Zero Waste, Period

Zero waste period supplies | Litterless

Zero waste can sometimes feel prescriptive. To be zero waste you have to store food in glass jars, you have to own a reusable coffee thermos, you have to… use a menstrual cup. You can work towards zero waste and do these things, and you also don’t have to.

I’ve used a menstrual cup for years and it has made my life (or at least four days each month) much, much easier. No more running to the store for tampons! No more forgetting tampons! No more taking out the bathroom trash! And so on.

Through my work on Litterless, I have a few menstrual cups: some brand-new and never used that I keep as props for zero waste workshops, a clear cup I purchased years ago that is now very stained but just as functional as ever, and a Dot Cup (pictured above), which I love because it doesn’t show stains and is manufactured here in Wisconsin. (Plus, to quote a certain Marie Kondo, that perfect handmade pouch brings me joy).

I’ve written fairly extensively about menstrual cups before, with thoughts on how to choose one, which soap to use, and other notes; you can read that here, if you’d like.

Much of the zero waste period advice out there boils down to just use a cup. And, well, yes, just use a cup, if you can and want to. I can’t overstate how simple and convenient and comfortable I’ve found it. And yet you may not want to switch or it may not work for you. If just use a cup doesn’t feel like helpful advice, there are so many other options for a lower-waste period. A few of them, below.

Note: some of the links below are affiliate links, if you’d like to support Litterless if you make a purchase.

Period underwear
These are the best, best, best, best. I have a few pairs and really love them. They can be expensive, but unless they’re the only thing you want to use, you probably don’t need a pair for every single day of your period. I rotate my two pairs in and out in a combination with other methods.

-Dear Kate: Dear Kate period underwear has no plastic films or layers, although the fabric is a nylon/lycra composite and it does arrive in a small, reusable zippered plastic pouch for storage on the go. The nude pair pictured above is their Nellie hipster.

-Lunapads: These folks are better known for their reusable pads, but I like their period underwear, which comes in a wide range of styles, including a high-waisted version and boxer briefs (for anyone, but perhaps especially helpful for queer or trans folks).

Zero waste period supplies | Litterless

Reusable pads

These are new to me, and great. They come in a wide range of patterns (or no patterns), absorbencies, shapes, styles. Here’s the ones that have caught my eye:

-GladRags: The plastic-free pads pictured at right above are made from soft and comfortable flannel in a range of colors. They’ll omit extra packaging material upon request and ship products loose in a kraft paper mailer; I was so, so pleased to shake pads out of the mailer with no added packaging whatsoever. Midwest readers can find a local supplier for GladRags at Litterless sponsor Green Life Trading Co.

-Hannahpads: I rarely choose patterns when I could choose solids or neutrals, but Hannahpads are just so cheerful without being garish or twee; their patterns make me smile when I see them in my drawer. You can buy their variety of absorbencies as a single pad or a set. They fold up and snap for easy stowing in a purse, backpack, pocket, or palm.

-SckoonPads: Reusable pads made from colorful patterns with a brown inner lining, so you won’t have to see stains compound month after month. They’re made from organic cotton and dyed with metal-free, low-impact dyes.

-Reusable silicone Stasher bags can take the place of a single-use plastic bag for storing a used pad throughout the day; perhaps choose a Stasher in a different color than the ones you use in your kitchen so you can always tell them apart.

Zero waste period supplies | Litterless

Applicator-free tampons
We’ve all seen tampon applicators wash up on beaches or lakefronts and avoiding them is simple. Though tampons without applicators are packaged in plastic, they come in much less plastic than the version with applicators. When possible, choose organic cotton tampons, which doesn’t contain pesticides or other toxic chemicals.

In lieu of choosing just one option, stocking your cabinet with a range of them can be nicer. Though a menstrual cup is generally my preference, there are days or nights in which period underwear is more comfortable or when not having to think about where I’ll remove the cup is a relief. (In a word, not on airplanes, please).

What other products or brands are your favorites? Other strategies to share?

(Many thanks to Dot Cup, Dear Kate, GladRags, Hannahpads, and Stasher for the samples pictured above.)

Zero Waste, Wash Your Face

Zero-waste, plastic-free, package-free face wash for a more sustainable beauty routine | Litterless

There are probably just about as many ways to wash your face as there are faces: water only, bar soap, pump soap, oil cleansing, masks, and on in infinite combinations of ingredients and products and options.

There isn’t just one zero waste way to wash your face; any of the above can be slowly transitioned to a slightly less wasteful routine by taking note of packaging and disposables. However you wash, notes on choosing wisely, below.

