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Single-use plastic has become one of the biggest threats to our environment over the last couple of decades.
In my Low Waste Kitchen Guide, I mentioned how there is an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the oceans right now, with scientists saying that even marine organisms up to 10km beneath the surface have ingested plastic fragments. Each year in the UK we are producing over 31 million tonnes of waste, and 56% of this is not even recycled.
As more facts are unveiled about the ongoing plastic crisis, it’s no wonder that many consumers are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to buy products with reusable, recyclable or biodegradable packaging over single-use plastic. There are so many amazing brands and organisations out there doing wonderful things to curb our plastic habit – whether it’s lobbying for loose fruits & veg in supermarkets or testing new sustainable plastic alternatives.
As consumers, the biggest thing we can do to push back against the damaging plastic trend is to educate ourselves on the effects of plastic; what truly sustainable packaging really looks like, do our research on ethical and sustainable brands and to make mindful, well-informed purchases.
I’ve already shared with you guys my best tips of reducing your waste in the kitchen. Now, I’m moving onto another room in the household that generates a lot of waste – the bathroom!
Benefits of a Low Waste Bathroom
Of course, changing our lifelong habits is never easy. We’ve all been conditioned to believe that there’s little we can do about plastic packaging – but this is simply not true.
By making a few simple zero waste bathrooms swaps, we can curate a bathroom that not only helps the environment, but is beneficial to your peace of mind too.
- It enables your bathroom to be clearer, tidier and more clutter-free
- Shopping will become easier, because you’ll always know who your go-to brands are – no more feeling overwhelmed with choice at the store
- A prettier and more organised aesthetic (hello, glass jars!)
- Your bathroom waste bin won’t fill up as quickly – meaning less trips to empty it!
There are tons of inspiring photos on Pinterest of beautifully organised, low-waste bathrooms, which in my opinion, are as good a motivator as any for wanting to reduce your bathroom waste!
However, I’m going to be real with you guys. I am very much still on my own journey of reducing my waste in the bathroom, and haven’t got everything all figured out yet. I’m aware that when it comes to beauty, skincare and personal care products, it’s all very much about personal choice and what works for that individual. So many of our favourite products come in plastic, and it’s not always a simple case of just replacing them all.
There are many products in my bathroom I haven’t found low-waste alternatives to yet, such as my cleanser, shampoo and conditioner, and of course, make-up (possibly the hardest area of all). But what I’m going to share is simply what I’ve learned so far, so that you may be able to take some of it on board and make better choices next time you need to buy something. Some of these suggested swaps will feel easy for some people, and others more difficult (myself included). I’m going to aim to be completely transparent where I can be and share the things that are currently working well for me.
Remember: we don’t need one person doing zero waste perfectly. We need 1000 people doing zero waste imperfectly.
How to Reduce Waste in Your Bathroom
1. Clean up your bathing routine
As we all know, the biggest culprits for plastic in the bathroom are probably shampoos, conditioners and shower gels. Whilst some of these bottles can be recycled, many can’t be.
Luckily, there are lots of companies making efforts to simplify their packaging, using bottles made from recycled and recyclable plastic, using glass bottles, or getting rid of the packaging altogether and selling these commodities in solid bar form, which also help you save money.
Switching bottles for bars
I have long since switched out bottled shower gels for soaps made from natural, vegan and sometimes organic ingredients. If you can, choose brands that don’t wrap their soaps in plastic – I love Suma Alter/native*, The Little Soap Company* and of course LUSH, which has an extensive collection of unbelievable smelling soaps for every skin type.
If you are a bath person, then using blends of epsom salts* with relaxing essential oils* can make a wonderful lower-waste alternative to bubble bath, or you can go fancy with one of LUSH’s famous bath bombs or bubble bars. There are some brands on the market that make beautiful bath oils in glass bottles too, so be sure to shop around.
When it comes to shampoo and conditioner, there is a fantastic growing market of solid shampoo bars out there. Though I haven’t yet made the switch to shampoo bars myself (see below) I do think they will soon be the norm in everyday haircare and there will soon be an endless array to suit every hair type. It is estimated that each shampoo or conditioner bar can get you 40-50 washes, which is worth about 2-3 bottles, so it saves money as well as unnecessary packaging.
