Long ago, I set out to eliminate excess waste in my life. This post was originally posted while I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Timor-Leste, where recycling hasn’t been developed yet. I burned my plastic waste for 2.5 years… yikes. Now that I live on a boat, reducing my plastic waste is central to my regular buying decisions! Living in the Potomac River in D.C. means floating with all the litter in the river. The following post has been adapted, and shares a few ways I have reduced my waste when it comes to bath products.
I knew before coming to Timor that this was a country without recycling programs or even national waste management programs. That said, I wanted to bring with me as little packaged health and beauty products as possible. These are the best things I brought with me (plus some more things I picked up along the way)!
If you are already friends with me, you will know that I have a wild obsession with shampoo bars. This started maybe two years ago, when I stumbled into a Lush Shop in Washington D.C. While I was first pulled in by the bath bombs, I found out about the illustrious shampoo bar. I bought their Godiva bar, and have been hooked ever since. Shampoo bars are wrapped in paper, which is easily burnable as a trash item here in Timor, and even more easily recyclable back in the States. I stocked up before starting my service, and have been enjoyably shampoo bottle free for over a year now. Plus, they travel really well!
Lush isn’t the only company selling shampoo bars, and while I love their brand, their very much fragrance-filled product and not exactly all-natural ingredients list isn’t favored by all. Recently, I received some care package products, and in it were three J.R. Liggett’s Shampoo bars. While both brands wrap their product in paper, J.R. Liggett’s ingredients list is much more natural, with no fragrances added. Also, they are about $5 per 3.5 ounce bar, whereas Lush’s bars start at around $10 for the same size bar. However, both bars will last about the same as a 24-ounce bottle of liquid shampoo, so really it is a matter of preference and budget.
I also talk way too much about how I enjoy coconut oil. This is something that has helped me minimize the amount of products on my shelf, as it eliminates need of conditioner, body lotion, lip balm, and anti-dandruff product. It even helped me fix my bike last year. Basically, this one product is so versatile that instead of finding 4 plastic bottles on your hands, you have just one jar. I still have my 16-ounce jar from the brand, Jasön, which I decided to be plastic as I was worried a glass jar would break in the 36 hours of flying ahead.
Edit: Now that I live on a boat… I still use a plastic jar for coconut oil. I have shattered many a glass jar since moving aboard.
Here is how I use my coconut oil. Since I have relatively smooth and somewhat straight hair, I’ll put the oil on my scalp for dandruff, my hair tips to prevent breakage, and with what is leftover I simply run through my hair so as to condition and detangle it. After about 10 minutes, I shampoo it off. I only wash my hair once or twice a week, which also keeps my hair healthy, so this oil thing only happens twice a week at most. After showering, I usually use it as an all over body lotion, which leaves me smelling like I actually live on a tropical island.
Lucky for me, Timor produces its own coconut oil, so when I run out, I can refill my container with some local stuff.
Edit: Now that I live in a non-tropical place, I buy coconut oil in the grocery store – it is cheaper than in the beauty section!
The week leading up to our flights to Timor, I was in LA with Gianna. She knows a lot about eco-friendly products, and before going to Timor, she introduced me to crystal deodorant. I had packed a Lush deodorant and a classic Arm and Hammer super strong deodorant because I didn’t know what I would need for very hot weather and not being able to shower for several days at a time. However, I bought the crystal because it was $7 and supposed to last over a year. Might as well try it, right?
Low and behold, my first three days in Timor were spent in Hell (I mean, a village called Hera), and the crystal kept my pits fresh for 36 hours. All you gotta do is wash your pits really well, and apply the deodorant after you bathe. I will say that if you have long, thick pit hair (like I do now) that you will stay fresh for only 12-24 hours, but that is still a long time for deodorant to work well. I’ve been using the crystal for 17 months now, and it is still going strong! I don’t need to spend any money on deodorant here, and have obviously greatly decreased my plastic waste output (yay for less plastic trash burning).
Solid Perfume from Lush
Another purchase I made before coming to Timor was a small, 0.4-ounce tin of solid perfume from Lush. It is the Lust scent, which has a rich rosey, jasmine smell. It is expensive for a tiny tin (about $15), but it really lasts and really leaves you smelling good. I like this product because it is small and compact, non-plastic, and you could use it every day for a year and still have plenty left. Also, no problems getting through airport security because it is solid! Lush has many other great scents as well.
Being able to smell like flowers is such a gift on a bad day and such a rarity here in Timor where I am constantly sweating and covered in dust.
Edit: I still have this same perfume! $15 for plastic-free fragrance for 3 years? Yes, please. Note that the author does not wear it every day, and that the perfume is still in great condition.
I first used a bamboo toothbrush during Peace Corps, but it got moldy very quickly since I kept it wrapped (hello, rats in the bathroom eating all my things). Now that I am stateside, I purchase them regularly! They don’t get moldy, because I can keep them aired out (yay, no rats!). And, they are super inexpensive at places like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. This is probably something that has changed, because a few years ago, I remember them being pricey. Affordable and earth-friendly? Yes, please.
This is a much less conventional swap out in the bathroom, and not everyone is into it… but I use tooth powder instead of toothpaste! You can make your own, but I just buy mine from this Etsy shop. I bought the 6 month jar in January of 2020… and I still have tooth powder 10 months later. I swear I brush my teeth every day, so maybe my toothbrush doesn’t pick up a ton of powder. Regardless, my dentist saw no difference in the state of my teeth, so it must be good tooth powder.
My favorite part about this Etsy shop in particular is that they sell refills in paper packaging, so you can reduce your plastic consumption even more. I do wish there was flouride in the powder (other brands do have flouride) but for now, I make up for it by using an anti-cavity mouthwash.
Those are my must-have products as a Peace Corps Volunteer turned sailboat liveaboard!