Despite usually being the smallest room in the house, the bathroom seems to create a disproportionate amount of rubbish, potentially only second to the kitchen. There are so many products we use in the bathroom and many of these are packaged in plastic to the point where a plastic heavy bathroom feels unavoidable. However there are many swaps that can easily reduce the amount of waste and move towards a zero waste bathroom. I’ve listed all the ones I can think of below but would be interested in hearing if you have any more to add.
Lots of the things linked are things to buy, but before you go out and buy anything, I want you to use up what you already have otherwise you are creating more waste. Then, still before you buy anything, ask your self whether you really need that item. If you don't take baths then you probably don't need bath bombs! If it is something you need, is there something you already own that will do the trick, or something you can repurpose? Can you make something yourself to save money as well as waste? Just because I have linked some purchases on here doesn't mean you need to go out and buy them all immediately. To do so would probably create more waste, which were all trying to avoid. Creating a zero waste bathroom takes time, so just go slow and replace things as they run out.
How to have a zero waste bathroom
The simplest swap to make for a zero waste bathroom is to swap your liquid hand soap in a plastic bottle to a bar of soap that you can buy unpackaged or in paper. This not only saves you waste packaging but usually saves you money. Interestingly, it may also save emissions connected to transportation, as with solid soap you are not transporting the extra water that is in liquid soap so the product is lighter meaning less carbon emissions being produced. If you or your family do not feel they can swap to a solid soap, look to see if you have anywhere to refill your hand soap bottle locally. If that’s not an option and a soap bar is really out of the question, consider buying a bulk container (e.g. 5L) of handsoap and refilling your pump from there.
For shower soap, the same principles apply. Now there are many soaps that are kind on skin and not drying which can be used instead of shower gel, or Lush offers a solid shower gel bar if you’re not ready to swap to soap.
There are also now plenty of soaps designed to be more gentle so they can be used specifically on your face without drying out your skin.
Unfortunately many exfoliators in the past had plastic microbeads in them which after use would end up washed down the drain into water ways. The UK banned Microbeads in 2018 (1), but they may still be present in exfoliators in different countries. There are many things you can use instead of an exfoliating product, such as using a sponge or flannel to gently exfoliate your skin in the shower, or using a skin scrub like ones from Lush or Ethique. There are even solid soaps with natural exfoliators like oats added in. If you're interested in a DIY version, you can also create an exfoliator from sugar or coffee grounds.
Similarly, plastic loofahs can be replaced with actual natural loofahs or flannels.
Did you know it’s possible to get solid shampoo bars? Similar to the benefits of soap bars you can often find them without packaging and they are lighter to transport. Some of these may take some getting used to, or trying different types, similar to what you might do with any other shampoo but it is a great way to avoid waste. It’s also a lot lighter and smaller to carry with you when’s you travel.
Similar to shampoo bar soap you can also get conditioner bars. They are in general not as easy to use as the shampoo bars but the premise is the same. If these solid shampoo and conditioner bars do not work for you it is possible to get refills of shampoo and conditioner either from your local refill shop or by buying a large container yourself as with hand soap.
Who doesn't love the occasional bath, and its made more relaxing with bubble bath, but this is something I have never seen sold in bulk. However bath bomb and bubble bars are a great packaging free alternative to bring a little more luxury to your bath time. Baths use a lot of water so keep them as an occasional luxury.
Plastic razors generate a lot of waste, especially disposable razors designedly only to use used once or twice. The plastic razor is a relatively new design as previously stainless steel safety razors were used instead. Safety razors are not any less effective and once you know how to use them are no less safe than a plastic razor. One metal safety razor should last a lifetime with good care in your zero waste bathroom, and then all you need to do is buy some new razor blades to put in it occasionally. When you have collected a few razor blades then these can be recycled safely at a local metal recycling plant - but be sure to ask how they want them covered for safety. I have dedicated a whole article to shaving with safety razors as I know they can be a little intimidating when starting out!
Instead of shaving foam I just use a soap with a good lather and have not had any issues!
Plastic toothbrushes can be simply swapped to bamboo toothbrushes. These usually have a bamboo handle and synthetic (nylon) bristles which will need to be removed before composting so the handle can decompose. You do not even need a compost bin to decompose the handle, it can be popped into a plant pot and poked into the ground at a local park and it will break down quickly. Obviously it’s not fully waste free but it is significantly less plastic than a traditional brush so it is still worth trying, especially as these often come in cardboard packaging instead of plastic. More and more places are now selling bamboo toothbrushes which is brilliant, but you need to make sure that these are produced from sustainable bamboo and aren’t actually wrapped in plastic inside. In general buying from a store or direct from a producers website is better than buying from amazon where you can’t control the packaging. These options are more expensive than regular toothbrushes so may be out of reach to some. Some options to try are Humble Brush, Brush with Bamboo, or any that you find in stores.
