We Tried It: Trying to Go Totally Green for a Week, from Zero Waste Takeout to Scrubbing my Tub with a Grapefruit
DIY cleaning hacks, zero-waste strategies, natural beauty products and more ways you can clean up your routine
What It Is: A week’s worth of eco-friendly alternatives for cleaning products, beauty items, disposables and more
Who Tried It: Maggie Malach, Staff Editor, Digital Platforms at PEOPLE
Level of Difficulty: 7/10 — but a little bit of planning goes a long way!
I (almost) always use canvas grocery bags, I never run water when I brush my teeth and I’m very diligent about recycling in my apartment. But when it comes to really “going green,” I know I can do better. With Earth Day approaching, it seemed like the perfect time to check in on my sustainability efforts. (TBH, every day is a good day to be checking in with Mother Nature.) I committed to a week full of green swaps — including DIY cleaning hacks, zero-waste strategies and natural beauty products — to find more ways that I can be environmentally friendly.
The first thing I found in my research was the repeated message that no one can perfectly go green. This is a relief because once you start digging, the amount of things you can do is, frankly, overwhelming. But my goal was to find a balance. In the past, cost and convenience were the two factors that kept me from really making changes to my habits, but I knew there had to be easier ways to be more eco-friendly at every price point.
The best way to start my green week was by scrubbing my apartment to a high shine – no chemical cleaning products allowed. I admit, I’m guilty of running out and purchasing whatever household cleaners I need, regardless of what’s in them. Having made some light DIY cleaners before (I highly recommend baking soda and vinegar for cleaning gross shower grout), I was excited to throw together some products to make my place sparkle.
I started off simple by cutting a grapefruit in half and adding a ton of coarse salt before using it to scour my tub. It doesn’t get any easier (or cheaper!) than that, and other than a little pulp and some seeds, everything rinsed away clean. I was concerned that my tub would be permanently sticky, but the only lingering effect was a refreshing grapefruit scent. While scrubbing my tub, I noticed a previously neglected area under my soap dish that had collected some mildew and general gunk (ew). The grapefruit handled it immediately — officially making me a fan.
I also DIY’d an all-purpose cleaner (mixing dish soap, baking soda, vinegar, water and a few drops of orange essential oil), mixed two tablespoons of vinegar into water to clean my microwave, and even scrubbed my toilet with baking soda and vinegar. I was worried my apartment would reek of vinegar, but the scent wasn’t at all overpowering. (The essential oil in the all-purpose cleaner definitely helped, and for $3, it was definitely worth it!) Most importantly, instead of burning through a roll of paper towels as I cleaned, I used NatureZway Bamboo Cleaning Cloths, which are machine washable.
And speaking of washing machines, I even found an eco-friendly swap for my laundry. I tackled three weeks’ (ugh) worth of dirty clothes with Dropps’ Stain & Odor Lavender Eucalyptus Laundry Detergent and Lavender Scent Booster with Fabric Softener Pods. The pods have a biodegradable, water soluble film made of polyvinyl alcohol, and everything is contained in compostable and recyclable packaging. I’m happy to report that the detergent did serious work, including removing some set-in chocolate stains (whoops).
Zero Waste Shopping
I’m a big fan of meal prep, but I’m definitely guilty of using plastic produce bags, like, every trip. When I set out to get my groceries for the week, I brought my own Wowe reusable mesh produce bags (you can find similar ones here!) in addition to my trusty canvas shopping bag. This was a pretty straightforward and easy change-up, minus the fact that I had to swing by my apartment to get the bags instead of stopping right after I got off the train. The biggest change I noticed was that I had to resist the urge to buy precut fruits and veggies that were packaged in plastic. While I won’t always be able to make the greener choice, bringing my own produce bags — and being aware of how much plastic I consume without even thinking about it — is definitely something I’ll be incorporating into my routine going forward.
