One of the most single-use-plastic-ridden rooms in our homes is the bathroom.
I realize that many forms of plastic packaging can be recycled. Alas, recycling is not the holy grail of waste reduction—it’s the least effective of the three Rs.
In fact, I’d rewrite the 3 Rs if I could: Reduce, Reuse and Refuse. Many recycling plants have bales and bales of recycled plastic with no one to buy it. Recycling takes resources like water and electricity, and every time we recycle plastic, the quality diminishes until it finally ends up in the landfill anyway. (Not to mention all of the resources that go into manufacturing the plastic in the first place.)
One by one, I sought out plastic-free or reduced-plastic replacements for my bathroom toiletries. My bathroom isn’t a 100% plastic-free zone, but it’s pretty decent now. Here are some great products that can help you reduce your plastic footprint in the loo.
1- Bamboo toothbrushes or toothbrushes with replaceable heads
One of the first plastic reductions I made in our bathroom was with our toothbrushes. We still have a lot of plastic ones because hygienists keep forcing them into my hand as we leave the dentist’s office, but I’m working on that. (The ones they give at the dentist are way cooler looking than the bamboo-handled ones I usually give my kids, so that’s a whole other battle.)
The first brand of plastic-reduced brush I tried was Preserve. Preserve brush handles are made out of recycled yogurt containers and can be returned to the company for recycling once you’re done with them. However, this is much easier to do in the US than in Canada, since it’s an American company.
Next up we tried Radius brush handles with replaceable heads. The brush handles are made out of a variety of recycled materials, and I used the same handle for seven years until it finally cracked at the top. You simply buy replacement brush heads, which are made of a lot less plastic than a brand new brush. Bristles are 100% vegetable based nylon for a petroleum free option. This is the toothbrush that makes the most sense for me in terms of balancing cost and environmental impact. Plus, I really love the generous size of the brush head! The one drawback is how much plastic there is on the packaging of the brush heads. There’s definitely room for improvement there.
Bamboo brushes seem to be really increasing in popularity. I have used various bamboo brushes for my kids, and I don’t have any complaints about them. We have used Woobamboo Sprout toothbrushes and Santa brought them Treefinity brushes. For adults, we have Mariposah Bamboo Brushes which are very affordable—a 4-pack is just $11.99. The handles of all of these brushes are biodegradable, assuming you put them in your compost (it’s not going to biodegrade well in a plastic garbage bag in a landfill). I get my burly husband to snap off the brush portion and toss it in the trash before composting the handle.
Both of my kids have bamboo-handled brushes in the downstairs bathroom and electric toothbrushes in the upstairs bathroom. This is my son’s third year using Jack & Jill’s Buzzy Brush, with a handle made of recycled plastic and replaceable brush heads. Most of the electric toothbrushes for kids I looked at were single-use … in other words, once you need a new brush head, you need to throw away the ENTIRE battery-operated toothbrush! The kids love their Buzzy Brushes and I love that they help us remember to brush for a full two minutes. Warning: the brush sings and the song is highly ear-worm-inducing.
2- Toothpaste in a jar
One of the final products to go bye-bye in my bathroom is the unrecyclable tube of toothpaste. I really wasn’t sure what alternative there could be to the ubiquitous tube until I started seeing toothpaste in a glass jar. Glass jars are both reusable and much more easily recycled than plastic, so when possible I try to get food and toiletry products in glass.
This is my first experiment with toothpaste in jar, and Nelson Naturals was the only brand available at my local natural food store. I’m a fan of minty freshness, so I chose the Spearmint flavour.
In terms of ingredients, I am not opposed to fluoride, but this is a fluoride-free toothpaste. Unsurprisingly, this toothpaste is free of the ingredients I do avoid: triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate and microbeads. Instead, it contains calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sea salt, Xylitol, Castile soap, natural flavouring and trace minerals. Unfortunately, I am a bit wary of colloidal silver, which is an ingredient in all of this brand’s options.
The first question is, how do you get the toothpaste out of the jar? There are two methods. You could use some kind of small scraping device to apply it to your brush, or you can just dip your toothbrush. I guess this will depend on personal preference and if you’re sharing your jar. I’m a dipper.
My first impression of the toothpaste was that I didn’t love the taste. It tasted too much like baking soda. But I am committed to viable non-plastic options, so I persevered. Within a week I was totally accustomed to the different flavour, to the point where it now doesn’t bother me at all.
