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plastic-free gift wrap that’s kind to your wallet and the planet

Nat King Cole plays in the background, as a hot cup of tea sits on your table. Your living room is littered with presents and paper and ribbon and tape, as you begin – wait, where’s the tape?

Sound familiar to anybody? (Yo, I can’t be the only person who loses the tape every. single. time. I set it down. ;))

I actually really enjoy wrapping presents. It’s therapeutic to me. But to some folks, wrapping presents is the worst part of the holidays – need I bring up the tape again?

For the last few years I’ve really tried to limit my waste when wrapping present. Here’s what you’ll likely need to wrap your gifts more sustainably this year…

MATERIALS

I’ve been collecting newspaper, ribbon, tissue paper and gift bags for the last year. Anytime paper was stuffed in one of my packages from Amazon or Earth Hero, I tucked the paper away and recycled the rest. If I got smaller boxes, like ones from RMS Beauty and Elate Cosmetics that contain my makeup, I saved those bad boys, too.

When it comes to reusables, save and save and save.

For example, glass jars. I’ve got a cupboard full of glass jars with lids. I use them for anything from grocery shopping (buying bulk!) to carrying left overs to holding salad dressings to stuffing them with gifts for the holidays!

Same goes for paper. If you get paper in the mail that you could reuse – do it! I have a box brimming with different size boxes and papers and ribbon and all sorts of stuff I’ve gotten over the past year.

If you’re looking for some cute ways to make your gifts more sustainably packaged this year, here’s a few tips.

SUSTAINABLE GIFT WRAP IDEAS

1. Buy twine/string that comes in paper. I got a spool of twine that came in black and white/red and the only packaging it came in was paper! I found this at Target. Also, I found ribbon that was mainly in paper. Clutch!

2. Opt for paper bags! I bought a bunch of brown craft paper bags from a craft store and I’m using them for lots of presents this year. You can jazz them up with some ribbon or greenery and add some tissue paper.

3. Look for tissue paper that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic. It can be hard to find sometimes, but it’s out there! Also, reuse your tissue paper as much as you can. I like to save tissue paper and other items from packages that have been shipped to me. I have a whole bin filled with tissue paper and other packing paper that I use for my Christmas presents!

4. Get creative/go outside. I cut off a few pieces of a pine tree to use as decoration on my boxes and bags. You can use sticks and pine and all sorts of wintery items to dress up your stuff.

5. Opt for paper tape, or use minimal tape. I didn’t use tape in 2019 when wrapping my presents. Instead, I reused boxes and wrapped ribbon or twine around it. The boxes stay shut just fine that way! This year, I invested in paper tape. I got mine from Amazon, but I’d recommend getting some from Etsy. Here’s a link to one I’d recommend. Or, if you want Christmas-y paper take, here’s an option.

6. Use fabric! This year I used an old piece of fabric (it was once a skirt), cut it, and tied a knot around my present. It’s a fun and free way to wrap your presents – and it’s helpful when you are trying to get rid of clothes, or have clothes that aren’t in good enough shape to drop off at the thrift store.

THINGS TO REMEMBER

Less is more. When you’re wrapping something, don’t feel like you have to go overboard. Often, a simple paper bag with some tissue is all you need.

If you see family and friends tossing out tissue paper or boxes, take them with you! Tissue paper can be reused over and over again. Same goes for wrapping paper, boxes, gifts bags, ribbons and anything else.

As far as name tags go, you could write the person name directly on the bag. Or cut a piece of paper into a circle; inside the circle write their name. Then punch a small hole through part of the circle and, using twine, tie it onto my gift. It’s recyclable and simple. Or, use paper tape! That’s what I’ve been doing lately.

How are you wrapping your gifts this holiday season?

waste-free holiday gifts that won’t break the bank

Christmas is around the corner and it’s easy to feel a lot of pressure to buy the perfect gift during the holiday season.

Let’s face it, Christmas can be suuupper stressful.

AND when you’re trying to be more mindful of your waste and plastic use, it can be even MORE stressful.

