Take a look at your personal care products.
Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, toothpaste, deodorant, face cream, body lotion..just to list some.
Most of them come in a plastic package and are made of complex ingredients, some of which can be harmful for your health in the long run. Additionally, they are probably imported, hence they had to be shipped with some extra packaging and transported over a long distance.
This is why, among the simple actions to reduce our ecological footprint, one of the most effective is to start eliminating unessential stuff from our daily beauty routine. Additionally, substituting liquid (and packaged) products with solid ones, like soap and shampoo bars, can also make the difference.
The latter can be generally found in supermarkets but bulk shops and artisanal markets are definitely the perfect places to shop, if you really want to reduce your water and carbon footprint associated to personal care products. Not only because you can retrieve direct information on where the ingredients come from (farming stage and fertilizers’ use have a great impact in the overall production of industrial soaps), but also the short distribution chain can ensure that the negative externalities associated to the productive process (and shipment) are not at the expenses of another country/region.
Eliminating unessential products and substituting others can be a good starting point, but for a more concrete impact, the perfect recipe is: Do It Yourself (DIY).
As scientists, you probably have good dexterity for laboratory activities, hence with DIY you can use your skills also at home.
Let’s see where you can start.
This can be the easiest swap: use a vegetal oil and add some essential oils.
Ingredients: vegetal oil, essential oils.
If your scientific mindset drives you to ask which oil is the most suitable for your skin, Ayurveda can help you:
Vata dosha: sesame, almond
Pitta dosha: sunflower, coconut
Kapha dosha: sesame, almond, oil. Find out more here (and here – in Italian).
If you don’t like oils you can use shea butter instead, or try some of the recipes for non greasy lotions.
This was my first zero waste swap three years ago, and I loved it!
I first followed the recipe from Lauren Singer, but, after the first try, I ‘ve reduced the amount of baking soda, and added one extra step: grind the backing soda it to make it thinner.
Ingredients: baking soda, coconut oil, essential oils.
So, no plastic (baking soda can be bought bulk or in a paper box; coconut oil and essential oils come in a glass container), no microbeads, and no chemical substances draining into our sinks.
Also in this case I followed one of Lauren Singer’s recipes, and I am quite satisfied with the result.
Ingredients: coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda, rice starch (that I use instead of arrowroot in the original recipe), essential oils.
Again, simple and without toxic substances for your armpits.
A good mosquito repellent is super useful both in summer and during the fieldwork.
Some years ago, when travelling in Sri Lanka with a friend, she showed me her DYI mosquito repellent, made with simple ingredients:
Water, essential oils and (not compulsory, vegetal oil).
Since then I always have my home made version ready for summer.
In internet you can find plenty of alternatives, also depending on where you live. My favorite essential oils for this purpose are: mint, tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender and lemongrass.
This will be my next experiment, when I will be done with the ones I have.
Ingredients: beeswax, almond oil, vitamin E, essential oils.
In the end, most of the ingredients can be used for different purposes, therefore even less products to be bought and stored at home. Plus, once you start, curiosity generally drives you to try more and more recipes for DIY products.
“Cool, but wait…I am a busy scientist. I do not have time for this! I wish I had some spare time for that!”. This is the most common comment I get when I talk about DIY. So I decided to time how long it takes to make these products.
Body lotion: 1 minute to prepare (pour the oil in the container and add essential oils)
Toothpaste: 10 minutes needed (from the moment I decided to do it, take the ingredients, and mix everything)
Deodorant: 15 minutes (as you need to melt in a double boiler the shea butter)
Mosquito repellent: 10 minutes (as you need to boil the water, but if you have distilled water it will take less than 2 minutes)
In the end it takes approximately half an hour to prepare four products, that last for quite long. It is probably less of the time you may spend in the supermarket to choose among all the different options (reading the INCI, checking the fragrance, double checking the prices).
Moreover, if you have kids it can be a nice game to play together, and you can teach them the value of good things and that packaged items are not the only option.
Finally, as a side, but not negligible, effect, with DIY you can save A LOT of money, so the pros are definitely more than the cons! Will you give DIY a try?