One of the plastic items I'm throwing out this week is an eye shadow applicator, the last one from a pack that (I think) was provided to me as part of a stage make-up kit for an opera. I have two make-up bags: one at home, and a smaller one I carry in my work bag and the plastic applicators, being small, were in there.
The thing is, I've never liked using those plastic, foam tipped eye shadow applicators. They feel rough and don't do a very good job of applying eye shadow-- which makes me wonder why people use them in the first place. So when the last one was getting grungy, I looked around for a retractable or small eye shadow brush that would fit in my work bag.
As it turns out, I already had a brush the right size at home, back in the remnants of my stage make-up kit*. It works SO MUCH BETTER than the plastic applicator...and it isn't plastic.
Aside from working well, make-up brushes rock because you can clean them-- try that with a plastic applicator and it'll fall apart on you pretty soon. A good make-up brush will last for years of regular use if you take care to clean it regularly.
I clean my make-up brushes by getting them wet and brushing them against a bar of soap, then brushing back and forth on the palm of my hand to work up a lather. Rinse and repeat until it rinses out clear, then squeeze out the excess moisture and let the brush air dry.
The added bonus for me was that I already owned the perfect brush for the job. As others have said and I'll repeat: the 'greenest' purchase you can make is no purchase at all-- use and enjoy what you already have.
*These days I find I don't need the huge tackle box of stage make up I once carted around on opera tours-- my MAC make up collection does the job, with a couple added contour shades, brushes, a set of fake eye lashes or a paste on mustache for the occasional Prince Orlofsky.