I’ve been doing some research (and trial and error!) recently and I’ve found some pretty cool, low-waste, inexpensive gifts for family and friends.

Some of these are more general ideas, others are more specific options. Here are a few questions to ask yourself while Christmas shopping this year:

  1. Why am I buying this person a gift? Is it out of obligation because they’re more of a distant relative that I’m not super close with, but I’ve gotta show up with SOMETHING for them to unwrap on Christmas? Or is it someone that means a whole lot to me?
  2. What’s important to that person? What do they value/talk about often?
  3. What are their hobbies? And what can I give that will be practical?
  4. Can I make them something?
  5. What will be something they will actually use?

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE

Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with…

ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: PARENTS, FRIENDS, GRANDPARENTS, SIBLINGS…

dcb_1351I’m not saying to go out and buy a brand-new book (although, you could do that if that’s more up your alley, or better yet, buy one second-hand!). I’m talking about actually giving one of your parents or your best friend a book that’s been super influential to you.

I truly believe a used book is full of magic. Within the pages of that book, someone’s imagination and creative mind is seeped into the fibers of each page. Someone else was wrapped up in the same world you’re reading about… someone else was feeling the same overwhelming excitement you felt as you read those same words. There’s something raw and important about that. There’s some sort of deep connection between people who share a book — I don’t know how to explain it but I swear it’s gotta be true.

Share your favorite books with the people you love! You won’t regret it 🙂

HANDMADE JEWELRY FROM A LOCAL ARTISAN/SMALL BUSINESS

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: MOMS, GRANDMAS, SISTERS, FRIENDS, COWORKERS, RELATIVES….

dcb_1373These earrings are made by my dear friend Maggy and her husband Evens. They run a business called Haitian Shore Beauty and all of their jewelry is made from sea glass from the beaches of Haiti. You can find their Facebook page here.

Check out some small businesses near you that sell artisan-made jewelry. Or check out some fair trade stores like Ten Thousand Villages or Mata Traders for some super trendy, quality jewelry (and other goods!)

MASON JAR CONCOCTIONS

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: PARENTS, GRANDPARENTS, SIBLINGS, COWORKERS, RELATIVES, BOSSES…..

dafe (2 of 10)The options are pretty much endless when it comes to packing things into mason jars. The jars are glass, so they can be reused or recycled, and you can really customize these jars to fit whoever you’re shopping for. Remember to buy items in bulk when you can!

You can find lots of different sizes in mason jars, especially at second-hand stores!

Pinterest has more ideas that I could possible fit in one blog post, so check out Pinterest for some specific concoctions. But here are a few ideas….

Hot chocolate mix
Cookie or cake mix
Candy or chocolates (buy bulk!)
Recipes using dried ingredients

Hand soaps (buy a foaming pump and use Castile soap, avocado oil, essential oils and water and you’re all set!)
Homemade candles
Homemade face mask/beauty products

Homemade lotions
Snacks
Tea (buy loose-leaf and in bulk!)
Coffee
Popcorn (bulk)

QUALITY BEAUTY PRODUCTS

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: MOMS, AUNTS, SIBLINGS, COUSINS, FRIENDS, COWORKERS, BOSSES….

Below are some of my favorite companies where you can find quality products with sustainable packaging…

Meow Meow Tweet*
Fat and the Moon
Burts Bees*
Plaine Products
EarthHero products
Pacifica*
Shea Moisture * (Shea Moisture is black-owned, B-Corp!)
Dr. Bronner’s* (a B-Corp!)
Elate Cosmetics
Beautycounter (a B-Corp!) – a little pricey!
Zao Organic Makeup
*available at Target for easy shopping

If you’re looking to purchase some “treat-yo-self”-type gifts…. check out these guys! They offer plenty of face masks and lotions and lip balm! Lots of their items come in sustainable packaging, too!

