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May 22 2016
by Katie Sims

9 Ways to Make Your Life More Sustainable Before you Get Dressed

By Katie Sims - May 22 2016
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It can be really hard to do just about anything consciously when you're waking up for an 8 a.m. class. Lowering your ecological footprint probably isn't the first thing on your mind when you just want to make it to class on time in one piece. However, if you make smart choices when you're buying your personal care products and make small changes in your habits, you can keep the world in a little better shape than it would be. 

1. Plug in your phone to charge when you wake up

You don’t need to charge your cell phone all night. If you charge it before you go to sleep and top it off while you’re getting ready in the morning, the charger will use less electricity. Remember to unplug it when you’re not using it. You can put it on Airplane or Low Battery Mode (or both) overnight so it retains most of its charge and will still work as an alarm clock.

2. Grab your reusable water bottle right when you get out of bed

If you grab your water bottle from the get-go, you are less likely to forget about it. Disposable water bottles and cups win over reusable water bottles so often because they’re so convenient. But if you have your water bottle with you from when you get out of bed to when you get back in, nothing will be more convenient than the water right at your side.

3. Next time you buy a toothbrush, buy a bamboo one instead

Let’s say you use three toothbrushes a year. Not very much plastic right? About a half pound, 6 cubic inches, not a real issue. But now imagine if every person, just in the United States, used three toothbrushes a year. That’s a billion toothbrushes heading to landfills and incinerators.

What if you could compost your toothbrush after the bristles have frayed and it’s time to move on? With bamboo toothbrushes, the handles are plant based and will biodegrade in less than a year. The bristles are still not biodegradable, and are hard to recycle, but the majority of waste to be landfilled is avoided. You can find bamboo or other plant-based toothbrushes at stores like Whole Foods and Mrs. Green’s, but they’re generally much more accessible and less expensive online. If you buy them through Amazon, you can find them for under $3 if you buy many at once. Here’s one option.

4. Bar soap and shampoo

Imagine this: you get into a nice warm shower on a cool morning after taking a long jog around campus. You take the soap bottle out of your shower caddy and find it’s empty. You exasperatedly throw it in the trash if there’s one nearby, or onto the floor only to throw it away a few minutes later. Where else is there to put it – there’s probably no recycle bin in the bathroom.

Even better than remembering to recycle your empty soap or shampoo bottles, you could use a bar instead. Bar soap is often packaged only in small amounts of recyclable paper, and from some stores you can purchase it with no packaging at all. Shampoo bars are a little harder to come by, but have been popularized recently by Lush. Buying bar soap by weight in a natural grocery or beauty store will reduce the amount of packaging and the likelihood of it containing sulfates (which can damage your hair) and phosphates (which can have dire consequences on the water they enter after they wash down your drain). Check up on the ingredients in all your products and know what you’re putting on and in your body. Lush is great but borderline expensive. If you are being prudent, their soap and shampoo (as well as other products) will last long enough to be worth the money. Plus, they put sustainability and ethical labor at the forefront of their business.

5. Unplug

Ask yourself: do you really need to use an electric razor or toothbrush? Do you have to straighten, curl, or blow dry your hair every day? Think about how often you’re using electricity and if you have to. To generate the electricity for you to blow dry your hair for 20 minutes every other day for a year, 50 pounds of coal is burned. Sure, for a date or a night out with friends, it may make sense to use that electricity. But if you’re just going to spend the day studying, do you have to do it with straight hair?

6. Stop using disposable razors

Razors or razor blade cartridges have to be replaced often and are almost never recyclable. If you’re using a new one every week or two, you’re disposing of a lot of metal and plastic. By using a traditional razor, you’ll cut down on the amount of trash you’re creating, and might get a better shave.

There are lots of enthusiasts online willing to sing the praises of traditional butterfly razors. They require different technique than a disposable safety razor, but do the same job. Again, there are lots of resources available with a quick Google search.

