With all of the soaps, lotions, and creams that we use, the bathroom can quickly become one of the most plastic laden rooms in the whole house. And although there are lots of messages about reducing our plastic use by bringing our own cups and straws, there isn’t a lot of instruction on how to cut down on plastics in the bathroom. Well….other than the bamboo toothbrush ads that have taken over everyone’s feed. So here is an attempt at giving a little more guidance on the matter.
Step 1. Finish what you have. Before trying or buying anything new, finish the products that you already have. Pull out all of the lotions, those packs of razors, every bottle of soap, shampoo and conditioner, each of those spare tubes of toothpaste or toothbrushes especially ones that you get every time you go to the dentist. Find literally everything that you have multiples of and put them together in their own categories. Commit to finishing them. Why? Three reasons. Because it’s so easy to fall back onto past habits (or products) when they’re sitting there within easy reach. Because it will give you time to research, get excited, and save up for the new and more sustainable products that you want to try. And lastly, it’s for your sanity. I don’t know about you, but I have a nasty habit of starting new projects or feeling excited about an idea and buying lots of supplies for it and then losing steam a week or two later and being stuck with all of this stuff that I’m no longer thrilled about. So spare yourself the stuff, prove to yourself that you’re committed to this process and refrain from buying all of those beautiful bamboo toothbrushes.
Step 2.Try making it before you buy it. As you start running out of products, finishing those last few squirts of shampoo and smears of deodorant, don’t repurchase the same product. I know, I know….duh. But it can be an easy habit to just quickly grab the same products that we’re used to without thinking. This is the fun part though! As you’re nearing the end of each product, look up recipes and see if you can make it yourself. There are lots of recipes online for deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. Now my trick for this is to make a small tester batch by cutting the recipe down into a half or a quarter. That way you can try a little without wasting it if you’re not a fan. Just a warning though, homemade products are not the same as store bought and learning to transition to new habits or methods of applying can be a bit of a process. But with time and practice, scooping deodorant and applying it with your fingertips or dipping your toothbrush into your jar of tooth powder will become second nature and you’ll wonder why you ever thought it was weird.
Step 3. Buy refills. If you just can’t get used to the taste, texture, or method of using homemade products though, the second best option is to use products that can be refilled or that come in glass and metal packaging. Naturistas offers refills for shampoo, conditioner and soap. Purple Carrot has tooth tabs, shampoo and conditioner bars, and oil refills! Just grab a jar or bottle and fill it up at these wonderful stores. Another plus about using plain jars or bottles is that it gets rid of the visual clutter in our bathrooms. Having various brands, colors and logos blaring at you from each corner can be visually stimulating and exhausting (even if we don’t consciously register it).
Step 4. Simplify your stuff. We’ve been taught that we need a separate product for every little thing. One for makeup removal, one for cleansing, one for toning, a serum for anti-aging, another for tightening, masks for detoxing, and everything else that we’re told we should want. But we really don’t need all of these products. In fact, avoiding the whole slew can save you lots of money that could be spent on other things like travel (once COVID has calmed down), cooking or dance classes, drinks with friends, or plants (one can never have enough plants)! I literally have a $20 bottle of jojoba oil that I use as a makeup remover, hair conditioner/defrizzer (I have very frizzy hair), and face + body moisturizer. One oil is used for 4 things. Figuring out what you can and want to cut from your products will also cut down on the amount of plastic that you use.
Step 5. Keep searching for improvements (and share the changes you’ve made with friends. One thing that I’ve learned on this plastic free journey (because it is a journey. I am not even close to being plastic free yet.) is that one of the best ways to start making change is to pick a few things that you’d like to try and share them with others. I started using shampoo and conditioner bars early this year which grew my bravery enough that I tried making my own deodorant recently. A friend saw me using it and asked if she could try it. Seeing her interest renewed my excitement and the bit of pride that I had for making this little change. It’s also been thrilling seeing how my partner has become more conscious of the choices they’re making; opting to sit in with a coffee mug vs ordering a to-go drink, refraining from using plastic wrap, even feeling bad when they forget the reusable bag when grabbing groceries.
Making these changes can be tedious and frustrating and just plain weird. But they can also be thrilling and fun and give you a new appreciation for the beauty of simplicity. And honestly, no one is forcing you to change or give up your favorite shimmering body wash. Keep that gorgeous glitter if it makes you feel good, and instead try those funky toothy tabs or make your own toner. Make your own little changes, celebrate them (or toss them if they suck), and keep trying. It feels futile when we think about the small amount of plastic that we’re preventing compared to the massive production and disposal that is happening around the globe. But every little change makes a difference and sometimes little changes can create a ripple effect that snowballs into a big change.
What you should try to replace and options to replace it (in order of worst to not as bad)(this is only a suggestion, just go for whatever you want to try or whatever you run out of first if you’re following the steps)
- Product to be replaced – option for replacing it
The worst offenders because they’re not recyclable at all
- Toothpaste – homemade toothpaste kept in a glass jar or bowl or tooth tabs are great options for getting rid of that silly plastic and metal tube
- Masks, creams & serums – I don’t have a specific replacement since I don’t know what you use but try replacing these with homemade or natural options, or just cutting them out all together
- Toothbrushes – bamboo toothbrush (there are a million places that sell them now)
- Disposable razors – razors with replaceable heads are a bit better but safety razors (or if you’re willing to spend some money, the Leaf razor has a nice swivel head) are the best option
- Dental floss – this one is a smidge tricky, but there are other options like silk dental floss (and refills) that come in glass jars (Purple Carrot has some good options)
- Deodorant – homemade deodorants work really well but if you’re not convinced, try finding one that comes in a glass jar or cardboard packaging
The less offensive offenders
- Shampoo and conditioner – shampoo and conditioner refills or solid bars (these are great for travel since there’s no liquid)
- Body wash – moisturizing bar soaps or body wash refills
- Hair brush – honestly combs and brushes can be used for years, so they’re not very offensive on the waste scale. But if yours ever breaks then try finding a wood or bamboo replacement
- Scrub brush – ok these can get some wear, so the next time yours gets dull and worn down, grab one made from natural fibers or reeds.
- Toilet brush – same thing here, we use them for years without them breaking so why worry about replacing it
Note: Don’t replace items just for replacement’s sake. It is even more wasteful to toss out a perfectly good plastic toothbrush, shampoo or toilet brush just for the sake of replacing it with something that is made with sustainable materials.
For those who menstruate:
Silicone cups – These are such lifesavers! They’re super uncomfy when you first try them because it takes a bit of practice to get the technique and fit just right, but don’t give up! They hold more blood, and it’s reusable so you will never be stranded needing a new tampon because you bled through your first one. Plus! One of these will save you SO much money. If you keep it clean (boil it in a pot of water once a week and rinse it after each use), you can use this thing for years.
Cloth pads – also huge money savers! Just snap it around your underwear and you’re ready to go. Give it a rinse and toss it in your laundry when done and just keep using it.
Padded panties – I get it, big pads aren’t your thing. Me neither (honestly I don’t use a pad anymore now that I have a cup) but if you still need a little extra reusable reassurance, try using padded period panties instead, It may feel a little weird, but these puppies will keep your pants safe. Here are some options