REUSABLE WATER BOTTLES

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: LITERALLY ANYBODY

f1057e8e-17c0-4e1a-b747-09412ec7ccc4One of the easiest steps in limiting your waste is using a reusable water bottle and coffee thermos. Hydro Flask and Klean Kanteen are two top rated brands on the market. They’re meant to last for YEARS. They’re a bit pricey, but totally worth every penny. They come in different colors and sizes, too!

COMPOSTABLE PHONE CASE

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: AGAIN, LITERALLY ANYONE. BUT ESPECIALLY SIBLINGS AND YOUR NIECES AND NEPHEWS

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Pela case is a compostable phone case company. I’ve been using my case for months and it’s holding up great! Obviously it’s not going to give the same level of protection as an Otterbox… but I’ve dropped my phone a few times with this case on and my phone doesn’t have a scratch (knock on wood!).

ESSENTIAL OILS + DIFFUSER

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: AGAIN, LITERALLY ANYBODY

I personally use Young Living oils. Just remember, essential oils aren’t the most sustainable product – but they have serious benefits! Use them sparingly and aim to find oils that are made as ethically and sustainably as possible.

HEATING PAD/WARMING PILLOW

A GOOD PRESENT FOR: LITERALLY ANYBODY

dcb_1386My local health food store, the Health Hut, sells these flax seed heating and cooling pads. You either warm them up in the microwave or cool them down in the freezer. They’re made with sustainable cloth and come pre-wrapped.  An item like this will last a while and it could be good for your family or friends who often get aches and pains. A standard heating pad is always a good option too!

ADDITIONAL IDEAS FOR ANYBODY

UncommonGoods: This is one of my favorite stores to buy birthday and Christmas gifts. First of all, they’re a B-Corp. Second, they support other smaller businesses who create quirky, nichy items. Third, you can just about guarantee your gift won’t be like anyone else’s 🙂 They have a whole section dedicated to gifts for under $25. And there are options for more expensive gifts you could partner with others to give.

An experience!: Consider buying someone an experience. Date nights, concert tickets, museum memberships, etc. Buying someone an experience doesn’t produce waste, and it’s something they’ll actually enjoy.

Fair trade options: Check out Made Trade and Ten Thousand Villages for some dope fair trade gifts. From jewelry to decor and clothing, they’ve both got awesome options.

Etsy printable: Etsy has some awesome artists that allow you to pay a few bucks to print the picture out yourself! Grab a cheap frame from the thrift store and you’ve got a cheap and unique gift for someone.

For kids: Crayons and coloring materials; wooden toys (check out EarthHero for some dope options!); an experience like a membership to the Children’s Museum; secondhand toys that can be easily sterilized at home.

Sustainable beauty supplies: EarthHero is one of my favorite shops for all things eco-friendly. Check out their items here. Also, they’re a B-Corp – double win! Items like wooden hair brushes, bamboo tooth brushes, organic cotton hair ties, etc….can make great stocking stuffers.

Bamboo or wool socks: Two sustainable options for socks that you can find online on EarthHero, Etsy, Package Free Shop, and others.

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BANGS Shoes: This company sells awesome shoes. 20% of the proceeds go to Kiva, a company that invests in entrepreneurs around the world. Instead of giving people free shoes, this company supports the thought that if you give a person a fish, you feed them for a day, but if you teach a person to fish, you feed them for a lifetime. And it’s supporting entrepreneurship and creativity!

Wool scarf: Package Free Shop last year added alpaca wool scarfs to their site and they’re awesome.

Tote bags/reusable bags: Reusable cotton produce bags make awesome gifts. They can be used for, obviously, produce, but they can also store other things too! Or, they’re even cute as a wrapping paper alternative. My friend Agnes from Andinda Design makes all kinds of cool products using second hand cotton! She makes cotton rounds, bento bags, produce bags, pouches and lots more. Check out her Etsy shop here.

Quality blanket: Everybody could use a good blanket! Look for some that are made sustainably or with recycled or eco-friendly materials.

dafe (6 of 10)

Leaf cuttings: Trim off a few cuttings of your monstera or pothos and stick it in an upcycled jar with some water. It’s a fun little gift to give to someone looking to up their at-home jungle vibes 😉

Loose-leaf tea + strainer: This is definitely a gift I’d LOVE to have. You can find some really great loose-leaf tea at the grocery store — or a local tea shop — and pair it with a strainer. Loose-leaf tea tastes better and it’s much better for the environment!

