Paris To Go

Zero Waste Men

When Zero Waste Toronto invited Bea Johnson to speak in their city, I wasn’t surprised by how packed the auditorium was. What shocked me was how many men attended or were involved in planning the event. Even though No Impact Man was one of the first things I read when going zero waste- I didn’t read Zero Waste Home until several years later, after moving to Paris- before then, I was only dimly aware of the presence of men in the circular economy conversation. “Where are all the zero waste guys?” my friend Margaux lamented. “Don’t question it,” one of my colleagues, who asked to remain anonymous, warned. “White men get everything- let us have this,” she said. 

I can't tell if she was joking, but since my presumed relatives aren’t taking US recyclables anymore, there's a pressing need for as many people as possible to adopt reusables. This post isn’t meant to be exclusionary by any means. However, as @mariagomezdeleon points out, one perception fostered by online communities is ecofriendly behaviors are typically feminine. “I think this is an issue worth looking into,” she writes. “Why is zero waste primarily [portrayed as] female?” According to marketing professor Aaron Brough, “There is this gender gap in environmentalism... men are sometimes reluctant to go green because they want to maintain their gender identity.”

One causal theory I just made up is that historically, women are more affected by the consequences of environmental degradation than men, so they are more likely to be aware of environmental issues and take action. “Zero waste is often associated with home making skills, traditional female roles, etc. I think this is limiting in terms of representation. There is so much, albeit mostly not about home making, but more about frugality and thinking through decisions,” wrote Marie of, whose husband is zero waste. "It seems a lot of things that create waste are marketed towards women," Jarrett, who is not my friend, pointed out, particularly when it comes to cosmetics, clothing, or hygiene. "You don't see dads carrying wipes or snack packs with them at all times. When my dad took me out as a kid, if I got hungry, I ate when I got home. He was more likely to have me blow my nose on a washable t-shirt than be 'ready' with Kleenex." Jarrett recently sold all his possessions, but even before, he wore the same clothes for decades, built a still to make essential oils, and biked everywhere instead of driving. "There's more pressure for women to get new clothes every season to fit in with the latest trends," he said. "I've had this t-shirt since college, and nobody cares." 

Similarly, one Canadian photojournalist told me when he buys something, he buys it for life (he also bikes and uses essential oils). However, he suggested the way women present themselves on social media could be different. Fanny, whose husband was a social media star that deleted his accounts after simplifying his life, noted, "He never felt the need to show his followers his closet or our refrigerator. I want affirmation and support, but he doesn't need to be recognized that way... when his food comes at a restaurant, he doesn't like waiting for me to take a picture of it with our reusable napkins and straws. All he wants to do is eat." An eco-friendly engineer who also made his own essential oils (there is a pattern here), said something similar that he probably did not expect me to include in a blog post. "I don't see the need to make a big deal of how a person eats or lives. I’ll never feel the need to tell someone I'm vegan. If I'm ordering at a restaurant and someone asks why I'm not eating meat or dairy, I tell them I don't feel like it."  When Justin- one half of a zero waste power couple (TM Sophi) with Tori- goes to the co-op for bulk staples, he doesn’t post a picture of Tori refilling jars on Instagram. Rather, he sends me one via direct message. 

We all know Instagram isn’t real life. Is social media a microcosm of the circular economy in general? Could the disproportionate number of female voices online skew its representation of the zero waste population offline? As it turns out, 218 women messaged me that their boyfriends/husbands were eco conscious, they just didn’t post about it on social media (four guys messaged me, and the other 20 messages were either suggestions of male zero waste Instagram accounts or pleas to find more). The way they approach zero waste is different, in terms of research and practice. "My partner had no intention before I mentioned it, and still I've done mostly all the leg work: finding bulk stores, getting groceries, encouraging new habits. I have more hype in general about it," wrote Phil. "I see it as a challenge. I like the sense of accomplishment when I make something myself instead of buying it,” Jarrett says. "We started the zero waste journey together," wrote 12stielen. "I was the one reading all the books and articles on the topic, but he immediately took the practical things, like taking containers, into his life."

"Guys totally nerd out about it," said Meredith, whose husband bikes to work year round and keeps reusables in his office and backpack (he even likes Meow Meow Tweet). "Justin was always really conscious," Kathryn of Going Zero Waste said. "He brought his own bags and water bottle everywhere, but he definitely... worked to eliminate a lot before meeting me. He accredits a lot of his mindset to growing up in a culture that was full of people using reusables. When I first told Justin I wanted to go zero waste, he said, 'But we already do so much!' But it was important to him."

