Zero waste mascara, part two (soap free recipe)

zero waste mascara DIY

I knew it was possible to make a cake mascara without soap, but never had a reason to try until this spring. It’s beautiful here in Sydney, now on the first day of summer. The Jacarandas are in full purple canopy, and the air smells of jasmine. I don’t know which beautiful flowering tree to blame for my sneezing, watery eyes. The soap in my cake mascara was stinging me when I’d rub my itchy eyes. Even though I have been using the soap based mascara formula for years without issue, I had to stop wearing it.

Anyway…I’m smiling again, because I made a waste free mascara without soap that works great.

zero waste mascara soap free

I used very similar ingredients to my last cake mascara formulation, minus the soap, I’ll credit my years of tinkering with all sorts of personal care formulas for helping me develop a sense of what would work. I’m not saying there isn’t yet a better way, just that this worked for me.

How to make soap-free cake mascara

Here’s what I used to make a soap-free zero waste cake mascara:

  • 3g charcoal powder
  • 3g bentonite clay
  • 1g beeswax
  • 1g shea butter
  • 1g vitamin e oil

I measured each ingredient one by one in the same jar I used to melt the ingredients, then tared after adding each ingredient.

The method is the same process as in the older soap-based cake mascara recipe:

  • put everything in a heat proof glass container.
  • place the jar it in a saucepan of simmering water to melt, stir to combine once melted.
  • Pour into a clean shallow mould or old makeup container and it’ll set within a minute.

I used an old MAC bronzer case, which I like for the width and the mirror. It’s easy to rub the wand into the cake. I apply to lashes by wetting the mascara wand then rubbing the brush into the cake to moisten. I use more water for this formula than my soap based recipe.

This mascara has lighter, dryer texture on the lashes than the soap based version and because there’s no soap in it I can shimmy the brush closer to my eyelid for a thicker overall look. Once on, it doesn’t move around. At the end of the day, it comes off with my usual few drops of oil.

mascara soap free

I’ll use up the rest of my soap based mascara when allergy season has passed, but this is a great alternative and recipe I’ll probably use from here out. I had all of the ingredients on hand already, but if I didn’t, there are now shops in Sydney where you can find them for refill and buy only what you need.

How I made an inexpensive upcycled wicking planter

cheap self watering planter

The first year in our apartment, I enthusiastically planted many, many seeds, with some successes and more failures. We moved in during wintertime and I didn’t realise how far the sun would come around the building to blast our south facing patio space.

Many of my plants died from too much sun and not enough hydration. I’d planted them in pots too small or the wrong material to retain moisture at the roots. I’d come home on a 30 degree day to find my plants shrivelled and parched. A good drenching would bring them back to life (sometimes), but it’s better not to stress plants out like that – even I know that.

Self-watering planters to the rescue?

When I learned about wicking, or self watering planters, I was intrigued. Many people told me it changed their gardens. Wicking beds use a reservoir underneath to hold a tank of water that plants can suck up as needed. This keeps them hydrated on scorcher days and saves water. In spite of Sydney’s past week of heavy rain, Australia is never far from drought.

Self watering planters open up opportunities for growing in places that aren’t easy to water (verge gardens for example) or those that don’t get much rainfall. Wouldn’t it be great to have micro community gardens on the verges and untended patches in our cities?

The only issue I had with the wicking beds was cost. I found many beautiful options to buy or build that ran into the hundreds, which I was not prepared to spend. I searched high and low on the web for inexpensive DIY designs. I talked to people who’d had some experience making them.

I had a breakthrough when I mentioned my struggle to a friend who works at a childcare centre. He showed me how they’d installed beds using simple plastic tubs set into wooden frames. Sidenote: cool childcare centre! This seemed achievable and just the right size for my place. I decided when found the requisite materials secondhand, I would make a go of it. When I came across a 60L lidless plastic storage container at Salvos, I knew it was time.

