So Much Plastic
Once you start looking, there is plastic everywhere! Shampoo and conditioner bottles, medicine bottles, make up containers, packaging, toilet paper packaging, toothpaste, toothbrushes…
It can feel overwhelming to look at an extensive list of items that include plastic! My plastic free bathroom journey is still a work in progress. Things like pill or vitamin containers and even my hair comb are items that don’t look to be replaced in the short term. What matters most to me in this process is continuing to take steps forward. So here are some things I’ve been doing so far.
The Swap: Disposable Sanitary Pads for Reusable Cotton Pads
I tested out a variety of sizes in pads that we were gifted from Blushing Bluebird Essentials, which is a small, family-owned company located close to my hometown.
Why I made the swap: It’s a frightening reality that one disposable sanitary pad can take from 500 – 800 years to decompose. Five hundred years!! I don’t know why this hadn’t registered for me before, but like Maya Angelou says, when you know better, you do better. I started to think about how many sanitary pads I use in one month, multiplied over my lifetime, and that’s what did it for me.
I broke down the math in my post about a plastic free period, but it’s likely a woman will have about 456 periods in her life, which equals around 10,944 sanitary pads used and sitting in the landfill.
What are reusable sanitary pads like?
As I mentioned in this post about Bluebird reusable pads, my main concern with considering reusable pads was the gross factor. Not being able to throw a bloody item straight into the garbage was a barrier for me. But the statistics had me pushing through the grossness and the perceived inconvenience to give them a try.
Bluebird Pads were shockingly comfortable. I don’t know why I was so shocked now that I think about it. They’re made of cotton, so perhaps I should have expected them to feel like clothes, but I didn’t. I talk more about what it’s like to use them here.
Care for these reusable pads was really easy. After using one, I gave it a quick rinse. Before putting them into the wash, I gave them a light spray with a stain remover. Both of these steps aren’t even mandatory, but felt like what I should do. Moral of the story, these were incredibly easy to care for and it actually wasn’t gross at all because the pads were really absorbent.
How I’m changing moving forward: This hasn’t been an all or nothing swap for me. I’m still navigating through what it will be like to use a reusable pad while I’m at work, for example. I also don’t yet have enough of the reusable pads to carry me through a cycle. But I truly believe that we need more people doing the sustainable, zero-waste thing imperfectly as opposed to holding everyone to a standard of perfection.
That being said, I absolutely love the comfort of the reusable pads and will be transitioning over time to be fully using them. My plan is to buy a few at a time to build up my supply of reusables.
Other sustainable choices: If cotton, reusable pads are not for you, there are other sustainable options to make your period plastic free. If you need disposables, there are options such as Natra Care* which, according to their website, will biodegrade in a compost within one year.
Menstrual cups are another reusable option, but are not something I’ve tried. This post from Wirecutter has some great information in it on the topic of these though.
Shampoo and Conditioner
The Swap: Plastic Bottled Shampoo for a Shampoo Bar
Why I made the swap: I’ve never actually counted the number of shampoo bottles that I use in a year, but I have a lot of hair, so it’s a fair assumption it’s a lot of shampoo. If I conservatively guess a bottle lasts me 3 months, that’s 4 bottles in a year. In the next 20 years, I will have contributed 80 bottles to the bin–and that’s not even counting conditioner bottles!
What are shampoo bars like?
To say that I have a lot of hair is an understatement–it’s long, thick, and has a mind of its own most days. This is the reason I was really unsure about using a shampoo bar instead of my regular liquid shampoo.
My main concerns were:
- that it would be difficult to get enough product on my hair. I was unsure how much lather I could really get from a bar.
- that my hair wouldn’t get clean. I only wash my hair once every 5 to 7 days, so it needs a good soap to be able to clean it. I wash my hair infrequently because of the effort it takes, the amount of water it uses, and the health benefits for my hair. I was worried a shampoo bar would not be up to the task.
- that the bar wouldn’t last long and the cost would be too much for my budget.
Each one of my concerns were completely wiped out once I tried the shampoo bar! It was incredibly easy to use and I felt I was able to control the amount of product I needed much better with the bar than bottled shampoo.
My hair got squeaky clean! Even with my routine of washing my hair infrequently, the shampoo bar was extremely effective.
So far I’ve been using this one bar for 3 1/2 months and it is only about halfway used up. This has exceeded my expectations!