Use refillable/recyclable products
If you’re like me and you can’t bear to give up your favourite hair products for a bar version just yet, then at the very least choose brands that use recycled packaging and can also be recycled again afterwards.
Better still, if you can refill your bottles after use, this is great too. I use the Maria Nila silver shampoo* and conditioner* for blonde hair, which my hairdresser kindly refills once empty so they don’t go straight to landfill or the recycle centre. Many bulk food/low waste stores offer the option to refill your shampoo and conditioner bottles, with some brands like Faith In Nature having designated refill centres. If you buy a salon shampoo, ask your hairdresser whether they offer refills, or if it’s a scheme they’d consider starting. It can’t hurt to ask!
I am also a huge fan of my custom Function of Beauty shampoo and conditioner* which come in bottles made from recycled plastic that are also 100% recyclable. Because Function of Beauty create custom formulas to suit your exact hair type and goals, this is a great place to start if you’re looking to get away from single-use plastic bottles and make your hair care routine that little bit more eco-friendly.
2. Use bamboo toothbrushes over plastic
Toothbrushes are one of those frequent purchases we hardly think about, but the fact that they are made from plastic means they actually cause a few problems.
As I talked about in my Natural, Zero Waste Dental Care post, toothbrushes are just one of the daily items made, used and thrown away every day. Unsurprisingly they don’t break down very easily, and it’s estimated that 350 million toothbrushes end up in landfill every year – just in the US alone! Worse, some of them even end up in rivers or the ocean, where they threaten wildlife and ecosystems.
Plastic toothbrushes can take over 400 years to degrade…which basically means that every toothbrush you’ve ever used is still sitting out there somewhere. Crazy, right?!
Around two or three years ago I switched to bamboo toothbrushes by Bam & Boo. Made entirely from sustainably sourced bamboo, these toothbrushes are completely biodegradable (apart from the bristles, which the company are still working to make biodegradable like the body). Once they’re worn out, you can either throw them into your compost or garden waste bin (after removing the bristles first) or re-use them as cleaning brushes, which I often do.
Though there are lots of brands of bamboo toothbrushes these days, I choose Bam & Boo because of their handy delivery service. For just four euros per toothbrush, they’ll deliver a new one right to your door every two, three or four months (I go for four), meaning you never need to worry about remembering to replace your toothbrush!
My boyfriend has an electric toothbrush that I also borrow a lot these days (using a separate toothbrush head of course). In one sense electric toothbrushes are a better choice because they last for years, but the fact that their heads need to be thrown away and replaced means they also come with their own problems. So far a bamboo toothbrush is the best solution I’ve found in terms of keeping plastic waste down.
3. Choose sustainable toothcare products
Most councils will recycle toothpaste tubes, but not all. If yours doesn’t, or you’re not sure, then it’s a good idea to buy toothpaste in alternative packaging like Georganics’ natural toothpaste*, which comes in beautiful glass jars that are both reusable and recyclable. Of course, glass jar products can be a little more pricey, so if that’s not for you I highly recommend Kingfisher natural toothpastes* (which use minimal ingredients, making them easier on the environment anyway) and to simply recycle the tubes.
Mouthwash is another common dental product that comes in plastic bottles. I really recommend Georganics’ range of oil-pulling mouthwashes* which come in reusable/recyclable glass bottles, as well as their handy mouthwash tablets* which are really great for using on the go.
The majority of common dental floss brands are also made with plastic or plastic byproducts – this means they do not biodegrade in nature and can even end up tangled around the necks of gulls, fish and sea turtles if they end up in the ocean. There are some great brands of natural, plastic-free dental floss on the market that come in reusable glass canisters and don’t contain any plastic. Georganics has their silk floss* which is entirely biodegradable, but unfortunately it is not a vegan product. Instead I opt for their charcoal floss* which, whilst vegan, does contain 20% polyester yarn so it cannot be composted. In this scenario, it is down to individuals about what they consider to be the best product for them.
Tevra also create all-natural vegan floss* made from corn (making it fully compostable/biodegradable) which I can also highly recommend, though it is not quite as strong as the Georganics ones.