Materials I used to make my self watering planter

  • 60 L plastic container $5
  • 1/2 bag blue metal gravel $4
  • 1 bag scoria $23
  • 1 bag charcoal $8
  • 1 1/2 bags compost soil $6
  • Coles reusable bag – free
  • Hessian sack – free from any coffee roaster
  • Segment from a broken hose – free
  • 1/2 old cotton sock
  • Rubber band

The materials came to a total cost of $46 + the seedlings. The cost would have been much less if I had bought the $8 scoria instead of the $23 scoria, but live and learn.

How I made my self watering planter

First I prepped the plastic container. I made a thumbnail sized hole ⅓ the way up the side, about 12cm from the base. I don’t have a drill so I spiralled the end of a pair of scissors until it bored through. This worked easily after a minute or two. The hole is to let water flow out when there is enough in the reservoir.

cheap self watering planter


cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

Next I made the reservoir. I made sure to move the box to where it would live before filling it. I used scoria (a type of porous volcanic rock), charcoal and then gravel for drainage, but you could use sand or just one of these fillers instead of three. I think a finer grade fill would be better, which is why I used charcoal to fill in some of the spaces between my coarse fill. I added the materials up to the same height as the hole in the side.

cheap self watering planter
It came with this little piece of garbage!

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

self watering planter

I should’ve done the next step before I added the rocks, but yeah, we learn as we go around here. I used a bit of a broken hose as the watering pipe and dug it into the rocks . Most tutorials suggest PVC piping. The purpose of the pipe is to deliver water directly into the reservoir, but it’s okay to water from above too, as rain would. A wide PVC pipe also shows you the water level in the bottom so you can see if you need to add more. My hose won’t help with this and truth be told might be difficult to water into. If it really becomes a problem I’ll go get a proper pipe and replace it.

cheap self watering planter

I wrapped the bottom end of the hose with a piece of an old sock to avoid it clogging with particles of charcoal, rocks or soil.

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

Then I placed a layer of material over the reservoir. The purpose of this is twofold: to keep the soil separate to the reservoir and to help wick the water from below to the soil above. I used an old reusable shopping bag that I cut to open, and then a hessian sack overtop to fill any gaps and help with the wicking action.

upcycle reusable bag

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

Finally, the fun part – plants! I added the soil and my seedlings. In this case, sugar snap peas, lettuce, lemon thyme and basil. Most tutorials advise to water through the watering pipe until water flows out of the 
outflow, but it’s been so rainy that I didn’t bother and simply gave the transplants a little drink from above. I hope some of these will grow enough that I can bring cuttings to the crop swap I’m organising in November.

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

cheap self watering planter

It was a fun outdoor project for the brief moments of sun we had this weekend. It’s been a long winter without much garden time and I’m happy to be back picking dirt from under my fingernails. I’m no expert. I don’t know if this will work as hoped. Surely it’ll work better than my dried out beds of the past and help me keep my plants alive when I’m out of town for stretches at a time. I’ll let you know when I’ve had a chance to test it through the hot spells to come.

One final note for us apartment gardeners dependent on bagged soil. Redcycle will accept clean, dry soil bags cut into smaller squares, and seedling containers can be reused or recycled. Check with your local council or nursery about the best drop off point.

Does zero waste cost more?

Nada Grocery Vancouver

Is a low waste lifestyle more expensive than life as usual? In this post I’m looking at a few ways ‘zero waste’ can seem to set us financial traps, and I offer some strategies to counter overspending in the name of sustainable living.

In theory it should cost less to use fewer resources, but in reality there are times where doing the right thing can cost more. Here I’m talking mostly about financial costs, though there are, of course, time considerations. To that I’ll just briefly say that while some people may rationally anticipate it’s going to take heaps more time to live low waste, I don’t find it does. Initially, sure, there’s a learning curve. Over time I’ve found living the way I do streamlines my life and improves the quality.

