In this first instalment of our new series on how to reduce household waste, Zara Castagna takes a look at one of the easiest places to start - the bathroom.
Reducing ways can be a daunting and stressful task, once you start thinking about it, rubbish just seems to be everywhere and nearly impossible to avoid. But don't worry — it can be done, you just need a little patience and have to be aware of what you buy or refuse to buy.
A good place to start your journey towards a life with less waste is the bathroom, where there are quite a few zero waste options that are not very hard to implement. In this first article I am going to focus on dental care, shower gel, and shampoo as these are the easiest swaps that can be made.
Chances are that your toothbrush, whether it is electric or manual, is made of plastic. If you replace your toothbrush approximately every three months, this accumulates a lot of plastic waste that could be avoided. Billions of toothbrushes are thrown away every year, often they are not recycled and end up hurting the environment. Moreover, most toothbrushes are made from polypropylene plastic which is sourced from non-renewable fossil fuels.
I used to love my electric toothbrush but when it started to no longer work properly I decided to buy a bamboo toothbrush, instead of replacing my electric toothbrush with more plastic. Unless you have, like me, used an electric toothbrush before, you won’t even notice the change — you will have the same toothbrushing experience, minus the waste.
The handle of the bamboo toothbrush is entirely biodegradable, the bristles are still made out of nylon which is not biodegradable but can be recycled. Before throwing your toothbrush away, you should snap off the head so you can recycle each part accordingly. My toothbrush even has a special line which indicates where the head can be snapped off. Moreover, these toothbrushes come in eco-friendly packaging, completely without plastic.
There are several options to replace your ordinary toothpaste, I have opted for a solid toothpaste which comes in a small metal pot. The term paste is no longer correct, as it solid and more like a block. In order to use it you just wet your toothbrush and swipe it over the surface of the block, then brush your teeth normally. The blocks can be bought individually, so you can reuse your metal pot. Another benefit of this alternative is that it last longer than ordinary toothpaste.
Another option are toothpaste tablets , if you want to brush your teeth you just chew on one tablet, this will create a kind of foam. However, this will not be as foamy as you are probably used to from ordinary toothpastes. This might seem a bit strange at first but it will clean your teeth just as well and you will get used to it after a couple days.
If you would rather stick to something more familiar you can opt for an actual paste which comes in a glass jar. To use these pastes you just put a pea size amount of paste on your toothbrush and then brush your teeth normally. Most pastes come with a small spatula that should be used for this, as the unused paste in the glass jar should stay dry.
Ordinary floss and mouthwash can also be substituted by zero waste alternatives, for those of you who take their dental care very seriously (as everyone should really). You can swap your plastic-packed dental floss for a waste free alternative made out of silk and coated with wax, which comes in a small glass jar. Moreover, floss can be bought as a refill so you can just keep using the same jar over and over. This dental floss can just be used like the floss you were using before.
The easiest option to replace your mouthwash is to buy mouthwash tablets, again these come in a small glass jar which can be reused. To use the mouthwash you have to dissolve one tablet in a glass of water and then you can proceed as usual.
A quick note from Zara's co-conspirator in this series: you can also buy concentrated mouthwash in glass bottles, and add 1-3 drops to a bit of water to get the strength of mouthwash you prefer.
Not only are these options all plastic free but I also personally think that the bathroom cabinet looks nicer with an array of small glass jars than filled with various shiny plastic bottles.
Head to toe
Moving from the mouth to the entire body I am going to introduce alternatives for your shampoo and shower gel.
When I decided to reduce my waste, ordinary shower gel and shampoo were one of the first things to go. After refusing to buy a new plastic bottle filled with liquid soap, I opted for solid soap bars. These bars are made from natural ingredients and come in plastic free packaging. In contrast to the dental care the change was a bit more noticeable here and I had to adapt my shower routine slightly.
The greatest change was hair care, I bought a solid shampoo and conditioner which you use differently from your normal gel. To wash your hair you can either create some foam in your hand or directly rub the soap bar over your hair, I found the latter especially effective for applying the conditioner. In contrast to the shampoo I used before, the bars did not create as much foam and in the beginning I felt as if I wasn’t even washing my hair properly. Moreover, my hair felt different after I used the bar, for about a week my hair felt slightly greasy as if I hadn’t rinsed it well enough.
This is a common side effect when switching to shampoo bars, as your hair has to get used to the new shampoo which no longer contains all the chemical ingredients that made it feel nice and soft. However, once your hair has adapted itself and has in a way returned to its natural state the negative effects will disappear completely. I even found that my hair has more volume now and does not get greasy as fast as it used to, meaning that I have to wash it less often.
To wash my body I also use a solid soap bar, here the change was not as noticeable I just had to get used to grabbing the bar instead of the bottle. However, these soap bars cannot be left lying around the shower as they are not as easy to use when they are not properly dry, they would also dissolve eventually. It might be worth investing in a ceramic or wooden soap dish on which your soap bars can dry before you next use them.
Using soap bars might feel like going a step backwards, but in the end it is a good way to reduce waste. In addition, you can easily take them on a plane, as they are not liquid you do not have to worry about the 100ml limit or the plastic bag you would have to put them in. The same counts for all the other solid dental care products.
If you really love your liquid soap and the idea of a bar sound horrendous, you can buy metal soap dispensers which can be refilled. More and more shops offer liquid soap refills, where you could refill your empty metal bottles. That way you would not have to change your habits too much and could still reduce waste.