[Article updated in Jan 2020; originally published May 2018]
Our guest author today is Sandra Zhang, a zero waste practitioner in Singapore. Sandra’s interest in environment issues led her to set up Mono + Co, where she experiments with zero-waste lifestyle and journals these experiences. Currently working as a Senior Manager (Marketing and Communications) at a Singapore-based charity, she nevertheless makes time to work magic with leftover or near-expiry ingredients to eradicate household food waste. She also creates mouth-watering bread with vegetables, root vegetables especially. Do look up her website for recipes, inspiration, and more!
When not cooking/working/journal-ling, Sandra can be found answering questions – which is how we found her on our journey to zero waste. We asked her for a miracle product that helps us live as waste-lessly as she does, and here is her answer…
Way before I attempted a zero-waste life lifestyle, my toiletry bag used to be stuffed with loads of products when I travelled. Products for every use, products for every part of the body: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body scrub, bath salt, foot scrub, body cream, make up remover, facial cleanser, facial scrub, facial mask sheets, toner, serum, eye gel, facial moisturizer, and toothpaste….
Have you gotten tired just by looking at this long list? Or are you packing a similar list, perhaps even more?
The idea of pampering oneself during bath time, surrounded by numerous bottles of stuff is very inviting, even more, when one is on vacation isn’t it? Well, I ended up with lots of expired products after each trip since I don’t use them often enough back home.
Then I discovered the multipurpose tea seed powder.
Now my travel toiletry set consists of just six items: bar soap, toner, eye gel, facial and body oil, toothpaste and (with drum roll) tea seed powder! Ahhh… the joy of travel light. I could have easily used tea seed powder to replace bar soap, but since I have saved much space and plastic by eliminating so many toiletry items, I shall retain the bar soap. I am so happy with the result that I ended up using tea seed powder to replace most of the products in my bathroom at home as well.
Packing light is possible because tea seed power has multiple uses with its effective yet gentle de-greasing power. I use it as my shampoo, makeup remover, facial cleanser, scrub, and mask. I also use it as a foot soak, bath soak, laundry powder for washing my reusable handkerchief, cotton tenugui and furoshiki that I bring along to avoid the use of paper napkins and plastic wrap for snacks.
And as dish detergent.
Wait a minute, dish-washing while on vacation? Yes, I bring along my own food containers, cutlery set and beverage cup/bottle everywhere, even overseas. I have experienced lots of meals in local casual eateries served in disposable serve wares. And since street food and night markets are prevalent in our neighboring countries, and a must-try experience in almost all cities, my bring-your-own (BYO) reusable food containers are critical to the success of my zero disposable waste project. Hence the habit of carrying a small container filled with tea seed powder so that I can wash my greasy food containers or cutlery on the go.
Are you by now wondering what exactly this miracle product is? Tea seed powder is simply the residue which would otherwise be discarded from the process of tea seed oil extraction. Tea seed oil is also known as camellia oil. The factories grind these seed residues into a very fine powder that can be dissolved in water, to form a paste for cleaning and de-greasing purposes.
Tea seed powder smells deliciously like toasted nut powder or sesame seed, but it is inedible. It’s extremely fine and easily dissolves in water.
Tea seed powder, unfortunately, has a very short shelf life; one year if the packaging is unopened and 3 months after opening, before it turns rancid. I manage that challenge by adding water only when I am about to use the paste. For instance, I sprinkle the amount of tea seed powder directly onto one of the dishes that I need to wash, add water to mix it into a runny paste, and then use it to clean and degrease the rest dishes.
Have I convinced you to try it out by now?!
Here’s where to buy it from in Singapore. Admittedly, stocks often run low in our red dot, but if you are reading this in Hong Kong / Taiwan / Mainland China – you will find the product fairly easy to procure. After all, tea seed is cultivated for its oil in the region, and thus the by-product powder is commonly available too.
My Current Top Five Uses for Tea Seed Powder:
Best shampoo I have ever used to control my oil scalp! Simply mix 100ml water and 1 teaspoon of tea seed powder in a squeeze bottle, apply to scalp, massage to wash and rinse. Nowadays, I add two to three drops of peppermint or rosemary essential oil to make a nicer-smelling “shampoo”.
I prefer tea seed powder to baking soda as homemade facial and body scrubs. Tea seed powder exfoliates more gently than baking soda due to its finer particles. I add a few drops of lavender or lemongrass essential oil to the paste for a better spa-like experience.
Clean makeup brushes
I swirl makeup brush bristles in tea seed powder cleaning paste made with mixing 1 tablespoon powder four tablespoons water. Soak for five minutes then rinse bristles until water runs clear. Finally, squeeze out water gently and lay brush flat to air-dry.
Its mild abrasive properties make it a good household scrub. Mix tea seed powder with just enough water to form a paste. Use this to scrub greasy kitchen walls, countertop, stovetop, sink and tap.
I am able deplete my 1kg pack in three months because I use it to wash my dishes daily. About 1/4 cup of powder is enough to wash up all kitchen wares used to serve a meal for four. I would usually fill a large basin with just enough water and 1/4 cup of tea seed powder to form a runny mixture. Use this mixture and a scrubber to clean and degrease all cooking tools, utensils and serving wares; do this over the basin, so that teaseed mixture flows back into the pool. Last step will be to rinse clean everything with water. I find this a very effective way to save water during dishwashing.
With the various uses I have mentioned above, it doesn’t take long to use up. So here are more tips for you to use it wisely
– When using it on hair or face, keep eyes closed and do not let it get into your eyes. Tea seed powder stings eyes badly stings worse than soap and could take quite a while before your eyes feel comfortable again even after rinsing. This is the most important thing to remember when using tea seed powder.
– After mixing with water to form a paste as a cleaner, the mixture cannot be stored or kept for later use. Only add water to the powder when using it.
– Once the packet of tea seed powder is opened, store in an airtight container, away from sunlight and heat.
– Tea seed powder is brownish in colour and could stain white fabrics, avoid washing light colour fabrics with tea seed powder.
– I pack a small 100g bottle of tea seed powder in my tote so that I have detergent on-the-go for washing my food containers and cutlery, or when they run out of hand soap in the public toilet.
Have you heard of or used tea seed powder? Do you like it and have any other useful suggestions? Share with us!
– Sandra Zhang
Read more from Sandra on Mono + Co, a site where she journals her experiments with zero-waste lifestyle. Currently working as a Senior Manager (Marketing and Communications) for a Singapore-based food charity organisation, she nevertheless makes time to work magic with leftover or near-expiry ingredients to eradicate household food waste. She also creates mouth-watering bread with vegetables, root vegetables especially. Do look up her website for recipes, inspiration, and more!