I want to acknowledge that I am a healthy, financial stable, white person with free time and significant autonomy over my choices. I can’t change the fact that I’ve had all the advantages in life, so I’ll speak from my perspective and promise to listen to yours. It’d be a mistake to dismiss voices like mine when there is reason to believe we’re amongst the most wasteful. A study of food waste showed that households earning over $100K a year are one of the most wasteful groups. In Sydney, that income is actually a little lower than the median. My interpretation and theory is that those who feel less pain from wasting resources will waste more resources. And if we’re a wasteful bunch with the time and money to reduce household waste by changing our shopping and consumption habits, let’s do it. It doesn’t preclude us from also working to make zero waste more equitable and accessible to low income communities through support for policies like container deposit schemes and bag bags.

Alright, let’s get into some of the financial challenges of zero waste and strategies to overcome them.

Financial trap #1: Shopping at bulk food stores can be expensive.

There are many flavours of bulk stores – coops, health food shops, regular grocers with a bulk section and discount bulk shops. Here in Sydney, Australia, we have a number of chain and independent bulk stores where you can shop with your own containers, but they are not the discount variety. Most focus on organic, local and specialty foods, or some combination thereof, which can make shopping in bulk more expensive than buying packaged, conventional, far away foods from Coles or Woolies. I’ll admit I’ve had sticker shock on occasional with bulk store purchases, but I’ve learned a few things that help me stick to a reasonable food budget.

zero waste granola
Why not make your own granola?

My tips

  • Look for coops, or buying groups, which are member run and not for profit. These will often offer a discount if you volunteer or become a member.
  • Try farmers markets, which will often have a bulk foods vendor. I’ve found these spots to be better priced.
  • Ethnic food stores were some of my go-to bulk stops when I lived in Vancouver, but sadly, I don’t live near in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a selection of bulk shops to choose from, take notes on the best pricing for your favourite items.
  • Focus your shopping on low cost and nutritious staple foods, like red lentils and buckwheat. Leave the trendy mermaid powders and mushroom teas alone, or try a scant amount to see if you like it before overbuying.
  • Paying attention to the price per kilo can help you avoid overbuying expensive items. The denser the food and the higher the price per kilo, the more sparingly I buy it.
  • Processed food is always more expensive, whether unpackaged or in bulk. Consider making your own granola rather than buying ready-made.
  • If you will eat 10 kilos of rice and have the space at home, consider buying a 10 kilo bag of rice and recycling the wrapping. It’s not much difference in net waste than shopping in a bulk store, and it’ll be cheaper.
  • Make sure you’re taring your containers properly and check your tally as they’re being rung up, or on the receipt before you leave the store. Mistakes can happen and this is a good way to correct any accidental overcharges before you leave.
  • If you can’t afford bulk shop prices, look for the packaged goods with the best recycling outcomes in your area.
  • My last tip is about reframing. I significantly changed the way I perceive the cost of food since reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma. At the time, I was still food shopping like a uni student (saving my money for drinking, ha) and the book guided me to think about the long term consequences of buying cheap food on my health and the soil. Food is precious, and I buy the best quality I can afford.

Financial trap #2: Eco consumables can be expensive

Biodegradable and refillable dental floss is expensive you guys. There is no denying it. Some products like this probably cost more to produce, and others might simply be mining a niche because we’ll pay more. For example, I’ve spent too much money on dish scrubbers that have either turned out to be greenwash, or conversely, a little too biodegradable, falling apart mere days after I started using them.

zero waste dental floss
Refillable, biodegradable floss exists, but at what cost?

My tips:

  • Don’t feel you need to go all or nothing. I wrote about participation> perfectionism as it relates to dental floss, but the same thinking applies to other products. Be mindful of your own financial limits and wellbeing.
  • Ask yourself whether something is truly better, or more sustainable. Often it’s not, but marketed to be. Most single-use ‘eco’ plastics designed to replace petroleum plastics fall under this category.
  • Calculate your actual costs. When I wondered how affordable it really was to buy Who Gives A Crap toilet paper, the brand that builds toilets for those who need them, I tracked how long it lasted. Turns out 48 rolls lasts over 18 months at my house, so I’m paying an affordable $32/year to buy TP. I googled some Woolworth’s brands for comparison and found 12 packs for $9, which comes to $36 for 48 rolls.
  • If a product claim sounds too good to be true, it might be. Don’t be afraid to inquire with sellers to check that they understand the materials used in their products. You’d be surprised how often goods are mass produced overseas and then white-labelled under various brand names, giving the seller limited control over the production process or insight into materials being used.
  • Can you make the thing instead of buying pre-made? We don’t usually need separate surface, bathroom and kitchen cleaners, and buying eco-cleaners can be pricey. Simple unbranded ingredients like castile soap and vinegar are cost-effective multi-taskers. I don’t buy things like reusable makeup remover pads or special cleaning rags because I can make my own for no cost. I also make a few DIY products, like mascara, deodorant, lip balm, and the best hydrating serum I’ve ever used. It’s a cheap and convenient practice for me that honestly takes less time than shopping for these things. If you’re buying, use every last drop in the container.
  • Consider what products you can skip buying altogether. I have vastly simplified my face and body routine over the last ten years to my financial benefit. I use less volume of product, and fewer products, I am more accepting of myself and ‘need’ less gunk to face the world (I’m keeping concealer though…).

Financial trap #3: Zero waste food storage containers are pricey

Blame picture perfect Instagram pantries for stoking our collective desire for perfectly matching sets of glass jars. I’ve bought a few new containers over the years, but the majority of what I use are from the recycling bin, salvaged plastic containers or containers I’ve scored from secondhand shops. I.e cheap.

Free glass jar from the recycling.

My tips:

  • Make the op shop your first stop. It’s a great place to find glass Pyrex containers and flip top jars.
  • If you want to invest in new containers, consider your needs specifically, rather than focusing how it will look on your shelf. If I had my time again I would skip Weck jars, which I’ve broken too easily and have too many parts and fussy clips. I favour Mason jars because I can make sprouts, ferment veggies, store food, and travel with them without leaks. All practices that save me money. I cherish my stainless steel Onyx containers because they are leakproof and lightweight, two essentials for biking to work with lunch and my laptop on my back. I didn’t run out and buy these items all at once, I really thought about what purpose they’d be for, and I only bought them when my other solutions (op shop finds and recycled jars) didn’t work as well.

Financial trap #4: Reusables require an upfront investment

Affordability is relative, and I feel frustrated for anyone who is not able to make investments in reusables. I wish there were instant government rebates on reusables. How cool would that be? Or at the very least, end of year tax rebates. Because the return on investment can be significant.

Let’s take menstrual products for example. Without completely knowing they would work for me, I spent almost $100 on reusables: $60 for the cup and $38 for three reusable pads. However, over five years, I will save $400 that I used to spend on tampons.

Coffee cups are another example of a one time investment generating a yield over time. You can save up to $0.50 on a coffee at Responsible Cafes on each visit. If your reusable cup cost $20, it’ll have paid for itself after 40 uses, and everything from there on is pure savings.

My money saving reusable coffee cup.

My tips:

  • Consider the total lifespan of the reusables to get a sense of how much you’re saving longer term. This can help you decide if something is worth it. In many cases, I’ve found significant financial advantages to reusables.
  • Make investments as you’re able to. Don’t feel pressure to do everything right away and take your time to research the best solution for you.
  • When in doubt, try the op shop. You won’t find menstrual products, but you can often find inexpensive reusable cups, thermos flasks, and pieces of cutlery for your on-the-go kit.