Zero-waste, plastic-free, package-free face wash for a more sustainable beauty routine | Litterless

Note: some of the links below are affiliate links, if you’d like to support Litterless if you make a purchase.

-Water only: Skin hero Adina Grigore notes in her book Skin Cleanse that for many people, washing with water only might be less irritating and just as cleansing as washing with soap. She recommends doing 10 to 20 splashes, moving your hands up and down your face once per splash. The simplicity appeals, though for heavy make-up wearers and others it might not suit. 

-Face soap in a pump bottle: What I’ve used for years, though I’m trying to transition away as I eke out the last few drops of my current bottle. Though most face soaps come in plastic bottles, there are a few companies packaging theirs in glass or metal. Plaine Products offers bulk face wash (and facial moisturizer) online in refillable metal bottles that they’ll take back for reuse, or non-bulk options packaged in glass or metal include face wash made by S.W. Basics, evanhealy, or Goddess Garden. While glass and plastic can of course both be recycled in most municipalities, the pump itself is made from multiple materials and is almost always trash. With glass bottles, I try to save and reuse them myself, or pass them along to a friend to do the same.

-Bar soap: Entering the world of bar face soap is a little nerve-racking, as bar soap can be so drying. I’ve been on the look-out for bars that are specifically formulated for faces. Meow Meow Tweet sent me a bar of their pink rose clay facial soap to try, pictured above, which I’ll do once my current bottle is empty. Other folks making bar soap for faces include Little Seed Farm (local to the Midwest) or Sappo Hill (local to the West Coast).

-Oil cleansing: Though these usually come in packaging as well (the ones at my local co-op are almost all bottled in plastic), at least they’re just one single, simple ingredient, and they feed thirsty skin. I use rosehip or jojoba oil to cleanse a few times a week, and I wipe the remainder away with warm water on a thick washcloth. (My favorites, the pillowy versions shown here, are a gift from Natural Linens made from organic cotton fabric and organic cotton thread, compostable!). You might find a different oil works better for you; again I’ll recommend Adina’s genius Skin Cleanse from the library or elsewhere.

-Buy it in bulk: You might be able to find bulk oil or face wash near you (check here). Bulk options let you try a small sample before you commit, choosing to fill a very small container at first before going back a week later for more. For containers, you can refill a plastic or glass pump bottle left over from a used-up product, a reusable squeeze bottle like a silicone GoToob, or fill a glass jar and screw on a pump top.

-Etc: If you use cotton rounds for make-up removal or anything else, they are such a great reusable to keep on hand as opposed to the plastic-packaged single-use kind. (The cotton rounds pictured were a gift from Natural Linens, or you can also make your own). Mine kept getting stuck in the door of our front-loading washer during the spin cycle, so I recently purchased a small mesh bag from Fillgood to keep them together in the wash. (Anything to make life 0.0005% easier).

Other suggestions for a lower-waste routine?

Travel Tip: Plan Ahead for Shaving

Zero waste shaving while traveling by plane | Litterless

This past weekend, we visited Asheville for a close friend’s wedding. As part of our pre-wedding sprucing up, we both pulled out a plastic razor from our toiletry bags. At home, we shave with metal safety razors that are plastic-free and nearly endlessly reusable. When flying, though, the blades don’t make it through the security checkpoint - nor should they. After being reminded of this the hard way on a trip last month, this month we arrived in North Carolina with razors un-confiscated, but also un-zero waste.

Over the past few years of traveling with a mind to making less waste, I’ve found myself on both ends of the spectrum: safety razor packed and the blade confiscated at the airport, and safety razor not packed and a plastic razor purchased later while on vacation. In the spirit of finding solutions that are both simple and effective, I’ve been making more of an effort to accept the inevitable: yes, I wish I could just bring my safety razor and blade in my carry-on. No, that doesn’t work and neither does ignoring the issue entirely. Instead, I’m working on taking the time to plan a solution ahead of time instead of throwing up my hands and leaving shaving on vacation to the whims of fate.

Zero waste shaving while traveling by plane | Litterless

In case you’ve been in a similar boat (er, airplane), here are some ideas about how to shave in a more zero waste way while on vacation. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

-Check your safety razor through. If you’re checking a bag, the choice is easy. Safety razor blades can be included in your checked luggage. Pop your standard safety razor in your toiletry bag - carry the blade in a small, hard-shell case or box to avoid the risk of cutting yourself accidentally as you dig through your belongings - and stow it in your bag to check.