If you’re used to using mainstream toothpastes, you’ll notice that this toothpaste doesn’t foam up like you might expect. Fun fact: the “foaming action” in toothpastes and shampoos is not a sign of cleaning power … it’s just a selling feature that makes you think you’re getting clean.
I find that after brushing with the Nelson Naturals paste, my teeth have a really nice “post dental check up” smoothness to them. While definitely nowhere near as minty fresh as, say, Crest, I do feel like my breath is fresh and my mouth is clean. Because of the colloidal silver, I have decided not to buy this one again, and am searching for another option. Hormonal changes and many late nights eating candy and crackers to keep myself awake feeding the twins seem to have led to the first cavities of my entire life … so I’m afraid this new powdered toothpaste I’m trying won’t be enough to protect my teeth, although it meets my zero-waste goals.
Isabella’s Clearly MINT Remineralizing Tooth Powder is made from food-grade bentonite clay, calcium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, Xylitol, mint leaves and essential oils. You just dip your moistened toothbrush into the powder and brush. (I’m currently the only person using this powder, but I guess I’d want one jar per person if I was sharing?) There’s absolutely no froth at all, and I don’t feel like my breath is fresh even with the mintiness, so I follow up with Tom’s of Maine mouth wash.
Other benefits to toothpaste in a jar include the fact that you can use the entire jar. No waste! Plus, no arguing if you are a toothpaste tube roller and your spouse is a squeezer. The little jar is the perfect size for infinite reuse (for spices, for homemade creams, for jewellery …), or you can recycle it.
If you’re not ready for the jar but want the greener ingredients, I’ve been using Green Beaver toothpaste exclusively for almost ten years. I would love it if they’d come up with an alternative to the tube for their fabulous toothpaste. It has a great taste, plus the sensitive formula really works to prevent my tooth sensitivity!
While I haven’t tried it, many people make their own toothpaste at home and store it in a jar. It’s most definitely doable, but I’m pretty lazy.
For my kids, I want them to brush with fluoride since our water in Calgary isn’t fluoridated. I haven’t found an eco-friendly container that also has fluoride, but you could potentially use a fluoride rinse after brushing if you’re happy with a children’s formula that doesn’t have fluoride.
3- Bar soap (for your body, your hair and your face)
A ridiculously easy and economical way to say buh-bye to a couple of superfluous plastic bottles in your bathroom is to switch to bar soap. Either at the sink or in the shower, use up your pump soap and bottle of body wash and go solid.
You don’t have to buy expensive, handcrafted soaps either. (But you can—they last a long time!) You can spend less than $2 a bar for a variety of eco-friendly and effective soaps for your hands and body. If you like an exfoliating body wash, switch to an exfoliating mitt. Just rub soap on your mitt and scrub away.
If your kids, like mine, think it’s hilarious to just pour out their body soap into the tub, a bar of soap will not be so easily wasted!
It can take a while for your scalp and hair to get used to using a traditional liquid shampoo. I actually made the switch about five years ago when I started making my own shampoo with coconut milk and castile soap. Solid shampoo is a bit more of a leap for some. There are many, many bar shampoo options out there, and it may take a bit of trial and error to find the one that works for you. But once you find it, travelling becomes so easy (no spillage and no one has made a bomb out of solid soap yet, so we can still bring that in a carry-on), and each bar lasts a long time. My personal favourite solid shampoo is Le Coloré, made by La Striga Potions Urbaines.
Another item you can get in bar-form is face wash. I have been using Garden By the Sea’s Clearly Beautiful facial soap for two years now. One bar—yes, one bar that costs $8.50—lasts me over one year.
If you really love your liquid soaps, find a business that sells these products in bulk so you can refill your bottles multiple times!
4 – DIY bathroom cleaner
Anytime you make something from scratch instead of buying it, you’re making a difference to your plastic footprint. Homemade bathroom cleaners won’t require a trip to a specialty store for ingredients: baking soda and vinegar can be found at the grocery store! Add essential oils if you want, but they’re by no means critical.
You can skip the Vim in the tub and sink by just using baking soda and water. I pour baking soda into the tub, add a bit of water, and scrub. You can also pour baking soda directly into your toilet bowl and scrub with your toilet brush.
I make an all-surfaces spray in a refillable spray bottle that is half water and half vinegar, plus maybe 10 drops each of tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil. This effectively and economically cleans all bathroom surfaces, especially the mirror!
