Learn how to generate less trash and live a healthier and more sustainable life in The Zero-Waste Lifestyle (Ten Speed Press, 2012). Author Amy Korst offers hundreds of ideas for throwing away less in all aspects of your life. In this excerpt taken from chapter seven, “The Zero-Waste Bathroom,” learn about natural hair care.
You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: The Zero-Waste Lifestyle.
I think most people expected me to stop shaving when we started our garbage-free life. This, however, is something I have no desire to do. I’m much too attached to my smooth legs and armpits to contemplate letting the hair grow. That said, I’ve spent some time researching various zero-waste hair removal options to find the one that works best for me.
The EPA estimates that more than two billion disposable razors wind up in landfills each year. Unlike trying a menstrual cup or a crystal deodorant, which might entail some worry and adjustment, giving up disposable razors in favor of more environmentally friendly options is easy. You have several options.
Switch to a reusable handle: If you haven’t already switched from disposable razors to a reusable handle with replaceable blades, do it immediately. I have a razor handle I’ve been using since I was fourteen. To shave with this, all I need to do is buy replacement blades. I can use each blade a number of times before it’s too dull. There are many reusable handle options for both men and women.
Hunt down a safety razor at an antique store: I was surprised at how easy these were to find. The first antique store I walked into had a wide selection of metal-handled safety razors. The one I found cost $32. Continuing the theme, I was also surprised at how easy it was to find blades for my new safety razor handle—my local drug store and my local grocery store both carry 10-packs of metal blades packaged in a little cardboard box for about $6. The handle will last me a lifetime, and I can recycle the used blades with my scrap metal.
Try homemade sugar wax with reusable cloth waxing strips: Although I enjoy waxing my legs, I don’t use this method too frequently because it’s time-consuming and messy. For a special occasion, it is an effective method of hair removal—it even works on the bikini line. For waxing strips, you can use an old sheet or buy some cheap muslin from a fabric store—cut either one into strips.
To make homemade sugar wax (enough to wax both legs), you’ll need: 2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 260°F on a candy thermometer or the soft ball stage. It will turn brown and look similar to honey. Pour the wax into a clean glass jar and let cool for about 2 hours.
To use, heat the wax in a microwave for about 30 seconds or heat in a saucepan on the stove over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Check the temperature before applying to your skin to make sure it’s not too hot. I use a popsicle stick to apply the wax because the stick is washable and reusable, and later it’s biodegradable.
Apply the wax to your skin in the direction of the hair growth and lay the cloth strip on top. In a smooth but quick motion, pull the cloth strip back and away, going against the hair. You will probably have to wax the same area a couple of times to remove all the hair. I’ve used this for my legs and bikini line; others use it for their armpits and facial waxing, too.
To clean the strips, rinse them under hot water to remove the wax and hair, then wash in the washing machine with your regular laundry.
Depilatory creams contain the active ingredient calcium thioglycolate, which, according to its Material Safety Data Sheet, “is toxic to the reproductive system, upper respiratory tract, [and] central nervous system. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.” Since one of the aims of a trash-free life is to eliminate harmful chemicals from our lives, depilatory creams are not the best choice for natural, zero-waste hair removal.
Aftershave is not normally a huge issue, wastewise, unless you are trying hard to avoid plastic (aftershave usually comes in a recyclable plastic bottle). To avoid the plastic altogether, look for aftershave in a glass bottle or try your hand at making your own. Recipes abound online and use simple ingredients such as witch hazel, glycerin, aloe vera gel, rum, and essential oils.
A discussion of bathroom products wouldn’t be complete without touching on hair care. Similar to the world of skin care, there’s a plethora of hair products—some useful, others frivolous. If you know what to look for, you’ll find many that work for a zero-waste lifestyle.
