Bathroom Babble – 7 Simple Swaps

If you do a waste audit in your home (like I did for Waste Free February), you’re likely to find your bathroom is a major contributor to plastic waste, with numerous single-use plastic bottles and containers. Other issues to consider in terms of the impact of your bathroom habits on the environment are the ingredients in your toiletries (ask yourself where all those hard-to-pronounce ingredients come from and what effect they may have on wildlife when they get into the water system), the crazy concept of cutting down forests just so we can wipe our bums, and the amount of water that we use.

The good news is there are lots of really easy changes you can make to make your bathroom more eco-friendly. Here are seven simple swaps for a greener bathroom:

1. Soap

This is a really easy one: by replacing shower gel and liquid hand wash with good old-fashioned soap, you can instantly reduce unnecessary plastic being recycled or sent to landfill (the pumps which come with many hand wash bottles are not currently recyclable). There are lots of reasonably priced, plastic free soaps available. My favourite brands include Friendly Soap and Faith in Nature, which can be bought online or from many refill shops.

A good tip for making your soap last longer is to stick a bottle top in the bottom to keep it raised up above the soap dish to stop it going soggy. An alternative tip to prevent the soap sitting in a puddle of water (useful if other household members find it hard to remember to leave the soap bottle top down!) is to stretch the netting from fruit or onions over your dish and secure it with a rubber band, so the soap can rest on top.

2. Recycled Toilet Taper

Who Gives a Crap. Uranus Wiper. These are a couple of the quirkily named recycled toilet paper brands now available. The environmental credentials and prices do vary, so it is worth doing a bit of research. Personally, I prefer to buy either supermarket own brand recycled loo roll or Ecoleaf (available online and from independent shops). Although supermarket own brand recycled loo roll is usually wrapped in plastic this can at least be recycled with carrier bags. Plus, it is reasonably priced and most people regularly visit a supermarket or will have an online delivery so it is very convenient.

Some hardcore eco-worriers choose to ditch paper loo roll altogether in favour of “wee wipes”, which are basically pieces of cloth made from cut up old clothes, which can be washed in the machine and reused – but I understand this may be a step too far (unless there’s another national shortage of toilet paper of course)!

3. Take a Shower Instead of a Bath

This swap was suggested by my eco-friendly six-year-old and it’s a great one. There is a caveat though; take a short shower! The average mixer or electric shower can use 10 Litres of water per minute while a typical bath holds 80 Litres, so if you’re showering for less than eight minutes you’re saving water and energy. If you do enjoy a bath from time to time try to make the most of the water. We sometimes use the bathwater for multiple family members (like a Victorian family!), or in the summer, use the cold bath water to water plants.

On a related note, when you think about it, it’s crazy that in the UK we use precious drinking water to flush our toilets, when there are people in other countries living without access to clean water or in drought conditions. One simple way to reduce your water use is to remember the saying “if it’s yellow, let it mellow – if it’s brown flush it down” – which I think is pretty self-explanatory!

4. Shampoo Bars, Refills and the No Poo Method

Many people suggest replacing plastic shampoo bottles with shampoo bars, which are effectively soap for your hair. There are lots available now and something for every hair type. I have to confess that I didn’t get on with shampoo bars, possibly because we live in a very hard water area. I found it difficult to get my hair feeling clean and conditioned. So instead I use a brilliant shampoo (Alternative By Suma Coconut & Argan Oil Shampoo) from my local refill shop. It’s reasonably priced (spot a theme here?), smells lovely and leaves my hair is so soft I have no need for conditioner. Caroline’s husband is a recent convert to Alternative and has ditched Head & Shoulders, which as well as being in a single use plastic bottle, is full of chemical nasties and palm oil.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a refill shop near you, consider buying in bulk. Faith in Nature, for example, does shampoo, conditioner and other products in 5 L containers. Alternatively, Caroline swears by Odylique Gentle Herb Shampoo by Essential Care, which is certified organic, comes in a recycled plastic bottle, and leaves her hair nice and shiny without the need for conditioner.