While the price of a traditional razor is a little steep on the front end, they are easily cheaper if you look at the cost over time. If you’re using razors produced for women, you’re likely spending about $50 per year on razors or blade cartridges. You can buy a long-lasting razor for under $15, although you may want to invest in a higher quality one, or one without plastic. When your blades become dull, you can replace them for a quarter each. These razors can last for years, and some people prefer to buy and use ones that are decades old and still in great working conditions.

Amazon, Ebay, Craigslist or specialty sites such as Razor Emporium are probably your best bet for finding a traditional razor. Be doubly sure to check the reputation of re-sellers before you buy, but old razors can be great. Once you get your razor, check out some YouTube tutorials (such as this one) to make sure you’ve got the hang of it.

While you’re at it, maybe look into some alternative to your current shaving cream. If it’s in an aluminum can that propels out a foam, it’s probably not the best packaging or chemicals for lil’ old Earth. You could swap it out for Aloe Vera, or shaving cream in a (recyclable!) jar or tube.

7. Switch your deodorant

Stick or gel deodorants are packaged in tons of plastic, and are usually full of substances that you shouldn’t be putting on skin or washing off into water supplies. Aluminum, parabens, propylene glycol, etc. are common in conventional deodorants and there is a lot of concern over whether they are safe. While the data remains fairly inconclusive, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry anyway.

There are many different options to change your deodorant, here are some of them:

Certain spray deodorants made of water, salts, and essential oils are good alternatives that cut down on waste. Many containers are made of glass, which is easier to recycle than a lot of plastic containers. Weleda makes them in a few nice scents, though they are on the expensive side. You can likely find these at a natural grocery store, but online is likely easier and less expensive.

A “natural” deodorant like Tom’s of Maine helps eliminate a lot of the questionable components of traditional deodorant. However, many leave behind the problem of excessive packaging. Some, like Primal Pit Paste and Schmidt’s come in jars that can be easily recycled. Tom’s of Maine is easily found in drug and grocery stores, but the others will probably require an online order.

Bar, powder, or stone deodorants are also an option. Thai Deodorant Stone Crystals work really well, but you have to wet them to apply, and they are packaged with plastic. However, they are very long lasting and can also be used on smelly feet. They also have sprays and powders. Lush makes some powder and bar deodorants with nice scents. Lush stores are fairly common in shopping malls, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one in your area. If you can go into a store, they’ll show you the products so you’ll be sure you get what you want.

8. Make it yourself

Well, maybe you won’t make your own beauty products while you’re rushing to your 8 a.m. class, but you can use something you made yourself. By making your own lip balm, hair conditioner, deodorant, or toothpaste, you get to choose exactly what you’re putting on your body, and how you are packaging your products. Coconut oil, baking soda, sugar, essential oils, and a few other items will make great, simple products.

There are lots of great tutorials on YouTube, and the blog Trash is for Tossers describes a lot of ways to make zero-waste hygiene and beauty products. The items I listed previously are great ways to get started. It’s a little bit time consuming, but can help you destress or be a group activity with some friends.

9. Just think about it

Sustainability is not about absolutes, it’s about making as many small changes as you can. Reducing waste and energy use in every reasonable way is how we all work towards a lifestyle that can be sustained for generations. If you’re thinking about what you’re buying and using, and understanding the choices you make, you’re already most of the way there. Insisting that sustainability is all-or-nothing is ridiculous, because everyone can make small changes. Even if you don’t want to give up your giant plastic battery operated toothbrush, you can start making your own zero-waste toothpaste. If you can’t afford to always buy natural deodorant, buy it every other time you buy deodorant or when you have a few extra dollars. It’s all about finding an educated balance that works for you. 


Whether it's before you're fully awake, or when you're philosophizing about all of the positive and negative ways your purchases have affected the world, you can make choices that are right for you and your world. 

Lead image credit: Amazon.com

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Katie Sims - Cornell University

Katie Sims is a freshman at Cornell University, studying Environmental Engineering. They are probably laughing at bad calculus jokes and crying about calculus homework. You can find Katie on Twitter or Instagram @k8esims

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