Waste-Free Beauty: dream or reality?

The last time I was here I challenged myself to be waste-free with my self-maintenance routine (or as close to waste-free as I could get) for the month of October. Well, October is long gone, and I have a lot of thoughts about how it went! To break it down more easily, I’ll go through the results of that month of exploration question-and-answer style. Because who better to interview me than myself? Let’s begin.

So, how did it go?

Very well, thank you! Really though, it was a great month. That period of time really helped me to appreciate exactly where I have the most waste in my daily regimen. My process was that every time I ran out of something (i.e. toothpaste, floss, shampoo, etc.) I had to a. figure out a way to recycle or reuse that packaging and then b. find a way to replenish the supply in a more sustainable (and hopefully) package-free way. I feel I should say right off the bat that the only makeup I wear is eyeliner and lip color (sometimes), so this may not be as helpful of an analysis for people who love makeup. However, I will try to steer makeup-lovers in the right direction. In my research for finding waste-free eyeliner and lipstick, I stumbled upon some brands and websites that sell makeup in reusable containers or otherwise low-impact packaging, so I will include that at the bottom of this article.

Do you feel like you spent more money on sustainability-minded products than you would normally?

Wow, excellent question. I think it felt like I spent more money initially, but in the long term I will have ended up saving money. For example, pre-October, I used cotton balls to take off my eyeliner at the end of the day, but when I ran out, I invested in reusable cotton swabs. They’re great because they eliminate the disposal of plastic packaging (cotton balls are not only single use but they also are packaged in plastic bags) and they can be washed and reused. It’s a funny thing knowing that there’s a certain product I used to purchase every few months that I’ll just never have to buy again. 

Another thing was facial cleanser. As I mentioned in the article I wrote last month, I have very moody (read: sensitive) skin, so I’m quite careful about what cleansers I use / what I put on it in general. When I ran out of the cleanser I use that comes in a non-traditionally recyclable package (more on that later) I looked to Lush, because not only are their products cruelty-free, organic, etc. but they also have a mission to be environmentally friendly when it comes to their packaging. I ended up buying one of their cleansing bars, and it was almost exactly the same price as the cleanser that I had been using. Only this time, the bar came in a compostable paper wrapper! Brilliant. 

I also did quite a bit of research on where to get eyeliner. Formerly I used eyeliner that came in a plastic tube, but since the packaging wasn’t recyclable, I looked elsewhere. After spending much more time looking at eyeliner on the internet than I ever thought was possible (or ever wanted to, frankly) I ended up finding that Tarte and NARS make eyeliners that come in recyclable pots. The Tarte eyeliner I use is great and is quite reasonably priced, but the NARS is definitely more than I would normally spend. However, to their credit, I have been able to use them for much longer than the eyeliner sticks I was using before. Whereas the traditional eyeliner in a tube was lasting me probably three weeks or so, I’ve had these pots of eyeliner for a couple of months now and I’m barely a third of the way through each of them.

Lipstick was another thing that took way too long to get to the bottom of. I ended up finding that there are a couple of brands that will refill your lipstick for you, which is something I wish every brand would do. However, at the risk of sounding really picky, I wasn’t in love with the colors offered by those brands. So for me, I’m going to stick with the colors I use for now and recycle them through Terracycle, a nifty recycling program I found (featured at the bottom of this article). 

So, in all, I probably spent more money in the month of October on toiletries than I normally would, but I am pretty confident it will balance out soon enough since everything is proving to be longer-lasting.


What was most surprising?

Far and away the most surprising thing about this whole process was the amount of time it took to research everything. It felt like I kept getting sucked into sites that promoted their “eco-conscious” products, only to find that while, yes, they may be cruelty-free or they may grow the plants used for their facial scrubs in a sunny valley near a wind farm, they still use non-recyclable packaging or some other horrifying offense (I’m kidding, sort of). 

If I’m being honest—and I am, there were a number of times where I couldn’t help thinking that I understood why more people don’t do this. Because really, while certain parts of the sustainably-minded lifestyle are much more accessible now than in the past (i.e. vegetarian / vegan restaurants, compostable products / places to drop off compost) when you look in depth at the details of the way the world is designed right now, it really is very wasteful. I suppose that’s what this anti-straw movement is aiming to prove, the idea of highlighting the way that a single product, multiplied billions of times over, has had such a damaging effect on our ecosystems. What audiences should read between the lines of course is that the problem isn’t just about straws, it’s about everything. It’s one example of the many ways we allow ourselves to fall into habits that value convenience over long-term environmental health, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story (and let’s be real, the whole story is pretty grim). 

In short, the most surprising part of the process was also enlightening, albeit in a disappointing way. The very process of going through this for myself and seeing how I could work to be better made me appreciate why other people don’t do the same. Someone who is working three jobs doesn’t want to use their spare time researching types of compostable toothbrushes - besides, luckily for them, I’ve found one, so they needn’t do that anyway.


Overall, I am really glad that I did this. While I was challenging myself to be waste-free in one part of my life, I inevitably became more acutely aware of ways I can be more sustainable in other parts of my life. While promoters of a package-free, waste-free, plastic-free lifestyle will sometimes tell you how easy it is to incorporate these habits into your routine, I am here to say that, at least for me, it definitely isn’t always a seamless transition. Even as someone who went into this with a heart for environmental sustainability, I can safely say that it was a learning process. It takes a lot more patience, time, and in some cases, funds, to reduce your carbon footprint than a lot of people want to give. While I will still argue that everyone can (and should feel obligated to) do something, I cannot be too critical of those who haven’t jumped on board to any one part of the sustainability game plan. At the risk of waxing poetic, life is a learning process, and everyone gets to different places in their own time. However, a bit of encouragement can’t hurt, so I will continue to promote and chat about everything I’ve learned and everything I’m working on. Feel free to join in.

by Megan Embrey

Find the helpful links below!


Helpful links

If you have clothes or shoes that are not in good enough condition to be consigned or donated, take them to a North Face store. They’ve partnered with an organization that repurposes the materials in old items so that they don’t end up in landfills. As a bonus, you’ll also receive a North Face coupon when you drop off your donations, so that could be useful.


Package Free Shop is one of my favorite shops in Brooklyn and they have an online store, so no matter where you are, you can invest in products that will help you lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Bonus: the founder of the store has an Instagram and she is great. Follow @trashisfortossers for daily sustainability inspiration. 


These are the cotton swabs I got to replace the cotton balls I had been using:


Here is the Lush cleansing bar I have ended up loving:


Use this pot of eyeliner with a reusable makeup brush and you’ll be good to go


NARS also has pots of eyeliner – they call it “eye paint” because they’re fancy


Terracycle has programs where you can mail in all kinds of packaging and they will recycle it for you. Some of the programs are free while others charge a fee. 


If, like me, you are of the belief that there is no better lip balm than that created by Burt and his team of bees, there is a recycling program for that. Download a shipping label for free on the Burt’s Bees website and you can send in three empty tubes of lip balm at a time to be recycled.


Sustainable makeup ideas