5- Deodorant in a jar
Like toothpaste in a jar, I’m seeing more and more brands selling deodorant in a jar. I am currently having a passionate love affair with Calgary’s Routine De-Odor-Cream. THIS STUFF WORKS! This summer has been an excessively sweaty one for me, lugging twins around in uncharacteristic heatwaves … and at the end of the day, my pits can be sniffed without recoiling in horror. There’s not a formula I’ve tried yet that I don’t like, but so far Super Star and A Girl Named Sue are my favourites.
Simply apply a pea-sized amount to your pits with your finger. Putting on my Routine every day quite truly makes me feel great, and I find no issues with transfer to my clothes. The jars are so freaking pretty, the scents are fabulous … and most importantly I’m not afraid to lift my arms up in public!
6- Cloth pads & menstrual cups
If you’re a die-hard Maman Loup fan, you know what’s in my underwear. I’ll tell anyone who listens how much I love using Öko Creations’ hemp-cotton blend menstrual pads and pantyliners for discharge, menstruation, postpartum bleeding and light bladder leakage. I haven’t used a disposable pad in about five years. I haven’t had many periods since I got pregnant with my son in 2012, so my menstrual cup game is pretty weak. That said, I’ll be finding my perfect cup once my period comes back for good (since we are done with babies) thanks to Put a Cup in It’s quiz! If you prefer tampons, then definitely look into menstrual cups! I use a combo of cloth pads and a cup.
7- Wax or refillable razors + shaving cream in jar
Last summer I decided to stop stressing about my body hair … or at least, stress a bit less. I still try to maintain some semblance of order over my eye sockets, avoid a five o’clock shadow on my upper lip and keep the bikini area in order if I’m about to wear a bikini, but I’ve relaxed about my legs and armpits. I don’t own a razor anymore—I just wax with washable cotton strips that I’ve been reusing since the mid-nineties (seriously). And honestly, I probably only wax once per shorts-season.
If ripping hair from your follicles isn’t your idea of a fun time (I’ve been waxing since I was a teenager so I’m quite accustomed to it), then skip the disposable razor and invest in a safety razor with replaceable blades. (And for the men in your life, this is the best shave around!) I recommend checking out Victoria’s The Copper Hat for all your wet shaving needs!
8- Moisturizer in a tin or a bar
Two ways to moisturize with zero plastic come at you from Montreal’s Les Produits de MaYa. Their CoKa Whipped Body Butter comes in a metal tin that is easy to reuse. And even better than a reusable container is NO container! Their massage bar, made with cocoa butter, shea butter and avocado oil melts on contact but stays solid even in a heatwave. Sure, it’s nice to have someone apply it in a backrub, but I also love to rub it on my skin as a creamy, natural moisturizer that’s less mess than applying a liquid oil. Bonus is that you can also pack it in your carry-on! Quebec’s La Striga Potions Urbaines makes a moisturizing cupcake, which is as delicious as it sounds! It comes in a reusable mason jar and will last for ages.
9- Biodegradable, plastic-free floss & reusable floss holders
It’s not easy to floss your kids’ teeth, so I know a lot of us use those single-use flossers that come in fun colours and shapes and so much plastic. I bought a reusable floss holder to use on my 6-year-old, but I haven’t found one small enough to use on my toddler. The one we got on Amazon is just now fitting in my daughter’s mouth, and she’s 3.5.
When choosing floss, there are eco-friendlier options, such as natural silk floss or floss that is dispensed from a cardboard rather than plastic box. My aunt uses a refillable floss dispenser by Dental Lace, which you can find at The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver or from Amazon if you’re not in YVR. Some readers have mentioned switching to a water pick and skipping floss entirely!
10- Reusable makeup pads
So there’s not a ton of plastic in a package of disposable cotton rounds, but switching to reusable makeup pads is definitely an easy switch to make in your beauty routine. My favourite ones are made by Öko Creations. You can use them to remove makeup, cleanse your face and almost anything else you would use their disposable counterparts for. I apply liniment to an Öko makeup pad to cleanse and moisturize my face every night.
Bonus tip! What about cotton swabs (AKA Q-Tips)? While I have not been able to convince my husband to give them up, I simply don’t use them. For ears, you’re not even supposed to be jabbing swabs in there! I just use a washcloth and my finger, and find I need to do so much less frequently once I kicked the cotton swab habit. For the kids’ noses and ears, I use the tool I never knew I needed till I couldn’t live without it: the Oogie Bear.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, I hope it helps you reduce your plastic consumption in one room of your house!
What are your favourite plastic-free care products?