When I started my career in beauty, receiving sparkly new products was the highlight of the job. And while getting my hands on the newest serums, foundations, and conditioners is still exciting, I'm now hyper-aware of the waste that comes as a result of the entire process. For example, when I asked a brand for one product to test, they sent me three additional products that I couldn't even use because they didn't align with my skin type. And don't even get me started on all the packaging.
I realize that I can't change the beauty industry—and testing products will always, in some way, be a part of my job—but I can change my practices. After spending two weeks tracking my trash and consulting a sustainability expert about how I could change my habits, I've found some tangible, actionable ways to do better.
1. Managing my stash
Even if writing about beauty wasn't my job, I'd probably still own far too many products. But tuning into my waste habits made me realize that I need to be more judicious about how much *stuff* comes into my collection—which means saying no to samples. I already have a pretty solid stash, which I can be better about shopping for both my personal use and for article inspiration. For fellow beauty lovers out there, it's important to stay on top of what you've got, and make sure you're not holding onto more you can actually use (beauty products do expire, after all).
I'm in the unique position of having to test products pretty regularly, and admittedly not all of what I sample earns a permanent spot on my shelf. However, thanks to sustainability expert Jhánneu Roberts, I now know that I can be more creative in the ways I use these products. For example, a face cream that I've used a few times but don't love can be repurposed as a hand cream, lipstick can become the perfect creamy blush, and leftover shampoo and conditioner make for A+ shaving cream alternatives.
2. Getting rid of excess the right way
Certain elements of my beauty routine will inevitably wind up as waste, but I now know that there are smarter ways to handle the excess.
There are some disposable items in my regimen that I can't part with—like tissues, makeup sponges, and cotton swabs. Instead of using the traditional versions of these things that go straight into the trash when I'm done using them, I've realized that swapping in recyclable options allows for a more sustainable alternative: composting.
Before the challenge, I was already using tissues made from recycled paper and plastic-free cotton swabs, but I always through them in the garbage. Now, I've decided to repurpose the trash can under my vanity strictly for compostable items, like cardboard, tissues, cotton swabs, and compostable beauty sponges. Not only does this keep these items separate from my actual trash so that I can easily add them to my kitchen compost pile (which I compost through SmartCompost.nyc), but it also makes me more mindful of how much actual trash I create and so that I can continue to cut back.
Then, there are the empties. I've long known that municipal centers can't recycle most beauty containers because they're made of mixed plastic, but that retailers like Nordstrom and Credo Beauty have programs that allow you to drop off empties for proper disposal. Instead of doing this, though, I've typically just let them accumulate in my closet... which is better than throwing them in the trash, but still isn't great. My 2-week waste experiment put a fire under me to finally get rid of them the right way, and the process was incredibly easy. I just walked into my local Nordstrom, found the BEAUTYCYCLE box in the beauty department, and dropped off my empties.
3. Staying mindful
The most important thing I learned throughout this process is that being more sustainable all comes down to mindfulness. While being completely zero-waste is impossible (for me, at least), paying closer attention to my habits has made a real difference in the amount of waste I create. And while the choices I make won't single-handedly change the world, they're a small step toward making it better.
Taking stock of my beauty waste and figuring out ways I can change it has been truly eye-opening, and made me more conscious of where I can improve in other facets of my life. If you're interested in doing the same, I promise it will be worth it.
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