-Buy a blade at your destination. Safety razors themselves are fine to go through security; it’s the blades that pose an issue. You can bring a blade-less razor in your carry-on with a plan to buy a blade when you arrive. To save time, take your razor out of your bag at security so they can quickly check it to make sure it doesn’t have a blade; otherwise, they’ll have to search your bag, which takes longer. Places to search for safety razor blades include Whole Foods, local food co-ops, zero waste stores, barbershops, and corner shops. This method works best for longer trips where you’ll have time to shop and time to work your way, at least somewhat, through a package of blades. You can also plan to leave the extra blades with a friend or host, or to check them through on the way home to avoid wasting an open package.

-Purchase a Preserve razor. I’ll admit to being a general skeptic of Preserve products, slightly irritated that their recycled and recyclable toothbrushes and razors come in packaging that is, to my knowledge, neither. But they offer the best semi-sustainable plastic razor out there; it’s made of recycled plastic and you can send it back to them to be recycled as well. Plus, once you buy the handle, you can purchase replacement blades to cut down on waste a little bit further.

-Use an old plastic razor. When I bought my metal safety razor, I stashed away the rest of my unused plastic razors to use while traveling. Since I only shave a few times each trip - if that - the pile of razors has lasted years. When they finally, finally run out, I’ll choose an alternative. For now, making do with what we already own feels like the easiest route.

-Skip shaving. Of course, this is always an option, on vacation and off. As with all things grooming, shaving is a personal choice and your body is perfectly acceptable as it is. If you prefer not to shave, you’ll sidestep the issue entirely. But if you prefer to shave, make a plan.

Other tips for traveling and shaving with less waste? Tips for switching to a safety razor here.

Read more zero waste bath and beauty ideas here.

How (Exactly) to Switch to Bar Soap

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

Sometimes the zero waste swaps that look the simplest have layers of questions underneath. When I wrote about switching from liquid hand soap to bar soap last summer, I touted it as the easiest zero waste swap I’d made. And yet, that glossed over some of the aspects of bar soap that don’t come into play when you have pump soap. Readers asked, how do you keep the bar soap from staying wet and getting slimy? How do you store a bar in your shower without it disintegrating under the water stream? In other words: sure, this switch might be easy for you, but it hasn’t been so easy for me.

Except for a few bottles of refillable body wash still kicking around in our shower, these days we use bar soap exclusively. Bar soap is less likely to come in plastic packaging than pump soap, and it takes about one-fifth of the energy to manufacture, as well. So in our house, there’s a bar by the kitchen sink, one by the bathroom sink, and a bag of soap ends in the shower for sudsing up, for those who prefer bars to liquid body wash (me). The day when one bar runs out and we get to choose the next from a small under-sink stash is always a banner day. 

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

Lately, we’ve been using bar soap from Bestowed Essentials. The creator Callee makes zero waste bath and beauty products in her solar-powered studio on wheels as she travels the United States. Her small-batch, certified vegan and cruelty-free soap bars, face masks, and other products are inspired by her travels and her experiences as a zero waster herself. This means that her products are packaged in recyclable or compostable packaging (typically, recycled cardboard or glass), and are shipped using boxes and packing material made from recycled fibers.

 In case it’s helpful, here’s a peek into the bar soap set-up we use these days. It keeps soap dishes from sliming, soap bars from disintegrating, and has overall made the jump to bar soap a pure pleasure. 

-Choose a slatted soap dish. In my experience, water pools in soap dishes that don’t offer it a place to drain. This prevents the soap from drying out fully between each use, meaning that it gets a bit slimy or worse, disintegrates into an unusable mush. A soap dish with slats – or simply a draining soap dish set on top of your usual one – ensures that the bar stays firm and intact. Ours pictured is this one from Bestowed Essentials, which is made from recycled tulip poplar wood gathered from a scrap pile and can be composted at the end of its life.  

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

-Use a soap saver bag to corral slivers. When a bar gets so thin that even a gentle rub breaks it into ever-smaller pieces, we transfer the pieces to a soap bag. This corrals smaller pieces so that you can use them without worrying they’ll slip through your finger and down the drain. Plus, the rough texture acts as a plastic-free loofah in the shower, and since it’s made out of natural sisal fibers, it too can be composted at the end of its life.

-Keep it out of the shower stream. When you keep bar soap in the shower, try to store it in a place where it won’t be hit by the spray. We keep our metal shampoo bottles on the shelf closest to the spray and our bar soap and bag of soap ends on the shelf farthest from it. This helps the bar soap stay dry, an essential to its long and happy life. 