“I mentioned it to [my partner] and expressed an interest. He was the the one who bought me Bea Johnson’s book! I think we were both open to ways of improving. He resisted the tooth powder and deodorant at first. Now he loves it, talks about it, shows off," Zoe from @aintnoplanetb wrote. “He always has a backpack or we have a reusable bag with mesh bags in the car for produce and the like,” said Sophi of her husband. “I go to zero waste places and he supports me. He talks about it with a lot of people he meets. He often comes home saying, 'Did so and so start following you?' He picks up litter a lot... he’s thoughtful in that way. He didn’t want to support zoos or aquariums- that’s before me doing zero waste.”  

“Fernando usually carries a backpack with his water bottle or hand carries it," Monica@girlforacleanworld, said of her husband. "He takes his lunch with reusable spork in a reusable bag to work. He found out about zero waste through me, but he was already half way there. When we met he was making his own deodorant and toothpaste, was conscious about litter, but he would use plastic bags and make waste out of habit. He’s very conscious now, and goes above and beyond to refuse bags, cups, straws, etc. but there are some areas where he still creates waste. For example, his hair product comes in plastic (he tried making his own and didn’t like it). He prefers a plastic toothbrush. He went back to buying Tom's deodorant, but after a beach clean up we did where we picked up 900 lbs of plastic, he was shocked and went back to making his own because he didn't want to buy plastic." Several women wrote that their partners were shocked by imagery of the Pacific garbage patch. The piece de resistance of this paragraph was going to be what Amanda from Mama Eats Plants had to say about her vegan husband, who is instituting composting measures and diverting waste in the restaurants he manages. I accidentally deleted it when I was trying to copy and paste her message into this post, but I love when she wrote, "I don't know how eating meat became equated with being strong, masculine, etc. but it's pretty ridiculous. We've got to empower men to eat better, regardless of veganism. I want my husband to live a long and healthy life with me that's not cut short by a heart attack or disease from a lifetime of unhealthy habits." I think the same could be said for zero waste.

For some, the motivations for men and women to reduce waste seem to differ slightly. “Mine comes out of a need to nurture and care for things,” says Fanny, whereas her husband does so because “it doesn’t make sense to extract resources and put so much energy into something that’s going to thrown away.” "My motivations are mostly environmental but also I think it’s just a healthy way to live in general,” said Jason. My ex appreciated the aesthetics of zero waste (and liked his bamboo toothbrush and homemade mouthwash), whereas Archana once wrote her husband found zero waste economical, a sentiment many shared. "Since he's already from the PNW, he already had a bit of a green heart," wrote Rachel. "Certainly outdoorsy and did his recycling and all that. I've been more of an influence on what sort of belongings come into our apartment and how we minimize stuff." One Parisian, who bikes instead of taking the metro, uses an unpackaged alum stone instead of Axe body spray, grows his own food, washed his hair with Castile soap, and reduces leftovers, simply says he “hates waste." "I think our motivations are the same," wrote Olivia, @ofbranchandbone. "I tend to want to do more to impact others to change habits, and he is fine just focusing on what he personally can do."

I wish I could have included everyone's comments and insights into this post, but here are some zero waste men to follow on Instagram. Please comment if you know any more, and thank you to everyone who responded so thoughtfully! I hope I did your comments justice.

Zero Waste Guy
Sustainable Joes
Rob Greenfield
Eating With Max
Isaac Kramer
Tidy Guy

Paris to Go

My Outfits

I'm going to regret this, but here is a sampling of outfits from my 28 piece wardrobe. They're more "combinations" than outfits, since all I mostly do is change my shoes. This isn't a capsule- it's everything I own. There's nothing in storage or rotated seasonally. People ask if it was difficult for me to stop shopping or minimize my closet to this point. Well, I grew up poor, and then I was in a relationship where one partner had complete financial control. So, I guess it was easier for me. I was used to not having much, and it wasn't like I had a lot of freedom to shop before. 

Now I have the luxury of choice and can spend my own money again, but my wardrobe is a lot smaller than when I moved to Paris. I only kept things I bought or chose, that told a story about me alone- not the person I disappeared into. It's funny, I actually dread shopping now. I don't even enjoy browsing secondhand. I didn't get to this point until I found these clothes, so I guess it's a little like love- once you find the right stuff, you're happy, so you stop looking.

As my wardrobe shrinks, I don't replace much (actually I can't think of anything) due to wear and tear (UPDATE: Immediately after posting this, I caught my tights on something sharp and they ripped. I weirdly mourned them, because I'd had them so long, I got attached to them without realizing. I got another pair of Swedish Stockings). I only replace items as my size and aesthetic change. I have enough that clothing rests between wears, and though some things are over a decade old, nothing looks like they'll wear out anytime soon. I also have color! Green and blue and peach and touches of red. Psychologically I prefer muted shades that don't make me stand out much though, like the colors Jennifer Lopez wore in the second half of Enough.

