Why I Never Buy Lip Balm In Plastic Tubes

One of the more common items we find along shorelines, nationwide, are Chapstick tubes. Somehow they either fall out of pockets, cars, trash cans or are inadvertently left behind when we’re on outings so they make their way down to the water and float back in on the high tide. I’ve collected hundreds of these buggers from beaches — enough to turn me off plastic tube lip balm forever.

Reduce & Refuse: We try our best, now, to purchase lip balm in tin or wood containers. Or make it ourselves with our own beeswax. There are many non-plastic options on the market, like Earthwise Medicinals’ Wintermint Lip Balm.

Earthwise Medicinals’ Wintermint Lip Balm comes in cute tin containers, Photo © Earthwise Medicinals

The containers are small, attractive, and 100% recyclable. My children use the little wooden boxes of their favorite lip balm over and over again as specimen containers for archaeology outings. But they’d also make great kindling.

Repurpose and Reuse: So, if you have a Chapstick tube, what to do with it when you’re done with the balm?

1) Salt & Pepper Shaker for camping trips – Pour a little salt and pepper into clean empty tubes and toss in your bag for a little salt and pepper at work or whenever you are on the go eating.

2) Perfume refresher- Don’t have a travel size perfume? Soak a cotton ball in your favorite perfume (or essential oil) and stuff inside an empty lip balm tube. When you need a refresher, just remove the cotton ball and swipe on! Also great for tossing in a drawer for freshness, or even coat pockets when they are stored for the summer.

3) Instructables has a tutorial for making a tiny Chapstick tube LED flashlight.

4) Yours Truly, G recommends simply refiling your tube with homemade lip balm. They make excellent gifts, too.


5) Always wishing you had a spare plastic bag when you go grocery shopping? Make a travel plastic bag holder that attaches to your key ring!

6) A 7-year-old trash hacker designed a travel toothpick holder from a used lip balm tube.

7) Send a secret message to a friend inside your lip balm tube or turn it into a secret waterproof treasure map holder:

8) Store an emergency $100 bill inside your tube and put inside your purse, backpack, briefcase, glove compartment. But don’t forget about it.

Recycle: Most lip balm containers are made of #5 plastic, which is also used for things like yogurt and over-the-counter medicine bottles. Whole Foods, along with Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm, has a Gimme 5 initiative that accepts #5 plastics in some stores. Check to see if there’s one in your area.

balm on the road.jpg

I know there’s a campaign out there, questioning whether any of us have actually fully used up our chapstick (before the chapstick tube somehow disappears). Well I have! And often. I’m one of those people who’ve used up plenty of ’em because lip balm is critical protection against the elements. High in the mountains in remote parts of the planet, lip balm is tantamount to survival. I’ve even attached lip balm to the outside of my pack or to a gizmo that goes around my neck so it’s always available, a lip balm necklace of sorts. Go to the mountains or desert sans lip balm and you quickly end up with blistery bloody lips that crack and ooze with a simple smile. Gross. And painful. So, use up your lip balm, and better yet, skip the plastic tube and bring it to your favorite places in nice metal or wooden containers.


Why I Never Buy Trash Bags

A friend of mine recently asked me what to do when she had something stinky in her trash, like meat packaging. She often has to empty her smelly trash and waste a whole plastic trash bag because her bag is only half full.

I responded, a bit sheepishly, telling her to just skip using bin liners/trash bags altogether. We haven’t used or bought trash bags in years. What’s the point of using them if your trash is headed to a landfill anyway? Why send it all wrapped up in yet another piece of plastic that won’t ever disappear from the planet?


Here’s what’s in our trash bin, just outside the kitchen. 1 family’s solid waste for a week. The Magic Markers are about 10 years old, but they’ve finally bit the dust. 

We generate very little trash and since we compost all of our organics, our solid waste is truly solid and clean dry waste. It’s mostly made up of plastic packaging for a few things our kids just love, tortilla chips, the occasional clamshell strawberry holder, pens, plastic bottle caps. It all goes into our trash bin that’s in our laundry room, away from our everyday lives because when we throw things away, very occasionally, we truly want the children to work hard to throw it “away,” whereas the compost and recycling is all in the kitchen.


Where we throw things “away.” It’s around the corner, trash bag-free! We can remove the black plastic circular bin and wash it. Looks like it needs a good wash, ahem. 

We fill a large trash can about once every 3-6 months. Neither does our kitchen bin need a tall trash bag, but we also don’t line our trash can with a plastic bag either. The clean dry waste just gets packed into the can and it’s taken to our transfer station when it gets full. Why pay for weekly pickup when you only generate a handful of plastic each week? I’m amazed, always, to see that it’s 100% plastic in there, as our textiles, shoes, organics, metal, wine corks, and batteries, which make up the rest of our trash, are all recycled.