Financial trap #5: Repairing things can be costly

Repairing goods to keep them in use is a great way to avoid the impacts of new manufacturing, like mining, chemical discharge and transportation emissions. But it also saves money to put off new purchases as long as possible. Sometimes repair costs can seem high compared to the cost to buying new. The solution is partially to change our mindset, but also to uncover community resources available to help you repair something.

shoe repair after

My tips:

  • Consider the value of your time. If I have a pair of shoes that fit me well, and I like, why would I want to waste time searching for a new pair then breaking them in (UGH) when I could just have my favourite back? Browsing a shopping centre, physical or online, is my nightmare. Repairing my cherished items saves me time and mental effort.
  • Consider also who is benefiting from your spending choices – is it a small family business who will probably recirculate the money locally, or is it an overseas company that will take the money into a different economy?
  • Recognise when mental accounting is convincing you to overspend to have ‘new’. I took a broken stick vacuum that a friend was giving away and paid $150 to replace the broken handheld unit. I could frame it as spending $150 on a repair, or as getting a like new vacuum worth $300 for half price.
  • Learn to repair at least some stuff yourself. I sew buttons, mend holes and do basic maintenance on my clothing. If it’s beyond my skills, I’ll take it to a tailor. Little hole-in-the-wall tailors are always cheaper than mall tailors.
  • Take advantage of free repair services offered by companies like Nudie and Patagonia.
  • Check for repair cafes and bike maintenance workshops in your area. These are often free and supported by councils.
  • Do you have a friend, neighbour or someone in your network with the skills to help? My boss’ son enjoys taking electronics apart, and was excited to fix my broken hair dryer.
  • Does your town have a local exchange network? These are networks that operate with alternative currencies, usually based on community contributions. Try Sydney LETS if you’re local.

Not only do I believe zero waste living doesn’t have to cost more overall, I know that it’s equipped me with the skills to save money. The best way to save money while living zero waste is to slow the new and/or unnecessary inputs, in whatever way makes most sense to you. Use less, use what you have for longer, find value in the secondhand and buy the best quality you can afford. Don’t sweat it if your bandaids aren’t biodegradable!

My usual response to anyone who’s concerned about the cost of zero waste is stay out of the shops. The more time more you spend browsing retail, even the lovely eco stores with the natural fibres, the more likely you are to buy something you don’t need. I’m not against buying new goods, but I know if I spent more time at the mall, I would spend more, simple as that. I’ve cut unnecessary purchases by considering what I actually need before going into environments where it’s the seller’s job to persuade me to buy. This is why I don’t link to products on this site – encouraging anyone to shop is the opposite of what I’m trying to do.

How can you tell if something is a need or a want? My rule is that if I buy something new (even secondhand), I need to start using the crap out of it right away. If I can’t see myself doing that, it’s probably a passing want, not a need.

What’s your biggest financial concern about zero waste and low waste living? If you have any other tips and tricks to add, I’d love to hear in the comments.

Bulk store beach waves with magnesium oil

beachy waves DIY

I like my hair best after I’ve swum in the ocean and rinsed in an outdoor shower –  wavy and piece-y. Yet we’re nearly six months away from ideal Sydney swimming conditions. Many continue to swim daily through winter, but it’s called Icebergs for a reason, friends.

No matter – if you can’t get to the beach, bring the beach to your hair. A bit of magnesium oil does the trick. I don’t do much or add much to my hair because I don’t have the patience. This trick passes muster by being only one ingredient and available in bulk. And for reminding me of summer!

Magnesium oil is magnesium chloride dissolved in water. The compound comes from seawater. I bought some in bulk because I thought I could apply it to my skin to absorb magnesium as a remedy for occasional nighttime anxiety. I’ve since learned that magnesium ions can’t be absorbed through the skin barrier, except perhaps minimally through hair follicles, so the benefit of magnesium oil on the skin is likely placebo. Taking magnesium orally is well studied for efficacy, and the method a medical doctor would recommend if you were actually magnesium deficient, which I’m mostly likely not. Live and learn.

zero waste
The texture I’m going for.

So instead I use the magnesium chloride to texturise my hair. The crystals liquified in the jar with no encouragement from me, saving me the trouble of dissolving them in water. I pour a small amount of this liquid into my palm and scrunch with my hands into the ends of either dried or nearly dried hair. The magnesium oil encourages the wave and adds definition and texture. For extra pizzazz I might tie my hair in a bun for a bit. A little goes a long way. I used to store the mix in a spray bottle, but the salt content rusted the metal parts. Oops.