French press; coffee bean grinder; bamboo or stainless steel straws; to-go cutlery (check out EarthHero!); quality cloth + glasses case for those who wear glasses (anyone else struggle to keep your eye glasses clean!?)….etc.

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DIY foaming soap: Buy a foaming pump (unfortunately I got mine off Amazon) and add it to a smaller lid mason jar. Add castile soap, essential oils and some oil of your choice (I like avocado because it’s moisturizing!). Fill it with some water and you’re good to go!

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Check out second-hand stores! This might sound like I’m just trying to be cheap, but I’m really not. Second-hand stores can have incredible stuff! I’ve gotten lots of friends and family members gently-used books that look like new! You can find toys and clothes with the tags still on. You can even find some pretty quirky items, too. Stop by your local thrift store and see what you can find 🙂

Note: This story was updated Nov. 2020 with additional information.

the best shampoo bar on the market

The very first blog post I wrote on Steel City Wasteland was about zero waste shampoo and how I hate shampoo bars.

I’ve tried several different kinds. I’ve tried Lush, J.R. Liggett, and some other random brands that just weren’t up to par.

If you’re tried a shampoo bar, you know what I mean.

First of all, in most shampoo bars, the lather is nearly non-existent.

(I know, I know, the soapiness of a lather doesn’t have anything to do with cleanliness… it’s just a chemical called Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS, that makes consumers FEEL like our products are doing an even better job than they really are. But, hey, as a 20+ year all-things Dove girl, I know I’m an SLS addict.)

Second, it just feels weird to rub a bar of soap on your head. Maybe it’s just me, but something about it feels weird to get used to.

Third, the after-wash film. Shampoo bars always leave a nasty film on my crown and the nape of my neck.

If you’re unfamiliar with the filmy feel, imagine shampooing your hair, but not rinsing the shampoo out. When your hair is dry, it still looks like its coated in some sort of soapy oil.

Yeah, that’s what shampoo bars do. At least, that’s what they’ve always done for me.

Until I tried Ethique.

All about Ethique

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Ethique — pronounced “eh-teek”; it’s French for “ethical” — is a New Zealand-based beauty company that’s goal is to end the world of plastic waste.

The brand started in 2012 “as an alternative to the 80 billion plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles thrown out globally each year,” according to their website.

They have tons of beauty products — all plastic free.

Here are a few things they carry:

HAIR PRODUCTS: shampoo, conditioner and hair masks
FACE PRODUCTS: cleanser, scrubs and moisturizers
BODY PRODUCTS: cleansers, moisturizers and deodorants
LAUNDRY: laundry bar and stain remover
PETS: dog shampoo
STORAGE UNITS: in-shower containers

Reasons to love Ethique

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1. Plastic-free
Ethique uses biodegradable ingredients and compostable packaging.

2. Plant-based, but palm-oil free* and vegan
Ethique uses the best ingredients that are plant based and ethical.

*The problem with palm oil:

Palm oil is a controversial ingredient because of the way it’s obtained. Palm oil is cheap, and it can be found in lots of processed foods. The palm oil industry is destroying rain forests, especially in Indonesia. There’s a lot I could talk about surrounding the palm oil industry, like how it’s also contributing to increased CO2 in the atmosphere. But, as with a lot of things, there is some good to it. It’s creating a lot of jobs for Indonesians.

Interestingly, I went to the Borneo rain forest in Indonesia two years ago. While trekking with my friend, our guide — a local — talked to us about palm oil and how it’s harmful to the environment, but it’s helping the local economy. He said it’s a tough issue to have a strong stance on, because he’s seen the good and the bad. I think that’s a helpful reminder.

If you do buy something that contains palm oil, try to opt for one that is sustainably sourced — like Dr. Bronner’s soap. But, when in doubt, it may be better to just avoid palm oil altogether. The choice is yours.

