(Earth Month)

I Went Plastic-Free For A Week, & It Was As Hard As It Sounds

From beauty products to cleaning supplies.

by Jessica Ourisman

When TZR tasked me with a week-long plastic-free challenge for Earth Month, I knew it would be an undertaking with long-lasting results. An admirable idea with important repercussions — helping to reduce the estimated 380 million tons of plastic produced annually (roughly 10 million tons of which ends up in the ocean) — I was still dreading how difficult it would be to gravitate away from my regular regimen. Don't get me wrong, I am all about change. It's just that I like taking baby steps, and this called for a cold turkey ban.

With cities — most recently, Los Angeles — restricting single-use plastics, policy is beginning to reflect that adopting less plastic into our lifestyles will help to reduce waste that is building up in our oceans and landfills, harming wildlife, and leeching microplastics into natural ecosystems and even our bodies. Intellectually, I know why it's important to consciously shift away from my unsustainable status quo; but emotionally, I also thought it would be fulfilling to align my lifestyle with my values for wellness — not just wellness for me, but for others, for animals, and for the planet. To me, this week was about initiating positive changes and practicing a form of environmental "harm-reduction," actively making choices to reduce my use of products with plastic, even if I didn't do it perfectly.

Ahead, I breakdown how I shifted each segment of my day-to-day life to plastic-free status, and how this experiment changed my regular routines for good.

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As a beauty editor and writer, I’m well aware that the industry alone is responsible for an astounding 120 billion units of mostly plastic waste annually, making it imperative that we — simply put — use and consume less. In taking on this challenge, I immediately thought of the New Zealand-based beauty brand Emma Lewisham, which launched the industry's first carbon-neutral, circular beauty business model cutting waste and emphasizing re-use in 2021, even garnering praise from Jane Goodall herself.

But other picks that felt appropriate for the week included my current obsession, Kat Rudu Coco Honey Papaya Enzymes Cleanser, housed in a glass jar, and the Honua Malu Day Cream SPF 30 — the best-smelling SPF on the planet that comes in a glass jar *and* donates a percentage of proceeds to the non-profit, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii.

For extra cleansing at night, I used a favorite of mine — Odacité Blue Aura Cleansing Water — a micellar water in glass packaging that plants a tree for every bottle sold. I also reached for the new OSEA Malibu Seaglow Overnight Serum AHA Treatment for exfoliation, as the brand is housed entirely in glass packaging and works with Climate Neutral to continually reduce its carbon footprint. Of course, I never go a night without the glass-jarred botanical green balm, ANFISA Lilou, which I use to "slug."

Aside from skin care, I had plenty of other beauty considerations to make throughout the week. For my haircare, I opted for Nolé Care — shampoo and conditioner bars that eliminate packaging altogether — which were a hard sell for me because my hair runs dry. Because of this, I did add in a leave-in conditioner in a glass bottle by Sangre de Fruta, and hair oil for my ends by Augustinus Bader, into my regimen.

As for my cosmetic picks, I reached for brands like Highr Collective, a line of lipsticks that built sustainability into the business model from inception. Within each pink aluminum tube is the world's first certified B Corp™ luxury lippie, which is a carbon-neutral lipstick that actually saves 5.8 pounds of carbon dioxide compared to other brands on the market.

Body + Hygiene

With some of the essentials in my beauty regimen squared away there was still a lot more plastic in my day-to-day routine I needed to address. Luckily, this was a shift that I had already begun undergoing with my cleaning products. Papr Cosmetics makes deodorant in paper packaging that is also aluminum-free, paraben-free, recyclable, and vegan. (I go for the unscented version, Sensitive - Bare Naked, to avoid any potential reactions to the under arm area.) For "that time of the month," FLO offers applicator-free, biodegradable tampons made from organic cotton, while the reusable Period Panties have been life-savers overnight. (Try as I might, I can't get the hang of the period cups just yet.)