I don't have to do laundry as often as people might think, since most of my clothes are natural fibers like wool, which is moisture wicking and resistant to odors (my tights were air drying when I took these pictures- I NEVER wear ankle boots with bare legs, the very idea makes my skin crawl). I wear a cotton t-shirt under tencel ribbed tops to keep them cleaner longer.  I mostly just wash clothes after a trip (at the very least once a month, washing dresses, my wool skirt, and coats less frequently- once or twice a season). I like to freshen them with shower steam between washings, and spot clean as much as possible. If you don't have a steam iron, you can dampen a white, lint-free cloth and press a hot iron lightly over it to remove wrinkles and gently clean coats or dry clean only items. 

I try to be strategic about fabrics I wear. That way I can layer and prepare for unexpected weather without a lot of bulk. Linen is seasonless, and my 40+ year old lightweight camel hair coat is the warmest thing. It's temperature regulating, so I can use it from spring to the dead of winter without burning up on the metro. I only have a handful of synthetics- even though I eat vegan, I think secondhand wool and leather are less harmful overall, and more practical for harsh climates. I don't really know what's worse, microplastic pollution or the cruel ways we abuse animals for clothing. To me, nothing uses less resources or does less harm than something that already exists... that's how I justify it, anyway.

Now to my favorite part- the math. I have ten tops and five bottoms and they all (technically) match each other and most of my shoes. For example, one black t-shirt or ribbed top yields approximately 17 outfits. That's over 150 combinations excluding coats (I say 150 because I don't really like mixing knit fabrics with woven fabrics. Some of my friends wore my button downs with my knit circle skirt, and they looked cute, but I have all of these weird hangups about myself, mixing textures, etc). I've even worn the Oui shirt with my midi length skirt and heels before. I didn't like it, but it's an option.  

I need to wear dresses a few times a week. Mine are cut so I can wear them layered under skirts or tops, and two I wear with sneakers, netting over 25 combinations. To factor in both coats, I multiply 175 outfits by three for 525 combinations, or around 18 outfits per piece. These calculations are probably wrong, simply illustrative of the fact that you don't need many clothes to have options. However, just because I have 28 items doesn't mean everybody else should too. If you have a large closet, don't take this as a personal affront. I maintain that a minimal wardrobe is not necessarily a sustainable one, and the pursuit of a perfect capsule wardrobe is largely a waste of time. I'm usually too busy brushing out my pin curls to care what you wear anyway.

Paris to Go

Three Years of Water Only Hair Washing


Today we're going to talk about one of my favorite environmental subjects- my hair. Think how many bottles of conditioner, dry shampoo, and serum you've disposed of in your lifetime. If you're anything like me, and went through an Avril Lavigne-induced Tigi Bedhead phase in the early 2000s, that's a lot of waste sent to landfill or shipped overseas for recycling. In my case, that was also a ton of chemicals being dumped into water systems and soil, and a lot of innocent animals suffering so my hair could look good for a day, frizz, split at the cuticle, and smell. It wasn't worth it. I spent money I should have saved and ruined my hair in the process.

When I moved to Paris, I was struck at my new French friends' attitudes towards American beauty routines. Daily shampoos weren't a thing in a country where women still got blowouts weekly, then preserved them. My friends wore caps in the pool and rinsed their hair after class at Klay. They also rarely used conditioner, preferring masks twice a month, and were more apt to use kaolin or oils to enhance, not hide, their naturally fuzzy texture. It was freeing not having to shampoo everyday, but Paris' hard water wreaked havoc on my hair, as did an ill-advised Japanese straightening treatment that forced me to chop off most of its length. This was earth-shattering for someone as shallow as me. I was rembarrassed to go out with scarecrow hair when everyone I saw was so beautiful, and ended up staying inside and wasting precious time in the city I love because I felt self conscious. 

So three years ago (well, in three months it'll be three years, but I need the content so just go with it) I got fed up and started scrubbing with water every week. That's it. No soap or baking soda or ACV. Three years of mermaid rinsing, scritching, and brushing later, I finally have hair to match my mean girl personality. My hair doesn't shed in handfuls like it once did, and I don't ever need to brush it. My natural curls returned, and I can get a smooth or straight look without heat styling or products. I only wish I'd started sooner.

Hair is like a delicate garment- it wears out more quickly the more you wash it and loses softness and strength. So even if you can't do water washing, it's best to shampoo less frequently, if only for the health of your hair. If you're willing to try no poo methods, I don't recommend using baking soda, which is too alkaline and destroys the keratin in hair, or ACV, which is too acidic and can disrupt the scalp's natural balance. Gram or rye flour, clay, aloe, a shampoo bar, or refillable soap free cleanser like Plaine Products would be my recommendation. I used to tell people to use bar soap, because my husband liked it, but my friends say it's too drying and coats their heads. Bar soap is far more alkaline than a liquid formula. 

