Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Written by Sarah Robertson-Barnes for The Zero Waste Collective
Like the kitchen, the bathroom can be a big source of waste. It is typically home to a myriad of consumables, disposables, and impulse buys. If you have ever done a full bathroom clean out, you know just how much stuff can be packed into a little room!
When your personal care products run out, evaluate what you truly use and switch over to sustainable options as needed. Use up what you already have, but keep in mind that shelters and other organizations in your area may accept unopened personal care products as donations. Simplifying your routine may be a result of these efforts, leading to even fewer necessities in the future.
Here are 10 simple swaps you can make in your bathroom to start reducing waste today! Be sure to check out the shop for our featured products that can help with your zero waste bathroom needs.
1. Plastic Toothbrushes
Toothbrushes are not recyclable and their packaging may not be in your area either. With how frequently we switch them out, a sustainable option is necessary and easy to swap in.
Swap: Bamboo toothbrushes are biodegradable and compostable, with bamboo being a sustainable crop. They are even available in children’s sizes! Keep in mind that nylon bristles are not biodegradable and must be disposed of separately, while natural fibre bristles do not last as long.
Look for local sellers and compostable or recyclable packaging. If your municipality does not accept bamboo in compost, reuse your old brush for cleaning or garden markers.
Soft tubes are not accepted for recycling in many areas, making this an item that is likely to end up in the trash when it’s empty.
Swap: There are a few great DIY recipes for toothpaste and toothpowders here, and many bulk shops are now offering refills in your own container. Commercial options in glass jars and recyclable metal tubes are hitting mainstream stores as well. Be sure to speak to your dentist about what sustainable option is best for you!
3. Shampoo and Conditioner
Conventional products come in plastic bottles or soft tubes that are difficult to recycle, not mention that new bottles must be purchased time and again. If you have more than one bottle on the go, you may also have yourself some unnecessary shower clutter.
Swap: No matter your lifestyle or hair type, there is bound to be a sustainable option that works for you. Both shampoo and conditioner can be found in bars, with ingredients to suit your needs. Your local bulk store may offer refills, or you may choose a subscription service that accepts empty bottles in return.
Dry shampoo recipes abound, and can be easily made with items from your kitchen that you are often able to purchase in bulk. You may find yourself changing your habits to wash less or not at all! The water only washing method may be just right for you.
4. Liquid Soap
Liquid hand soaps have become the norm in recent years, with every fragrance and colour imaginable available. When the container is empty, however, it must be refilled or replaced, meaning a usable container ends up in recycling (although the pump is made of mixed materials and headed to the landfill).
Swap: Look for refills near you or switch to unpackaged bar soap. Bar soaps can even be made into liquid soaps if you prefer using a pump dispenser. To make bar soaps last longer, cut them in half and store in a cool, dry place. Be sure to let the bar dry out between uses with a draining soap dish. You make also want to make or invest in a “soap saver” bag to find a use for those little bits leftover at the end of each bar.
5. Toilet Paper
Just like paper towels and napkins, toilet paper requires a ton of resources to be used for a few moments before being thrown away. It is usually made of virgin materials and then shrink-wrapped in non-recyclable plastic.
Swap: Look for 100% recycled content or an alternative fibre like bamboo, with rolls wrapped in paper. You may even want to move on to family cloth (DIY or look for a local maker on Etsy). Cloth wipes pair nicely with a bidet attachment on your toilet to eliminate the need for toilet paper altogether.
For a deeper dive into ditching single-use paper products in your home check out this post!
6. Plastic Razors
A typical “disposable” razor can only be used a few times before being tossed in the trash. Replaceable heads typically come in heavy packaging that is difficult to recycle, and the used blades must go to landfill.
Swap: If shaving is your preferred method of hair removal, invest in a “old-fashioned” style safety razor. These consist of a handle and blade that it is screwed into place. When the steel blade is no longer sharp, it can typically be recycled (check with your municipality on how best to safely do this).
With proper care, the blades can last a good while, while the handle should last a lifetime. You can also eliminate cans of shaving cream with a bar of shave soap and a brush.
This swap is the one that tends to make people a bit nervous, but we assure you it is doable! Click here for tips on shaving with a safety razor.
Because the roll-up style containers are made of multiple types of plastic, they are not accepted for recycling. If you are feeling wary about ingredients, now is a great time to switch to a natural option.
Swap: Looks for brands that package in compostable cardboard tubes or glass. You might also want to switch to making your own, with the added bonus of the ingredients being useful for so many other swaps as well. Natural deodorants work differently than drugstore products, so prepare for an adjustment period while your body adapts.
8. Menstrual Products
A menstruating person will go through thousands of single-use products in their lifetime. Each requires resources to produce and can be expensive to purchase month after month.
Swap: Invest in long-lasting reusables to suit your needs, comfort, and budget. Options include menstrual cups, washable pads and panty liners, period underwear, or any combination of the three. You can look for DIY patterns for pads on Pinterest or search Etsy for a local maker.
As with things like shampoo and liquid soap, some or all of the packaging may be difficult to recycle. We are also likely to accumulate these products before finish what we have.
Swap: If you don’t have access to refills, this is a great place to explore DIY options for your individual skincare needs. Homemade body lotions usually contain many of the same ingredients as DIY toothpaste and deodorant. Are you starting to feel the streamlining? So smooth!
10. Makeup Wipes, Cotton Balls/Rounds
Makeup removing wipes come in plastic packaging and are used once and tossed, or worse, flushed down the toilet. Cotton is a water intensive crop used to make balls or rounds that we also use only once before discarding.
Swap: Reusable and washable cloths. You may opt to DIY or purchase facial rounds made of a natural fibre such as cotton, hemp, or flannel. A washcloth you already have is perfect too! Both can be tossed in with your regular laundry and used over and over again.
These changes may take some time to work into your routine, but soon they will just part of your daily life!
Looking to take a deeper dive into zero waste? Check out our e-book Your Zero Waste Life: A How-To Guide.