3. Cruelty-free
Ethique doesn’t test their products on animals. In fact, they only test their products on willing humans. They are certified cruelty-free by CCF (Choose Cruelty Free), PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and SAFE (a New Zealand-based agency that certifies cruelty free companies).

4. Sustainable, and a B CORPORATION!
Ethique is a B Corporation, which should speak for itself. If you’re unfamiliar with B Corporations, here’s what their website says: “Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”

Essentially, B Corps are the most well-rounded, ethical, sustainable, transparent corporations in the world. Here are a few B Corps you may know: Patagonia, Klean Kanteen, Tom’s of Maine, Ben and Jerry’s, and Stonyfield Organic.

If you see a company that’s a certified B Corp, rest assured that company has gone through a serious vetting process to be dubbed a B Corp. They really are the best of the best — a company you can trust.

5. These products last, and they save you money

Ethique boasts that one shampoo bar can last anywhere from 6-8 months. I haven’t been able to attest to that, as I’ve only tried the sample size. But the bars are definitely concentrated and seem to last quite a while!

6. The sample bars are adorable

The sample kit is super cute. The bars are heart-shaped. They just make you want to use them!

How well do the products work?

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Honestly, their shampoo bars are excellent. Not just for a shampoo bar, but for a natural shampoo, they’re outstanding.

Both the shampoo and conditioner lather well and neither leave a film on my hair. I can rub the shampoo bar on my hands or rub it on my scalp, both ways give a good lather!

At first using a shampoo bar may feel odd, but once you use a product that works well — like Ethique — you don’t even think twice about it. I hated using shampoo bars because they never worked for me. But Since using Ethique, I actually get weirdly excited to shampoo my hair in the shower.

Not to mention, all the products smell AMAZING, and every ingredient is not only listed, but on their website, Ethique goes into detail about what each ingredient does and where it comes from. LOVE the transparency.

I bought the hair sample kit to try a few different shampoos and conditioners before I invested in one.

I’d definitely recommend doing that! They also carry a sample kit for face wash and body wash, too.

The Ethique Hair Sampler is $16 and comes with three shampoos and two conditioners.

My favorite shampoo from the kit is the Heali Kiwi, because it’s good for my dry, sensitive scalp. Ethique also has shampoos for oily hair and dry, damaged hair. Basically, whatever your hair/scalp type, Ethique’s got you.

As far as their conditioners go, I liked The Guardian best.

Ethique’s conditioners are definitely the best bar conditioners I’ve used, but I would say I like the shampoo a little better than the conditioner. I’ll continue buying both, though, because I like them both! But I was really wowed by the shampoo.

I’ve also been using their face wash and I actually really like it!

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I’ve been using the SuperStar! cleanser. It smells like orange and I’ve noticed that it cleanses my skin without drying it.

I’d highly recommend it for dry skin folks!

Any downsides?

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Only one thing that comes to mind, though I wouldn’t consider it a downfall necessarily, is accessibility.

For most folks living in the USA, you’ll likely buy your Ethique products off Amazon.

This could be a positive thing to some people, because you can use your Amazon Prime membership! So that’s dope! But buying on Amazon means your package could come in plastic. Working with Amazon, Ethique doesn’t have much control over that.

Though, it should be noted that I ordered off of Amazon and my package only came in cardboard! So you never know!

ALSO! Ethique is slowly moving their products across the US. Right now, they’re working their way into Target stores, and are currently stocked in all Erewhon stores throughout California! Amazing!

Locally to Pittsburgh, Ethique products are available at Target at the Waterfront in Homestead.

Check out this link to see if there’s a Target that sells Ethique near you.

Overall, I love this brand and will continue buying their products! And, now that they’re available in more places locally, I’m even more floored to purchase from them!

I LOVE their shampoo. I’m thrilled to have found a zero waste, shampoo bar.

I’m still a big fan of Plaine Products shampoo and conditioner — check out that review here. But for now, I’m sticking with Ethique, and I couldn’t be happier.