Start with little steps, like eliminating one product at a time. My friend Tori said she noticed split ends disappeared after she stopped using conditioner. My Parisian friends are very proud of never using it at all- only a little oil from Buly 1803 or Grand Cafe Tortoni before washing (in the US, you can get bulk oils from Refill Revolution). If you must use conditioner, apply before shampooing so it doesn't weigh hair down. That way you save water and wash less.

To start water only hair washing, dilute castile soap heavily in a spray bottle or color applicator so it reaches the scalp (I don't recommend buying clarifying shampoo for this purpose- castile soap strips any silicone product). After that, try either the mermaid method of water washing (dunking it in a basin or bucket, then scrubbing the scalp and running fingers through hair as if with shampoo) or simply scrub in the shower. Most people will need to wash everyday at first. Gradually, with regular brushing and scalp massage, you can ease into every other day, then every four days, etc. Most people can go a week without washing. The type of brush depends on hair texture- plant based bristles for fine hair, wooden pin brushes for thicker hair, and a fine toothed comb for curls seem to work best. Some people won't be able to brush- for instance, my curls get ruined if I brush them, so I part my hair while it's wet and try not to touch it at all after (this is very important for textured hair. The less you touch it, the better, to prevent frizz). Try avoiding dry shampoo as much as possible, because the goal is to let your hair's natural oil production occur uninterrupted. Once hair is coated in sebum, it'll never be dry or smell again.

We're trained to prefer artificial fragrance over the natural non-scent of hair, so it's ok to spray essential oils or perfume when needed (sometimes when I ran out of oil, I used to sleep on a lavender sachet and then, in desperate times, a bar of lavender castile soap- in the morning, I'd wake up with perfume on my hair). You can also try lemon juice diluted in water in a spray bottle to refresh between cleansing. After working out, swimming, or pollution exposure, rinsing hair should be sufficient for most people to remove sweat, allergens, and odors. Just remember to tie up hair or protect with a cap or scarf beforehand. You may need to wear braids, a bun, or headbands a la Blair Waldorf to work for awhile, but my experience was no one really noticed my hair except me. Brushing oils, dragging sebum down the cuticle with your fingers, or using cornstarch, cocoa powder, and arrowroot can alleviate greasiness if it's really a problem. I've found that if I push through the oil one or two days, it disappears suddenly by day three (I don't get greasy anymore though). My hair doesn’t fall out in chunks anymore (it did when I used shampoo), but scalp massage or a circulation stimulating essential oil such as eucalyptus should strengthen hair (diet may play a role). NOTE: Hair falls out naturally, and the more you shampoo, the more regularly it falls out. If you decrease the frequency of shampoos, a few days' worth of hair may come out all at once. This is not necessarily cause for alarm, since this does not generally indicate excess hair loss.

The transition period varies for everyone. I think water only is suitable for all hair types, because people were water only for thousands of years, and we didn’t evolve to need Garnier Fructis over millennia. However, it’s not a quick fix by any means, typically requiring three months‘ transition. Some people, like my friend Helen, didn’t really have a transition period- they just quit cold turkey and their hair looked great automatically. Whatever your hair type, it requires a lot of patience, and you can’t psych yourself out and think someone will criticize your shampoo-free appearance. People for the most part don’t care. I even met hairdressers who supported my water only resolve. Two stylists recently told me it’s common for clients to bring their own products because of preference or allergies, and most blow dry bars I’ve been to are okay with simply wetting hair before styling. Shampoo chemically removes flakes, so you'll need to mechanically remove them with your fingertips (not your nails) if they're actual dandruff. If dryness is the issue, try drinking a spoonful of oil each day, or putting oil on your scalp the night before a wash. Eating lots of good fats and maintaining a plant based diet seems to help prevent greasiness, flaking, and hair loss, as does limiting sugar, if my Parisian friends are any indicator.

I don't own a hair straightener, blowdryer, brush, or curling iron. I like my hair's natural texture a lot, but it gets messed up after a few days, so heatless styling methods like rag curls work best for me. When my hair is wet I can tie my hair in a bun or twist it all in one direction and secure with a ponytail holder to get a straight, smooth look. Pin curls are the most effective, but if I do them wrong, I look like Shirley Temple, and sometimes it takes days to loosen. Three years in, that’s the only major issue I’ve encountered, although now that I’m back in America, I psychologically feel compelled to wash more, and it’s making my hair drier than it ever was in Paris (I used to wash once a month- since August, I’ve been washing weekly or biweekly). But there’s no turning back now. Like I said, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time coating my hair and obscuring my natural texture to solve imaginary problems. It’s so nice having one less thing to worry about in the morning, and everytime I toss my hair, it’s a giant, zero waste “told you so” to everyone who thought I was crazy for going water only. I am crazy, but for reasons completely unrelated to my hair.