4. Ditch the disposables
Disposable products are one of the main offenders when it comes to bathroom waste (and waste in general). They are just so unnecessary and create a whole lot of rubbish that sits in landfill for years.
By swapping out disposable products for reusable ones, you’ll not only end up with a prettier, more organised bathroom, but you’ll also be able to slim down your current stash of products (by having items that serve more than one purpose). You’ll also save a ton of money and keep useless trash from going to landfill!
Face wipes are one of the first things I suggest that people ditch when it comes to cleaning up their bathroom products. Not only do most brands contain harsh chemicals that simply strip the skin, they are totally wasteful and just unnecessary. Instead, I suggest a proper cleanser with either a natural muslin cloth or a flannel to wipe off excess residue. I’ve used muslin cloths* with my Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish cleanser for years now, and they last such a long time. Each one can be thrown in the washing machine again and again and you only need to replace them when they’re worn out. Try building up a stash so you have one for each day.
Cotton pads are another product that can easily be replaced with a more sustainable version. I recommend replacing them with reusable cotton rounds*, which come in a handy mesh bag for storage, travel and washing. Because each one can be washed several times, 20 of these are equivalent to 2000 regular disposable cotton pads!
Cotton buds meanwhile are often made of plastic, meaning they have to go straight into landfill where they sit for years on end. Try switching them out for eco-friendly bamboo cotton buds* instead, as they’ll be made entirely from natural materials so will be safe to put into your compost or garden waste bin.
5. Switch your toilet paper
It may come as a surprise to many people, but the majority of toilet paper brands are far from ethical or sustainable. Many are made from virgin wood pulp, which means somewhere forestry has been cut down simply for the sake of making toilet roll. They also contain bleach and other harsh chemicals and of course, come wrapped in single-use plastic.
This guide by Ethical Consumer explains what to look for when buying toilet roll, as well as which brands are doing it best. Generally, look out for those that are recycled, made from alternative fibres (such as bamboo and agricultural waste), and come wrapped in recyclable packaging.
At the very least, look for brands that have the Forest Stewardship Council ‘tree tick’ stamp, such as Andrex, Cushelle and some supermarket own-brands. This means that although they will be made from virgin wood pulp, it will have at least been sourced sustainably.
List of Sustainable Toilet Paper Brands
Ecoleaf (Suma)* – 100% recycled
Who Gives A Crap* – 100% recycled; also donate 50% of their profits towards building toilets in developing countries
The Cheeky Panda* – 100% recycled
Bumboo* – 100% recycled
Greencane – Bamboo & 100% recycled sugarcane
Aldi Saxon – FSC mix
Andrex Classic – FSC mix
Asda – FSC mix
Boots – FSC mix
Co-op – FSC mix or FSC recycled
Cushelle/Velvet – FSC mix
Lidl – FSC mix
M&S – FSC mix
Morrisons – FSC mix or FSC recycled
Sainsbury’s – FSC mix or FSC recycled
Tesco – FSC mix or FSC recycled
Waitrose – FSC mix or FSC recycled.
6. Sustainable feminine care
For women, period care is another way in which a huge amount of waste is created. Of course it’s not our fault – for years greedy corporations have presented disposable products as the only options, but thankfully things are changing.
Now, there’s a whole array of sustainable, reusable and eco-friendly period care products on the market. The majority of these new solutions place women’s health at the forefront of their mission, meaning they are not filled with irritating chemicals and are actually healthier for our bodies.
As we know, the mainstream brands governing the market currently (such as Always, Tampax, Bodyform, Lilets etc.) aren’t doing any favours for the environment. It is estimated that women will use around 14,000 tampons throughout their lifetime, and sanitary products produce around 100 billion pieces of waste every year. Used pads and tampons often end up in landfills, in oceans and washed up on beaches. In fact, 27,938 plastic tampon applicators are found on the world’s beaches every day!
It is totally up to the individual with regards to what type of period care they choose to use. However, with so many new alternatives cropping up everyday, it’s no longer intimidating to make the switch to a more eco-friendly period.
I have used a Mooncup (menstrual cup) for around three years now, and I absolutely love it. Not only has it saved me a ton of money on pads and tampons, I also never have to think about remembering to buy them. With proper care a menstrual cup lasts up to a decade – just think of how many tampons and pads that saves from going to landfill!
