Hey, so have you noticed this monthly subscription thing? Birchbox started the whole trend, but now you can get monthly subscriptions for just about anything: geeky toys, children's clothes, lipstick, Japanese snacks, socks, crafts, gluten-free snacks, pet treats, men's personal care products, vacation-y stuff, products selected by Snoop Dogg ... wait, back the truck up. Snoop Dogg has a box? Is it full of weed?
Anyway, I should state up front that the idea of a subscription box isn't inherently sustainable. You're getting things that you may or may not want, in sample-sized containers, shipped to you monthly. This is why I never got into the whole Birchbox trend (though they do carry some clean and non-toxic products that I love).
I'm having enough trouble as it is using up the free samples I get in everyday life, and since I'm OCD about organization, it really bothers me to have an extra little bottle of cleanser just sitting in my cabinet, sad and lonely because I'm not using it. And then every day I want to integrate it into my routine so I can just use it up already but come on, this product is silly and am I breaking out because of it, or because I'm switching my beauty routine up every three days because of these free samples? Maybe if I traveled more I would use up these free samples. #firstworldproblems
However, if you find the right kind of subscription box for you, it can be awesomely fun and useful. The perfect sustainable subscription box should be full of delightful samples of stuff that are non-toxic or organic, in little reusable containers, in a sustainably-packed box.
I was offered the chance to try three subscription services for free, all with some sort of sustainable theme: VeganCuts, NatureBox, and Hatchery. (I reached out to ConsciousBox because I felt like they should be included, but no response.) Here's what I thought:
The gist: NatureBox sends you an array of snacks every month. All the food is not samples from other brands--it's all in-house food, so to speak. So NatureBox is not a discovery vehicle, it's literally just a service that delivers healthy food to you each month.
Pros: The food was in fact very healthy, with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and other plant-based items. NatureBox also donates snacks and meals to the hungry and community programs. It's very customizable: you can choose the size of the box, and even specify what kind of healthy snacks you prefer. Just for kicks, I asked for little-to-no gluten in mine, though I don't personally have any food allergies.
Drawbacks: I didn't notice any organic labels, and the food was packaged in bags that I couldn't recycle. Plus, I just wasn't that pumped about the choices. I ended up tossing a couple of the snacks after a month of them sitting in my cabinet.
Who it's good for: People who have trouble sticking to their diets and need a nudge.
The gist: Hatchery provides you with a box full of artisinal food samples every month from small producers across the country. If you like what you try, you can go on the website and buy a full-sized product.
The pros: Many of the foods are organic, or produced right here in New York City. They often (but not always) come in little reusable glass jars. Halfway through my subscription, responding to feedback, they switched from bubble wrap to more sustainable paper packaging. They include recipes with each box, and you can find more online. Oh, and the samples really are interesting and delicious, and inspire some creative cooking. The vanilla and chamomile-infused maple syrup was joy in a bottle. So obviously I had to make waffles, and I can't complain about that type of coercion.
The cons: Some of the samples are just weird and a little useless. What am I supposed to do with pear vinegar again? And of course, I didn't enjoy everything I got. So if you're interested in spiced plum preserves, please come over and take this jar off my hands.
Who it's good for: Foodies who like to cook and love filling their pantry with fancy foodstuffs.
The gist: VeganCuts is just what it sounds like: a collection of vegan items in a box for you every month. You can choose either the beauty box or snack box. And of course, you can go on the site and buy anything you like full-sized. (I'm not vegan, but like I've said before, I like vegan products because they are usually eco-friendly and non-toxic as well.)
The pros: My box was stuffed with some excellent products that I can attest are some lovely finds. I mean, a whole bottle of LVX nail polish (which I've positively reviewed before) in orchid? That's worth it on its own. They're all non-toxic, as well as vegan. The packaging of the box was all paper and sustainable. There was also a couple new brands I haven't tried before. I've been following Pure Natural Diva on Instagram, so I'm excited to finally try her sugar scrub.
The cons: I actually already knew about almost all the brands inside already, but that's probably because I'm a blogger and it's my job to know these things. Also, most of the samples weren't in sustainable packaging themselves, but that's not the fault of VeganCuts.
Who it's good for: Vegans who want help finding new products, and non-toxic beauty mavens in general.