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

In particular, I love the calming scent of the cucumber + spearmint soap shown here. Each soap is a blend of natural ingredients for maximum gentleness and healing, oftentimes a mix of powerhouse ingredients that are kitchen staples of the home cook and herbalist, like turmeric + calendula or Florida orange. (Or, ahem, a pumpkin spice bar for all you autumn lovers).

Once you find ­­­­a scent you like, you can even purchase a bulk loaf of soap in lieu of individual bars, cutting down on packaging waste even further. (Each loaf is equivalent to just over eight bars, making it a more economical option, too).

You can find Bestowed Essentials’ full line of bar soaps here. Or, peek at their plastic-free toothpowders, face masks, and more. And, if you’d like, you can save 15% off your order using the code LITTERLESS.

How (exactly) to switch to bar soap, with zero waste beauty essentials from Bestowed Essentials | Litterless

Other questions / bar soap dilemmas I can answer? Any other concerns holding you back from making this zero waste switch? 

(This post is sponsored by Bestowed Essentials, a collection of ethical and eco-friendly personal care products).

Nothing New: Plastic-Free Travel Toothbrush Cover


Until several recent spates of decluttering over the past few years, the bathroom I shared with my siblings in my childhood home was littered with all sorts of years-old items. Chief among them, several used and discarded plastic toothbrush holders, still slightly grubby and streaked white with spots of toothpaste. If you’ve ever had a plastic toothbrush cover of your own, I’m betting it looks somewhat the same.

There are some single-use plastic items that I miss since going zero waste, but plastic toothbrush holders are not one of them. They were hard to clean, hard to keep dry, and I rarely used each for more than a couple of trips before getting too grossed out to use it again.

Zero-waste, plastic-free travel toothbrush cover using just a handkerchief | Litterless

Instead, for the past several years I’ve wrapped my toothbrush in a clean handkerchief for a simple travel cover. The handkerchief keeps the head of the toothbrush clean, and I can lay the handkerchief flat once at the hotel so that I can rest the toothbrush and other items on a clean surface. Better still, after each trip the handkerchief goes into the wash and comes out perfectly clean. No toothpaste residue, no cracks and crevices to harbor bacteria or mold, no fussing about.

To wrap my toothbrush, I lay the handkerchief flat with the clean side facing up, place my toothbrush to one edge of the handkerchief, and double the handkerchief over it to enclose the portion with the bristles (most of the handle remains outside of the cloth). Then, I roll the handkerchief up around the toothbrush, and toss it in my toiletry bag. You could secure the roll with a rubber band, but I’ve never needed to; packed in a bag with lots of other things, the set-up seems to stay in place well enough without one.

Zero-waste, plastic-free travel toothbrush cover using just a handkerchief | Litterless

Sometimes a switch like this is so simple that I hesitate to write about it. But in preparation for a few upcoming trips, I’ve been reviewing my usual routines, and this one seemed like it might be helpful. I hope you find it so.

More resources:

-If you’d like a more traditional plastic-free alternative, Brush with Bamboo also makes a travel toothbrush case.

-How to make your own handkerchiefs.

-Another simple travel tip along these same lines.

Anyone else do this? Other simple zero waste travel ideas to share?

More posts on going zero waste without buying anything new, here.

Zero Waste Deodorant for Sensitive Skin

Zero waste deodorant for sensitive skin | Litterless

I've been road-testing deodorants for you for many months now. Which zero waste deodorants smell the nicest and which work the best? Despite making little notes in my phone like "too floral," I'm here empty-handed: though I now know which work for me, I've figured out that telling you which ones you should use is kind of like telling you what kind of coffee to drink. My preferences have no input on your preferences, my body works differently than your body, what I like doesn't mean a whole lot about what you'll like.

So, presented (mostly) without comment, in case it's helpful, a selection of the natural deodorants I've tried that come in recyclable or compostable plastic-free packaging. The one thing they all have in common is that they are free of baking soda, which I've found to irritate my skin. (More on how to avoid that, here).

Zero waste deodorant for sensitive skin | Litterless

In case you're in the market for a new alternative, here are ideas for places to start. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

-Meow Meow Tweet: Their baking soda-free deodorant is my go-to and what I reach for every day. It comes packaged in a cardboard box (recyclable) and then a glass jar (reusable, then recyclable). At $18 a jar, this may seem like more than you want to pay for deodorant, but one jar has lasted me almost exactly a year.

They also make a more traditional deodorant stick, without the plastic or the nasty ingredients; the cheerful cardboard packaging is biodegradable once it's empty. I'm eager to try their new rose geranium scent, but for now I have their grapefruit version.

