One year ago, on 1st October 2016, I decided to go zero waste. This involves recycling and composting everything possible and only purchasing items with disposable packaging if absolutely necessary, as motivated by reducing one’s impact on the planet and encouraging a turn away from overconsumption. Any non-recyclable waste is kept to analyse just how zero waste you can manage to be. In the past year, I generated a grand total of just 519g of waste,* as shown on the right. Following my six month update, I have a few more tips and further steps, as I will describe now.
GO NO POO
This isn’t what you think. This non-shampooing movement started in the US, where the word ‘poo’ doesn’t have the same toilet humour connotations as in the UK. Going No Poo is about cutting consumption, stopping doing something that can paradoxically degrade the quality of your hair and reducing the levels of chemicals being poured down drains and making their ways to nature water resources. In her book on the subject called Happy Hair, Lucy Aitken Read says,
“I am also sure that the No Poo community hold a significant place in the environmental movement. We are challenging an industry whose reliance on heavy packaging and damaging chemicals is draining the earth’s resources.”
My hair has only been washed once since February this year (when a trainee hairdresser forgot to wash with just water as I had requested) and I would like to think that my hair isn’t particularly greasy. (Please tell me if I have been misled!) I know a number of other people who do the same, all of whom stand by how unnecessary modern shampooing habits are.
Interestingly, when shampoo as we know it today was first created in the first half of the 20th Century, it was only recommended as being used once every 6-8 weeks. Commercial hair products generally aim to remove sebum, to which dirt sticks. As described in Happy Hair, sebum mixes with sweat on the scalp to create acids which protect the skin and impedes growth of harmful bacteria. Upon contact with water, sebum dissolves not only itself but also any dirt or grime in the hair, providing a natural cleaning process. When all sebum is removed through regular shampooing, the hair cuticle is exposed, leaving the hair itself open to potential damage.
Whilst it is certainly a good idea to regularly massage your scalp in a shower to remove dirt, along with some of the sebum, there is no real reason to strip it entirely of sebum using a commercial shampoo. Regular removal (every few days or even every day) of this natural substance is exactly the reason your hair keeps gets greasy in the first place, thereby continuing to spin the wheel of over-shampooing to get it back to a non-greasy state. Due to this, your first couple of weeks of being No Poo will leave you with pretty greasy hair. However, after this ‘transitional stage’, your hair will certainly thank you.
There are plenty of natural alternatives to shampoo from across the world which were used for many centuries, if you really insist on using a product, have particularly difficult hair or live in an area with very hard water. Aitken Read documents these comprehensively and notes that applying a mix of bicarbonate of soda and water once every six weeks does well to counteract the effects hard water can have on your hair, through neutralising pH balance. And the majority of these products are much cheaper than commercial shampoos – in some cases you may already have the ingredients you need in your kitchen cupboard.
Going zero waste is not just about using recyclable products instead of non-recyclable ones. The world has a serious addiction to using plastic bottles, using an alarming one million bottles per minute. There is not only the effort, resource depletion and considerable emissions related to the recycling process to be considered in evaluating the environmental cost of this habit, but also the significant use of fossil fuels in the making of plastics. Besides, drinking bottled water is expensive – in the UK it is usually more expensive than oil.** If you have a clean supply of drinking water, you could probably save a lot of money by just remembering to take your own flask or reusable bottle with you. If you absolutely have to use a plastic bottle, you should note that the lids aren’t typically recyclable in standard recycling bins. However they can be handed in in bulk, for example in Lush. In Portgual, plastic bottle lids are collected by schools and turned into wheelchair frames!
- On two occasions this year I was abroad and without facilities to compost or recycle food waste. If you are being harsh you might claim I should have kept the apple cores and vegetable trimmings generated in a little bag and brought it home or something. I think customs might have been a bit confused.
- The disposable packaging of anything given as a gift was not counted, in line with the ethos of freeganism.
**: A litre of bottled water bought from a high street shop or corner shop in the UK commonly costs over £1. The current price of oil per litre is around 33p (assuming a barrel of oil contains 159 litres). If you are savvy then perhaps you get your bottled water in multipacks from supermarkets, probably ending up paying less than 33p per litre. However even then you will end up paying significantly more than the approximately one sixth of a pence you would pay for a litre of tap water. Whoever decided to start selling bottled water in countries with clean drinking water must have been ridiculed at first, but (oh boy!) they are probably laughing now.
[Header image source]