Krista and I both have been using Nature Derived‘s 3-in-1 Bar, which is soap, shave cream, and shampoo all in one. We discovered this brand when shopping at our local zero waste store Fulfill Shoppe. It’s the only shampoo bar I’ve tried and it’s the one I’m sticking with because it works! I also love supporting small businesses and local makers.
How I’m changing moving forward: I am completely sold on the shampoo bar! I have a couple of bottles of shampoo left in my cupboard that I will be using up, but after that I can’t see myself going back to that option. Not only is is more environmentally friendly and natural, it is more cost effective to use a shampoo bar than the bottled version.
I also find this to be a practical option. If you are travelling or want to send a care package to someone, a bar is so much easier than a bottle of liquid.
Other sustainable choices: If you want to stay with a liquid variety of shampoo, you could look into local refill shops.
What about conditioner?
I have not yet tried the conditioner bars, but Krista has been testing one out by Unwrapped Life and LOVES it! It’s the same concept as the shampoo bar, so plastic free and easy to use. I was skeptical that the conditioner bar would be as good at de-tangling my hair, but Krista says it works great!
Soap vs. Shower Gel
The Swap: Shower Gel in Plastic Bottles for Bar Soap
Why I made the swap: Soap eliminates the number of plastic bottles that I bring into the house. We’ve also mentioned why we prefer using soap in previous posts, like when we were talking about sustainable swaps and saving money.
How I’m changing moving forward: I’ve been using soap instead of shower gel for years, so this will continue to be a permanent swap for me. What I hope to do going forward is to focus more on soap with ethical ingredients and less packaging.
Other sustainable choices: A refillery is an option for shower gel if you are not wanting to swap to soap.
This is not so much a swap, but something to consider if you’re switching over to soap. One way to get the most out of your bar and be able to use it down to the last piece is to use a soap saver, like this one I bought from Pep Soap. Basically, it’s a little bag that your soap bar fits right in and you could add the small pieces of almost finished bars of soap to it.
The Swap: Plastic Toothbrushes for Bamboo Toothbrushes
Why I am planning to make the swap: Plastic toothbrushes take over 400 years to decompose. The length of time that plastic takes to decompose is something I have a hard tome wrapping my brain around. And the amount of plastic we use is always a shocking number too.
1 billion toothbrushes are thrown away every year in the US. That’s enough to stretch around the world 4 times.Foreo.com
Probably the most popular swap out there is from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo toothbrush because the time for bamboo to decompose is only about 6 months–a huge improvement on hundreds of years!
How I’m changing moving forward: I actually have a few plastic toothbrushes that I need to use up, so I haven’t made the swap to a bamboo toothbrush. One reason I have not looked at them before now is the price and how to fit it into my limited budget. I can buy a plastic toothbrush for $1 and when I’ve looked, a bamboo toothbrush costs $5.
Krista has found good deals on bamboo toothbrushes at Winners. She’s tried both Lindo and Humble Brush brands from there and liked them. Doing a search on Amazon* can bring up bulk packs of bamboo brushes that are less expensive as well, but we haven’t tried out these brands. It’s important to read a bit into the brand you buy to ensure it is ethically sourced and biodegradable.
The Swap: Store Bought Deodorant for Homemade Deodorant
Why I made the swap: Krista pointed out in her post about Homemade Deodorant that there are possibly a number of unhealthy ingredients to our mainstream, store bought deodorants. Not only this, but they are each packaged in a single use plastic dispenser.
The cosmetic industry alone produces more than 120 billion units of packaging globally every year. Reusing the deodorant packaging I already have helps to reduce those numbers.
How I’m changing moving forward: I’m going to be using up the remainder of my deodorant that I have at home and, instead of recycling the containers, I’m going to clean and reuse them. Krista and I have talked about joining together to make bigger batches of her deodorant recipe to make it even more cost effective than it already is at $2.72 per container.
Other sustainable choices: There are refillable deodorants and also natural deodorants like the ones our friends at Fulfill Shoppe carry.
The Swap: Plastic Cotton Swabs (aka Q-tips) for Paper Cotton Swabs
Why I made the swap: Not only does the plastic take forever to decompose, but the little plastic sticks from these products are known to be found in waterways and oceans because people flush them down the toilet instead of tossing them in the garbage.
How I’m changing moving forward: I’ve been purchasing the non-plastic version of this product for years and will continue to do so. I am not yet at the stage where I want to buy a reusable one, but may get there some day.
Other sustainable choices: Reusable cotton swabs are an option. (Here are a few on Amazon* if you want to see what they are like).
What ways have you been reducing your plastic use in the bathroom?