Vegan for a Day
In an effort to make myself more aware of eco-friendly changes I can make to my diet, I sought out vegan alternatives for some of my favorite foods. I thought this would be pretty straightforward … until I started reading labels and realized how much egg and dairy is in everything. Once I found recipes that sounded good and not too intimidating, things got a lot easier. I kicked off the day with banana peanut butter oatmeal that tasted amazing and left me feeling really full. On a less satisfactory note, when I ordered a latte, I swapped in soy milk for my normal skim and it was … not great. I love, love, love dairy milk and the soy was way too sugary for my liking. (And I’m not an almond milk fan in general.) However, I didn’t mind the coconut milk in my oatmeal, so I’m definitely keeping that (and less aggressive soy options) in mind for future dairy swaps.
For lunch, I threw together a supercharged kale and citrus salad. Even though it had lots of amazing things in it, the super sweet fruit mixed with the very strong red wine vinegar dressing was a lot for my palate. Probably not a recipe I’ll be trying again, though I love me a hearty kale salad. Trudging through the salad was worth it, however, for the vegan brownie I had for dessert.
Spaghetti is a clear front-runner for my favorite food, so I was most excited to find a vegan alternative for my beloved marinara dish. This was one of the easier things to incorporate, as it wasn’t hard to avoid dairy. The trickiest part was finding noodles without egg, but I found some cauliflower and rice ones that were actually pretty good! I definitely craved a slice of garlic bread, so that’s a vegan swap I would try to find in the future. (Or any bread, really.)
I never realized how many different beauty, skincare and bath products I use until I swapped them all out for sustainable or more natural alternatives. Luckily, there are tons and tons of options for people looking to green up their glam while still looking and feeling (and smelling) their best.
Skincare: I wanted to kick off my green week with a little glow, so before bed I prepped my skin by exfoliating with The Seaweed Bath Co.’s Purifying Micro-Scrub and then left their Restoring Marine Algae Overnight Face Mask on while I slept. The mask doesn’t completely absorb into your skin, so definitely be thorough in washing it off the next morning, but my face felt hydrated AF. At the end of the day, I took off all of my makeup with The Original MakeUp Eraser Makeup Remover Cloth, which could not have been easier. Not only did it completely take off all of the product (with minimal rubbing!), I avoided using wipes or cotton pads that would go straight into the trash. I kept my face feeling 100 with Seed Phytonutrients’ Gentle Facial Cleanser and Ultra Rich Facial Cream. And since it’s 2019 and sunscreen is an essential part of the daily beauty routine, I protected my skin with Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30. When my skin felt a little parched during the day, I used The Seaweed Bath Co.’s Citrus and Vanilla Body Cream to stay hydrated.
Cosmetics: I mimicked my usual makeup routine, just with more environmentally conscious products. We all know the importance of a strong foundation, so I started with 100% Pure’s Mattifying Primer. I prefer a more nature glam, so I used their Fruit Pigmented Tinted Moisturizer to even out my skin tone, and followed that up with Fruit Pigmented Blush. I also love a subtle cheekbone pop, so I blended the Luminating Créme in Moonlight to maximize my glow. I finished the look with 100% Pure’s Pretty Naked II eye shadow palette (Illume and Beam were the perfect office-friendly mix!) and Ultra Lengthening Mascara. My baby blonde brows need all of the love they can get, so I amped them up with W3LL PEOPLE’s Expressionist Brow Gel. I finished everything off with 100% Pure’s Lip Caramel, and kept everything moisturized throughout the day with Pink Grapefruit Lip Balm from Burt’s Bees.
Bath Stuff: I greened up my grapefruit-fresh shower with Seed Phytonutrients’ Volume Shampoo and Conditioner, as well as Burt’s Bees’ Lavender & Honey Body Wash. I turned to Package Free’s Shave Soap Bar to keep my legs moisturized when I used my Oui Shave Rose Gold Single-Blade Razor. (Btw, the smoothest shave of my life and I achieved it without adding a plastic razor to a landfill! 10/10 would recommend.)