You could even take it one step further and try the “no poo” method. This is simply washing your hair in water with no shampoo. Occasionally you may use a natural rinse such as apple cider vinegar or bicarbonate of soda. My husband has been “no poo” for well over a year now and it really suits his lovely, thick, curly hair. There is a transition period with no poo; your hair may be lank and greasy for several weeks, but I’m told once you’re through this, it is fine. I think the success of the no poo method really depends on your hair type and your commitment to live through the “transition”.

5. Safety Razors

Replace your single use plastic disposable razor with an old-fashioned safety razor. These are the reusable razors used by your parents and grandparents where only the metal blade is replaced. Safety razors require a bit of an initial investment (£20 plus) but should last a lifetime. Another confession here: I have a safety razor but I’m a bit scared to use it. It requires a bit more concentration than a cheap plastic disposable and I find it a little nerve wracking. So, when I found an unused plastic razor at the back of the drawer, I decided to use that until it no longer worked. Then I’ll go back to the safety razor (or just get hairy!). Although it’s not a perfect solution, you can lessen the impact of using plastic razors by sending them to Gillette to be recycled under the TerraCycle programme. You can get a Freepost envelope here

6. Toothbrushes

Bamboo toothbrushes are kind of the mascot of the zero waste movement. And let’s face it, they do look very aesthetically pleasing in a nicely lit Instagram shot. But not all bamboo toothbrushes are created equal – not many are entirely plastic free as they use nylon bristles and some bamboo products have been found to contain as much as 60% plastic. I’ve tried a bamboo toothbrush, I can’t remember which brand, and I wasn’t overly impressed. The chunky shape felt cumbersome in my mouth and as time went on the handle started to go mouldy. Towards the end of its life, my toothbrush started to disintegrate a little and I was worried I would get splinters! Don’t let this put you off though, just do your research first.

One alternative to bamboo toothbrushes are toothbrushes with replaceable heads. You keep the handle and just replace the head with new bristles. This is a good compromise, particularly as with bamboo toothbrushes the bristles are sometimes plastic anyway. Check out brands such as Yaweco and Lamazuna.

If you use an electric toothbrush, there are now companies such as Live Coco which offer recyclable brush heads compatible with OralB electric toothbrushes. Live Coco offers a system of closed-loop recycling; return used brush heads to the company free of charge for recycling.

Don’t forget that toothbrushes and other dental products (including toothpaste tubes and interdental brushes) can also be recycled through TerraCycle if you can find a collection point near you (check with your dentist in case they collect them).

7. Bath Toys

This swap suggestion comes from my eight-year-old son and it’s another good one. Instead of buying cheap plastic bath toys (which will invariably grow a weird kind of black gunge over time), use what you already have. Our current selection of bath toys includes a large yoghurt tub (see Adventures in Yoghurt), a kitchen funnel, and an empty shampoo bottle (waiting to be refilled). Any receptacles for filling and pouring, plus maybe some plastic mini figures, will do!

Like many eco-actions, once you’ve made one change in the bathroom, reducing waste should be on your radar and you’re likely to start getting ideas for other things you can do, and hopefully you will enjoy trying out new products whilst helping the environment!

2 Responses

  1. Hi Caroline and Jane.
    Some great ideas. Well done on getting the site set up.
    One thing that’s bugged me is the plastic floss. For the last few weeks I’ve saved the same piece of floss, washed it off after flossing, as I do for the toothbrush and reused it. It lasted well over a week.
    Hope this helps

  2. Hi Bernie, thanks for being our first commenter! It took me a while to find a plastic-free dental floss that doesn’t rip or get stuck between my teeth. I now use one by Georganics, which is plastic-free (made from corn) and fully-compostable in a normal compost bin. They sell it in The Healthy Life in Devizes. It comes in a reusable glass dispenser and the refills come in a compostable paper box. I rinse it off and use it a couple of times before it falls apart, but it only lasts me a day or so. My dentist always praises me for my flossing skills, so I take that as proof that it does as good a job as the plastic ones! Caroline

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