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
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.