Hello Products took care of my dental needs with the aluminum, Replaceable Head Toothbrush Starter Kit and refillable Toothpaste Tablets, which are entirely plastic-free. But, if you don't have the time to research the business practices of the companies you choose to support (for instance, brands like Koala Eco feature biodegradable packaging), you can always opt for a retailer like Grove.co for everything from cosmetics to biodegradable dog waste bags. The membership-based subscription service features sustainable and environmentally conscious brands for the household and ships them out to you using their own plastic- and carbon-neutral business model.

Home Care

I was especially impressed with the quality of the Grove Co. Dishwasher Detergent Packs. I had experimented with another brand's dishwasher tablets and was disappointed by the grime repeatedly left behind on my dishes; but after trying Grove's, my dishes were left sparkling clean. For my daily cleaning needs — a multi-purpose kitchen spray, window cleaner, a bathroom spray, and dish soap — I called upon brands like Branch Basics and Saje Wellness, whose glass bottles and refills make minimizing plastic much more manageable for things like wiping down my countertops or cleaning up spills.

As for my daily routine, I ran into a few hurdles with my foods. I typically make French press coffee in a glass coffee press and add sugar and oat milk — a viable option indeed. But the water I use comes in plastic jugs, helping me realize how important it is that I get my water filter set up. If you strongly prefer a machine, I discovered a brand called Moriondo that makes a sustainable K-cup alternative called Ecodisks that contain no plastic, are biodegradable, and can be used in their machines to brew single-servings at a time.

I also make smoothies most mornings, which brought up several issues for me — first of all, several of my supplements came in plastic jars with individual plastic scoops, not to mention the cups of berries which I buy in plastic packaging. For the berries, the only alternative I came up with was to go to the farmer's market and bring my own containers to transfer them into (rather than bringing home the recyclable plastic). As for the supplements, this is where a start-up company called Zoop Scoop entered the equation, which makes it easy to eliminate those individual scoopers in favor of this long-term purchase to neatly sift in green powders, proteins, and whatever else you choose to add to your smoothies on an ongoing basis. I had already swapped any plastic containers for glass alternatives with bamboo lids.

My Takeaways From My Plastic-Free Week

I came away from this experiment with a new perspective on some of the trends in beauty. First of all, multi-tasking products are more than just convenient because they yield less waste courtesy of using fewer products. It also makes it easier to avoid plastic, which is everywhere — another realization I became aware of. Also, as Emma Lewisham found, packaging is important. Refills are the ideal way to yield less waste, while recycling programs and biodegradable plastic alternatives are less impactful but still ways to improve upon the norm.

There are some discrepancies in quality to be addressed, but I have no doubt that they will be. After all, this is a new domain of innovation for many of these brands. I personally have not been won over by shampoo and conditioner bars just yet, and as mentioned, finding a brand of dishwasher detergent that left my dishes streak-free was challenging at first. I also realized, after the fact, that I was using the natural cleansing agent Borax incorrectly in my laundry (which is why I wasn’t happy with its results), so sometimes it’s not necessarily the question of quality but a matter of reading product instructions properly and thoroughly.

But here's the thing: at the crux of sustainability (and circularity) is the notion of reusing and extending the "life cycle" of the products we invest in. While the beginning of the switch to a more plastic-minimal lifestyle will entail potentially costly purchases, it is the long-term impact of making the change and sticking to a reusable pattern that will carry positive intentions into the future. It's important to remember to consume less, but the start of the process also means finding what works — and this can be a difficult phase of trial-and-error. The key is to embrace the baby steps and to allow yourself to experiment, otherwise it can become overwhelming. Give yourself permission to find what works, knowing that this will ultimately lead to shopping smarter in the future. This might mean buying from brands that have found ways to cut or reduce plastic, or from retailers that are committed to plastic-neutrality.

At the end of the day, yes, change takes effort — but it is rewarding, and worth it, to try.