Yes, a cup does take some practice and getting used to, and for the first few cycles there will be a bit of a learning curve (just like when using a tampon for the first time). But I can safely say now I would not go back. A cup has so may benefits over tampons as they aren’t treated with harsh chemicals and don’t have as high a risk of infection. When inserted properly they are completely comfortable and can hardly be felt at all.
When using a cup for the first time, you’ll find tons of helpful information on the website of the brand you choose, and most of them have a customer helpline you can call if you have any problems, ran by women who use the cups themselves. There’s also tons of help and advice online where you can have your curious questions answered.
List of menstrual cups (UK)
Reusable pads are another way you can prevent sanitary waste from going to landfill. Made from soft sustainable cotton, reusable pads can be washed after use and have a fairly long life, saving you money as well.
Reusable pad brands (UK)
Period underwear is the latest product to be taking the eco-period market by storm lately. Designed to look like just any other pair of pants, they are able to absorb your flow without the need for additional products.
Though they may look a little pricey, they’ll save you tons of money on tampons and pads and can be rewashed again and again. They also come in a number of colours, making them just another cool addition to your underwear drawer.
List of period underwear brands
Recycled/sustainable/organic cotton pads & tampons
If none of the reusable period options sound good to you, then at the very least choose pads and tampons made from sustainable, renewable or recycled materials. Organic cotton is gentler on the skin and will reduce the likelihood of irritation or infection (whereas many mainstream brands use a mix of cotton and rayon treated with harsh pesticides).
There are so many brilliant brands out there today renovating traditional period care, using materials that are kinder to both our bodies and the environment.
List of organic pads/tampons
Many of these brands are also doing amazing work for women’s health. For example, TOTM donate a portion of their profits towards supporting women with endometriosis while Freda aim to normalise menstruation and dissolve society’s stigma around it.
7. Ditch the plastic razors
Hair removal is another one of those things that’s personal to everybody. But I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say that the majority of people are using plastic razors, which are thrown in the bin when worn out and end up in landfills and on beaches.
In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, around 2 billion disposable razors go into landfill every year. That’s a lot of plastic!
Of course, there are other ways to remove unwanted body hair that don’t cause this amount of waste. Hair removal creams are one solution, but still leave the empty tubes needing to be disposed of. Waxing and laser hair removal are also more eco-friendly options, but can be expensive for most people. Epilation is great because it creates pretty much zero waste (after the initial purchase of an epilator).
For most people though, shaving will still be the number one preferred way, and that’s why I recommend swapping out the plastic razors for a safety razor.
Switching to a safety razor
Safety razors are basically the razors men used to shave their chins since the early 1900s. Many men choose to still use them today due to the better quality shave they provide, and they are becoming increasingly popular among women for the same reasons.
Unlike the commercial disposable razors of today, safety razors use just one (very sharp) blade, meaning less skin irritation and a smoother shave. The razor handle is purchased separately and kept for years, whilst the blade itself is switched out when blunt. Used blades can be placed in a blade bank which, when full, can go into your recycle bin. This saves an awful lot of plastic waste being sent to landfill.
I made the switch to a safety razor around three years ago and have not looked back since! They look smart in your bathroom, give a great shave and save you a lot of money. I’m going to be doing a more thorough blog post on using a safety razor very soon, but in the meantime I highly recommend the Merkur long-handled safety razor* (for women) and The Executive Shaving Company* for your brush, blades and soaps.
As I always say with these things, transitioning to a lower-waste lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to use up what you have first before replacing them with a more sustainable alternative.
Another huge way to reduce waste in your bathroom is to simply only buy what you know you will use. Sure it may feel exciting to have every shade of highlighter or a shampoo for every day of the week, but this can lead to a lot of wasted product in the long-term. By keeping your bathroom products to the ones you know you will use, it enables you to better see what’s essential in your routine and leads to a tidier bathroom, too!
Let me know how you guys are doing on your zero waste journey. Have you implemented any of the suggestions mentioned above? Are there any other suggestions you’d like to share with me? Leave me a comment below!