tell them what a good experience we had, how much we love their dates, and to encourage them to consider selling their dates in an open bin rather than in pre-packaged bags. I imagine it might change the type of sales permit they have, but I also imagine it will at least prod them in the right direction.
That’s the best we can all hope for: moving in the right direction and doing the best we can to do our best.
As the daughter of parents who grew up during the Great Depression and the granddaughter of nannies and poppies who had to toil and scrape for everything they got, I subconsciously absorbed an aversion to wasteful and frivolous purchases and a healthy amount of guilt for not valuing the things I did obtain.
That’s certainly not to say I didn’t (and don’t) indulge in materialism, especially as a teenager, or devalue the items my parents worked so hard to give me, but let’s just say I’ve never been comfortable with it. I don’t make purchases lightly, I’d rather have experiences than things, and I cringe at the idea of disposing of something that’s in relatively good condition when it could be repaired.
David and I waited ages to get smart phones when they first came on the scene. My flip phone worked perfectly fine, so why would I replace it with something new and shiny?
It took us ages to finally get one of those fancy schmancy flat-screen TVs that everyone had, and when we finally did, it was a modest 36″ version. Despite being devout film junkies (and very much appreciating good cinematography and art direction that only a high-quality screen can highlight), it was only very recently that we decided to upgrade that 13-year-old flat screen and indulge in a 65″ display that will enable us to really appreciate our favorite movies. Seven Samurai deserves better.
Just to give you context, generally speaking, I have to be at the point of pulling my hair out with frustration over obsolete technologies before I allow David to persuade me to upgrade to a faster laptop or a better network drive. (As much as David shares my aversion to unnecessary indulgences, he’s also much better at knowing when to stop suffering for naught.)
Which brings me to our phones — the phones we love, the phones we depend on, the phones we hate, the phones that bind us, the phones that rule us all. Our iPhones.
As is common knowledge, practically every year, Apple comes out with a new version of their iPhone, and every year David and I have the conversation about what this means for us. And every year, I revolt and protest and hem and haw at the built-in obsolescence of these devices. And every year I’m reminded that the bulk of my work is done on this amazing blasted thing — and that comfort and ease is not a bad thing.
And so I compromise. David gets a new version (his work is also technology-based), and I take his old phone. I donate my old phone, and I celebrate how much easier my life is to use a device that actually works.
And then it happened. The iPhone 10 came out, and my iPhone 6 (David’s old one) got slower and slower and slower, driving me madder and madder and madder. Oh, the pain of trying to photo-capture a beautiful moment when two of the deer outside our home are playing or head-butting or grooming — only to miss the shot because it takes literally 90 seconds for the camera app to open. Oh, the pain of the phone spontaneously shutting down in the middle of writing an important email.
Not to mention the fact that while foraging for greens to make a natural holiday wreathe, I inadvertently dropped my pruning shears on my phone and have thus been enduring a cracked screen for a good part of a month.
And so, we had the conversation — again. And again and again. What to do about the iPhone 10. What to do about my awful phone. I bristled at the idea of getting a new one, but as David was tired of seeing me have an aneurism every time I tried to do a simple task, we decided that once again…he would get the new version and I would get his nascent one-year-old iPhone 7.
But while being deliberate about making a new purchase, as we’re wont to do, we embarked upon (or rather, I embarked us both upon) this quest to be more mindful about how we live and what we purchase. Zero waste and all that.
Our delay came with many boons and benefits.
During our contemplation, it came to pass that Apple was getting so much flack for the short lives of their batteries that they decided to substantially discount the cost of replacing them. We also did our annual budget, and we realized that we had been paying for insurance with our cell phone service provider such that getting a cracked screen fixed would be a fraction of what it would normally cost.
And so here we are.
David got his iPhone assessed, and his battery is just fine. No need to replace. So, he’s holding onto his iPhone 7 — in tact and in perfect working order.
Today, I got my screen replaced for $29, and I didn’t even have to leave the house! iCracked is a mobile mobile phone repair company that comes to your house (they also have repair kits so you can do it yourself!)
David made an appointment with Apple to take my phone in early next week to get the battery replaced for (also) only $29! And it’s possible — just possible — that in a few days I will no longer be deterred from capturing all of those fleeting cute kitty moments (and all the other important things I do with my phone). Victory awaits!
And this brings me back to what had been instilled in me long before there was a thing called Zero-Waste: that when things are broken, you fix them. That there is value in the things you work for. That seamstresses and cobblers and TV repairmen and tinkers are the original Zero Waste Heroes. Zeroes? (Hmm…I’ll work on that.)
I was taught this when I was young. I aspire to it as an adult.
And I’m grateful Apple has figured it out.
Before there was a thing called “zero-waste living,” there was the idea that when things break, you fix them. That there’s value in the things you work for. That seamstresses and cobblers and TV repairmen and tinkers are the original Zero Waste Heroes.
GET YOUR FREE JOYFUL VEGAN GUIDE
Includes delicious plant-based recipes and a meal plan!