Even better options include making your own shampoo and conditioner or using a shampoo bar. Shampoo bars look just like a bar of soap, but they are designed specifically for washing hair. If you choose to try a shampoo bar, try it for a good couple of weeks. When switching products, your hair needs a little time to adjust to the new ingredient mixture before it looks its best.
Styling products come in one of three types of containers: tubes (such as the kind hair gel comes in), aerosol cans (mousse), or spray bottles (hairspray). The first category, tubes, is generally recyclable curbside. These tubes are usually made from number 2 plastic (you can often find the resin number at the top of the tube where it was crimped shut). The screw-on lid will probably be made from a different type of plastic, so let your recycling center be your guide here—if you usually leave the lids on your bottles, leave the lid on. If not, leave it off.
Aerosol cans are generally recyclable as long as they are completely empty. Their plastic lids need to be handled separately; they are not usually accepted curbside but can be recycled at a facility that processes plastic 1 through 7. Some municipalities will accept these in curbside comingled bins; others require that you hand-carry aerosols to a centralized recycling depot. A quick phone call to your recycling company will answer this question for you.
Spray bottles made from plastic generally come in two parts: the bottle and the screw-on spray top. Once they are empty, spray bottles are perfect for reuse around the house, especially in the cleaning bucket. If you have no use for another spray bottle, recycle the bottom and throw away the spray top.
Although you can find eco-friendly hairbrushes (made from sustainable wood or postconsumer waste plastic), the hairbrush most of us have lying around the house is made from plastic (both bristles and handle). When your hairbrush gives up, you cannot recycle it. You can, however, find a new use for it, such as using it as a bristle brush to scrap down muddy shoes or tools, or you can donate it to a little girl in your life whose dolls have hair that needs brushing.
As for combs, these are generally made entirely from plastic or entirely from steel. Metal combs can be used indefinitely and then recycled. It will be harder to recycle your plastic combs simply because the plastic type is not identified on the comb. If you live in a place where you can recycle all rigid plastic, throw the comb in the recycling bin. Otherwise, try to reuse it before it becomes garbage.
When these hair accessories break, they are trash. Your best bet here is to buy high-quality versions so they last longer; otherwise, go au naturel to make your hair care garbage free.
Most hair accessories, once broken or worn out, become trash, simply because they are made from several different materials. Elastic hair bands are trash when they break. Do try to separate materials and recycle where possible (metal parts are always recyclable); plastic parts are recyclable depending on your community’s guidelines.
And finally, we get to human hair. That’s right, even your tresses can have a second life rather than being carted to the local landfill. I first became interested in the idea of hair as garbage when a student in one of my classes asked of my year-long trash-free challenge, “What about haircuts? Does your hair count as trash?”
An interesting question, and one that took some research. I have found two viable options for keeping your hair out of the trash.
Locks of Love: Locks of Love makes human hair into wigs for children struggling with long-term hair loss caused by cancer or another disease. To qualify for a hair donation, you must meet some requirements. The hair to be donated must be at least ten inches long and gathered into a ponytail before cutting. The hair can be dyed or permed but not bleached. Layered hair is accepted as long as the shortest layer is at least ten inches long.
Composting: If you maintain a hot compost pile, you can put your hair right into it with all your fruits and veggies. (Hair should be added to only a hot, active compost pile because it takes a long time to compost; in a hot pile, decomposition begins right away.) Untreated hair contains lots of nitrogen, a main ingredient in plant fertilizer, which means that hair makes a good natural fertilizer. Don’t put hair that’s been treated with lots of chemicals or bleached into your compost pile, because then you’d be introducing those harsh chemicals into the environment. Cut it into small pieces and sprinkle them throughout the pile.
For more from The Zero-Waste Lifestyle, check out the article: Zero-Waste Lifestyle: The Bathroom
Reprinted with permission from The Zero-Waste Lifestyle: Live Well by Throwing Away Less by Amy Korst and published by Ten Speed Press, 2012. Buy this book from our store: The Zero-Waste Lifestyle.
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