“Single-Use” was deemed 2018’s word of the year by Collins Dictionary, an indicator that consumers are becoming more and more conscious about the amount of waste that comes along with the convenience of single-use disposable items.
It’s easy to understand how we got to this point. We’re busy people, and our products have adapted to our busy lifestyles by being built to be “quick and easy” or “on-the-go.” Convenience is valued above almost anything in today’s fast-paced culture, and our beauty and skincare products are no exception.
Unfortunately, that convenience comes at a cost—single-use items in beauty are some of the worst offenders in terms of sustainability, creating a massive amount of unnecessary plastic waste bound for the landfill and the ocean.
The good news is that there are some relatively painless swaps you can make in your self-care routine that can add up to a lot of impact. And an added bonus: you’ll save money too.
1. No More Makeup Wipes
I get it—makeup wipes are really convenient. Especially when you’re camping, working out, or straight up too tired to properly wash your face (mother of an infant here! I feel your pain). But wipes are one of the worst single-use culprits. They take years to biodegrade in the landfill, if they do biodegrade at all. Most won’t, since they’re made of a combination of materials that includes plastics. And flushing them? That’s even worse—causing a host of other problems for septic systems and municipal water treatment facilities. But lazy gals, rejoice. There’s another solution that’s just as easy as our beloved wipes and better for your skin. It’s called a makeup mitt—and it looks like an oven mitt, except it’s made with a soft microfiber that somehow removes dirt and makeup with just water. It sounds too good to be true, but I can attest that it actually works. Just stick the mitt under the faucet and then massage over your face. Quick-rinse the mitt, and you’re done! The whole process takes 30 seconds.
Microfiber mitts or microfiber pads can also replace single-use cotton rounds for all you lovers of micellar water and waterproof makeup remover. Try it—the stuff really is magic. And if you absolutely must use makeup wipes, buy the kind that come in a dispenser, not individually packaged sachets (read on).
2. Ditch the Individual Sachets
If you’re looking to reduce waste, make it a general rule in your purchasing habits to avoid single-use sachets whenever possible. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s “The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action,” two of the categories of plastics that are almost never recycled are small format and multi-material. Sachets fall into both of those categories, meaning they will almost certainly end up in a landfill or the ocean.
This is an easy one because most products can be purchased in both formats—and the non-individually packed format is usually a better value. Win!
3. Rethink Sheet Masks
We all love a good sheet mask, but the amount of packaging required for a 10- to 20-minute experience isn’t worth the harm it causes. One way to still get the benefits of a sheet mask with less waste is trying a reusable version. There are lots of DIY guides online to cutting a sheet mask out of fabric, or you can purchase a silicone one like this.
The fun part about using a reusable mask is that you can add whatever cocktail of skincare products you’d like. Traditional sheet masks aren’t necessarily known for using the highest-quality ingredients, but with a reusable mask, you can layer on your favorite combination of serums and creams that you already own—and then let the mask lock in all those luxurious ingredients for 20 minutes.
4. Explore Refillable Products or Plastic-Free
A bottle of shampoo isn’t single-use per se, but it does have a short lifespan before it gets discarded. Since most personal care items are plastic, and we know that even a lot of recyclable plastics don’t get recycled (and end up in the ocean), refillable products may present a greener option. There are a few companies that offer a mailback program to send back your empty bottles for refills, and there are bulk grocery stores where you can bring in your own container to refill. Plus, you can pimp out your shower shelf with nice-looking refillable containers.
Not up for refills just yet? There’s also the route of switching to solid body and hair products to go plastic-free. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck using utilitarian shampoo bars made for backpackers. Lots of solid shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and cleansers are popping up with luxurious and delicious-smelling ingredients. Check out HiBAR and Ethique.
Simple swaps can make a big impact. Refresh your self-care routine—while caring for the planet too.