My friend, Lissa, could throw her old styrofoam meat trays and attendant plastic packaging in her freezer until she accumulates enough trash to fill her trash can. Then, she can dispose of her trays, stink-free. She could also take a container to her favorite store where she buys meat and ask the butcher to put the meat right in there for her. No need for the store’s packaging. I’ve done it a few times here on Bainbridge Island at our local store, with no problem. But we don’t eat meat very often any more, if at all.


I talked to a local garbage worker once about whether they cared if the trash was all in plastic trash bags or not. He said it didn’t make a bit of a difference to them, because they throw the trash into the maws of the truck and a crusher then smashes it down inside the truck. The filled plastic bags often break open anyway, with the help of the crusher.

So, think about going plastic-trash-bag-free. It’s yet another form of plastic you can easily eliminate from your shopping list and garbage can. Wash your trash can out every so often. In Europe, most people I know don’t use a bin liner. It’s time we took heed and followed suit, to reduce our plastic footprint.

Are you willing to give it a try and let your waste get all naked and go trash-bag-free?



How I Kicked the Plastic Food Container Habit

I have a thing about plastic. After picking up several hundred pounds of it off our beaches, and then returning home to find the same stuff in our everyday household items, especially in the kitchen cupboards holding our food, I decided to go cold turkey and threw all of our kitchen cupboard plastics out of the house.

Zero Waste Kitchen Tips photo © Liesl Clark

Zero Waste Kitchen Tips photo © Liesl Clark

I gave away our tupperware and all of our Teflon-coated pans and appliances on our local Buy Nothing group (I was really going deep with the anti-plastic thing). Plastic travel mugs, water bottles, our rice cooker, breadmaker, and food dehydrator were not welcome in our home. We took stock of the things that we typically bought in plastic packaging: Rice that came in plastic bags as well as various grains, pastas, nuts, and dried fruit. How was a family to switch completely to non-plastic-packaged staples?

Plastic-Free Bulk Options: Oils & Maple Syrup Stored in Glass. Our Own Honey, too is Stored in Glass. Photo © Liesl Clark

Plastic-Free Bulk Options: Oils & Maple Syrup Stored in Glass. Our Own Honey, too is Stored in Glass. Photo © Liesl Clark

Bulk Up: Our answer was in bulk foods. I can go to our local store with my own containers and buy most of what we need from our bulk department. I invested in some large glass jars and store almost everything in them (you can see brewer’s yeast in our last plastic containers in the upper left corner there — it’s mostly used for our pets).

Storage Jars for Sugar, Nuts, and Grains. Photo © Liesl Clark

Storage Jars for Sugar, Nuts, and Grains. Photo © Liesl Clark

An even cheaper solution is to join a local organic bulk food delivery service where I can get large amounts of staple foodstuffs on the cheap. For us, this option makes sense because we eat rice and dhal (red lentils) many times a week like most people do on the Indian subcontinent. Since we’ve raised our children to be accustomed to simple meals, we don’t want to start them on too many processed foods at this stage in their development. So, dhal bhat it is, along with Indian and Thai curries and lots of variations on rice and bean Mexican-style dishes. The kids love pasta, too, so we get all of it in bulk.

Bulk-Style Food Storage. Photo © Liesl Clark

Bulk-Style Food Storage. Photo © Liesl Clark

Rice comes in 25 and 50 lb bags, dhal in 25 lbs and I buy flour in 50 lb bags since we bake our own bread. Pastas comes in 10 lb increments as well as all of our nuts and dried fruits. The large bags of flour and grains are then stored inside galvanized metal bins in our pantry.

Flour Procured From the Organic White Flour Bin. Photo © Liesl Clark

Flour Procured From the Organic White Flour Bin. Photo © Liesl Clark

Loving the Bulk Bin Life. Photo © Liesl Clark

Loving the Bulk Bin Life. Photo © Liesl Clark

When we run out of power, we have enough staples of one sort or another to keep us going, with a veggie garden, plenty of berries and fruit trees to round out our produce needs. Even the chickens and bees contribute to our overall food production on this micro-farm.

Bright Lights Chard in the Garden. Photo © Liesl Clark

Bright Lights Chard in the Garden. Photo © Liesl Clark

Was it difficult to move away from plastics in the kitchen? Remarkably, no. As soon as we stopped buying single or even 1-week-lasting servings of things from the grocery store, we saw the plastics disappear. We do occasionally buy things like tortilla chips for the guacamole we make (avocados from CA of course.) They come in a crinkly chip bag, so we’re not completely devoid of plastics. Although, I’m considering getting them in bulk from our local Mexican restaurant. They make them by hand and I can just order them as takeout in my own container! We also see plastic rings around some of the glass store-bought items we get, like mayonaise. But our “trash” is truly minimal, now that the common grocery store plastic packaging has been greatly reduced.

If you want to give it a try, zero wasting your cupboards, feel free to ask questions here. Your cupboards will look beautiful and your whole foods diet will bring about healthy eating habits that your body will thank you for. Or if you live nearby, I’d be happy to help you do it in person, a sort of in-home plastic-free cupboard consultancy, if you’re interested. Feel free to connect in the comments below!