Hygiene: There were a lot of products working behind the scenes to keep me presentable. Shout-out to Myro deodorant for doing the heavy lifting in my armpits (and coming in a fun-colored refillable case). I also loved the minty freshness of Davids Premium Natural Toothpaste. (This is always a major concern for me, especially since I had to forgo my non-green mouthwash, and I was so relieved when it worked overtime to keep my breath from getting icky.) Raise your hand if throwing away plastic toothbrushes makes you cringe. Same. Not only are Wowe’s Natural Bamboo Toothbrushes durable, they can also be upcycled when you’re done with them.
Zero Waste Eating
My day of zero waste wasn’t technically hard to pull off, but it did require a lot of prep. I sat down and thought of every single disposable thing I use on a daily basis (hello, guilt) and then came up with a plan for replacing it. Some of the elements were super easy: Package Free’s Un-Paper Towels instead of paper napkins, Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Set instead of plastic silverware and Wowe Curved Stainless Steel Straws instead of plastic ones. The trickiest part was making sure I had an eco-friendly substitute for everything, and that started with my morning coffee. Rather than ordering my latte in its standard paper cup and plastic lid, I brought my own Welly bottle. Not only did it keep my coffee hot way longer than a paper cup, I was discounted 10 cents for my green swap. I’m usually pretty good about packing my breakfast and lunch in reusable containers, so I brought leftover banana peanut butter oatmeal in a mason jar and a meal-prepped kale and citrus salad in one of Package Free’s Airtight Stainless Steel containers. (I wanted to keep my pickled onions separate until lunch, so I packed them in a Reusable Silicone Sandwich Bag.)
After a week of eating healthy and planning my pants off, I treated myself to a dinner of comfort food from Jacob’s Pickles in N.Y.C.’s Upper West Side. Since I was still in zero-waste mode, when I called to place the to-go order, I also requested that they bring out the food in dishes instead of plastic containers so that I could transfer the food to my own reusable containers. Admittedly, I was worried that this (somewhat unusual) ask would just create confusion, but they were incredibly accommodating, going out of their way to try to time their food to my arrival so it would still be hot.
Living in a tiny, yardless studio in the middle of Manhattan, composting isn’t a natural instinct. While I’d heard legends that it was actually quite easy to do in the city, I’d never given it a try. Getting to the bottom of it, so to speak, seemed like the perfect way to cap off my week of eco-friendly efforts. It turns out that dropping off my food scraps was a quick Google search away. Grow NYC is a great resource for New Yorkers looking to compost. (The site also has a ton of information on recycling, locally grown food and so much more!) Of all of the things I did in my green week, this might have been the easiest. Throughout the week, I stored all of my compostable food scraps in my freezer. I found which drop-off sites were open on the weekend and enjoyed an early morning walk to the most convenient one.
I’m excited that all of the products worked really well, but my favorites are definitely the Oui Shave razor (which made me feel fancy and green AF), the Original MakeUp Eraser Makeup Remover Cloth, the Seed Phytonutrients shampoo and conditioner, and all of the 100% Pure cosmetics. (As I get older, I’m getting way pickier about what I put on my face, and I love a glam with natural ingredients.) There weren’t any misses, though I’d probably skip the grapefruit in favor of the homemade all-purpose cleaner in the future.
The toughest part of the week for me was the planning — being deliberate in my choices and not always taking the easier (and more disposable) route. That said, I don’t think it would be hard to develop habits to incorporate these changes into my life. Bringing my own mug to grab coffee? Dropping off my food scraps once a week? NBD, really. Going into this, I was wary that some of my eco-friendly requests would be inconvenient to others, but I didn’t need to worry. It turns out that people either didn’t notice if I brought my own containers or were more than willing to accommodate me. That definitely encouraged me to be more forthcoming about it in the future.
My biggest takeaway is that it’s not hard to achieve balance and find affordable ways to be green without making a huge sacrifice. All it takes is a little bit of research (and maybe a salted grapefruit) to green up your routine.