-Little Seed Farm: Though I haven't tried their deodorants, I love the scents that Little Seed Farm uses in their soaps, and the fact that they make their products just a few states away from where I live. They have a new baking soda-free deodorant that comes in a glass jar, inside a small cardboard box printed with the words "please recycle this box." When you check the box for their "zero waste shipping option," your order will come with no additional packaging materials.

-Routine: This Canada-based natural deodorant brand makes "The Curator," a baking soda-free option. I found the scent overpowering, but fragrance enthusiasts might be fans. Note: the glass jar of deodorant comes with a plastic seal on top that will become landfill trash, and consider avoiding their small sample sizes, which come in tiny non-recyclable plastic pots.

Zero waste deodorant for sensitive skin | Litterless

-Fat and the Moon: This all-natural variety has a balm-like texture that's smooth and luscious. I have the small tin for traveling and testing, but if you love it and are ready for a commitment, you can size up to the 6-ounce jar to cut down on packaging waste.

-Other options: Lalin et La Sirèn's four-ingredient deodorant stick in a paper tube (found here on BLK + GRN), Primal Pit Paste's sensitive skin formulation in a glass jar, Chagrin Valley Soap Co.'s option with clay in lieu of baking soda (in the order notes, ask for yours to be shipped without bubble wrap), and Soapwalla's sensitive skin deodorant (comes in a recyclable plastic pot, but is enough of a cult favorite to be worth mentioning here).

Do you have a favorite that isn't listed? A question I can answer? Fire away.

More notes on zero waste bath and beauty, here.

A Cup for You, a Cup for a Friend

OrganiCup zero waste menstrual cup | Litterless

This week, we’ve been moving into our new apartment in Madison. Hanging up clothing, setting aside duplicate spatulas to donate, finding a shelf for the food processor that won’t cause it to topple on our heads every time we open the cabinet. We love our space, but it’s a bit short on storage, and combining two apartments into one doesn’t help matters. Where possible, we’re paring down.

In our bathroom, space is especially at a premium. In my old Chicago apartment, favorite beauty products cohabitated alongside balms or lip colors I used once every month, if ever. With plenty of space to stack everything (precariously), it was easy to keep things around just in case. In our new bathroom in Madison, not so much. I’ve admitted that my bright red and very old RMS lip tint will never be one I wear, and into the recycling it went. Ditto a particularly unloved pot of lotion, and so on.

Whether in my Chicago bathroom or Madison one, though, one thing I’m happy to never have taking up space again: pads and tampons. Everyone with a period is familiar with the stacks of unsightly paper or plastic wrappers accumulating in drawers: different weights, different styles, ones bought in an emergency and favorite organic ones stalked at a local health-foods grocery. Having enough on hand could mean filling a drawer, and there are much nicer ways to fill a drawer, of course.

OrganiCup zero waste menstrual cup | Litterless

It took me a few years of hearing friends rave about it to finally hop on the menstrual cup bandwagon. First a friend in college told me about it years ago, then another friend mentioned she loved it, then I jumped on board and started telling other friends about it, too.

It’s easier to try something new and break out of your routine when a friend is doing it alongside. When I first started using a menstrual cup, I didn’t know too many others who used them, too. Now, to most of the women I’m friends with, they’re the new normal. No need to hide them in a drawer so the red stains don’t freak someone out, no need to preface statements about a menstrual cup with the phrase “I recently switched to this weird thing…”, no need to Google questions in a private browser when simply texting a pal will yield answers. It’s so good.

That’s why I loved the idea that OrganiCup recently reached out to me to share. They make silicone menstrual cups that come in a GOTS-certified organic cotton bag. This week, they’re offering a 2-for-1 package on menstrual cups so that you and a friend, sibling, or partner can take the plunge together. Just add their menstrual cup to your cart between now and July 17, and another one will automatically be added to your order when you use the code litterless.

OrganiCup zero waste menstrual cup | Litterless

You can buy one for yourself and casually hand one to your younger sis, text a friend to go in on an order together and split the cost, or even keep the extra in your desk at work just in case. They offer a cup in two sizes: A, for women who haven’t given birth vaginally, and B, for those who have. Just note that because the cup already in your cart will be doubled, you won’t be able to mix and match cup sizes in your deal.

To grab your two cups, use the code litterless between now and the end of the day on July 17. And if you’ve got questions about switching to a cup, leave them below (anonymously or pseudonymously is fine!) and I’ll do my best to answer!

This post is sponsored by OrganiCup. Thanks so much for supporting Litterless.