For people who use electric toothbrushes I don’t yet have an answer for you but it is better to keep using that brush until it breaks or it would be more wasteful. I am optimistic that new plastic free brush heads may come out soon!
Although it is mainly the physical act of brushing that removes plaque from teeth, most people find it easier with a toothpaste. Toothpaste is tricky to find without packaging, and the packaging it usually comes in is a mixed material packaging so cannot usually even be recycled. There is an increasing rate of toothpastes becoming available in glass jars but so far all of these I have seen do not contain fluoride. Fluoride is a chemical that is naturally found in many places and is added to toothpaste as it has been shown to prevent dental caries (cavities) in comparison to toothpastes without fluoride (2). There are some risks linked to fluoride but these are all associated with ingesting it, so if you are able to spit out your toothpaste without swallowing it then the risk from fluoride to you is very small and you are more likely to have problem by not using it, than from using it.
The best packaging free toothpaste that contains fluoride I have found are tooth tabs. These are toothpaste but without the water making them easy to transport and sell without packaging. I can buy them from my local unpackaged store, but they are also available online too.
Dental floss is made of plastic that is far too small to recycle and comes in a plastic container. But flossing is important so it is not something to cut out of your routine just because it contains plastic. Consider swapping to a silk floss, or if you're vegan there are plastic flosses which come in glass containers with refills which at least eliminate the packaging waste. Again these kinds of flosses can be found on Acala.
You can also get interdental brushes with handles made of bamboo by Humble Brush in high street stores like Holland and Barretts and Boots to replace the small plastic brushes.
Although not necessary for dental hygiene, some people love using mouth wash but as it is a liquid it is hard to find without packaging. Consider using mouthwash tablets from Georganics which you add to water to create mouthwash.
We are getting more tricky here and moisturiser is one that will vary depending on your skin type. Some people get on well with a simple oil like olive oil or coconut oil that you can buy in glass in food stores. Other people use other more cosmetic oils such as argan oil or jojoba oil which can also be bought in glass from beauty shops or online. Some moisturisers are available as solid bars from places like Lush, Ethique, or Zero Waste Path Shop. Other people with more sensitive or problematic skin may just need to look for a regular moisturiser in more sustainable packaging like a tin or a glass jar.
This again is a huge area and I couldn't possibly cover everything in this article - or even one article alone. The options will vary massively between countries. The makeup packaging industry has been slow in adapting to requests for more sustainable packaging but it is happening gradually. Brands like Zao and Elate are makeup companies who are using bamboo to reduce the amount of plastic they use and are offering refills to many of their products. These are not UK brands but can often be bought on plastic free online shops such as Acala and many others.
Lush has recently started selling naked makeup and naked makeup refills which reduce the amount of plastic needed in packaging.
For now whilst options are limited, even just cutting back on the amount of makeup you buy so you have a "capsule" collection can result less waste going to landfill.
If you're currently using wet wipes or cotton pads, there is more information about them below but this section is specifically focusing on the makeup remover itself. Makeup is often oil based so doesn't come off easily with water alone. When trying to remove makeup you can either use the facial soaps that we discussed above or you can use a specific product, such as a makeup removing oil. As it is oil based, oils easily dissolve the makeup making it easy to was or wipe off. You can use simple oils like coconut or olive oil which you may already buy for the kitchen. If these products don't agree with your skin or eyes there are makeup removers still in packaging but without plastic - like one from the Body shop that comes in a tin.
This is one of the few products I actually make myself because it is so easy and saves a ridiculous amount of money compared to buying it in packaging. When I started to go zero waste, traditional dry shampoo was something I never thought I would be able to give up (it's great for fixing surgical cap hair) but this dry shampoo recipe is good enough that I have swapped completely and haven't looked back! The recipe can be found here and can be customised to suit any hair colour.
Antiperspirants are tricky as I have not found an anti-perspirant without plastic. You can buy one in a glass bottle but it still has a plastic ball and lid. Otherwise you can buy a deodorant, which will not stop you sweating but will reduce any smells. Deodorants come in many forms from solid bars from Lush or Ethique, to deodorant sticks and creams from Earth Conscious and sprays from Neal's Yard. Some people find that they don't need an antiperspirant as their life and job isn't particularly strenuous, resulting in them sweating and find that a deodorant alone actually works wonders for them. This and toothpaste is definitely one of the harder things to replace in a zero waste bathroom.
This article isn't specifically about avoiding plastic, although many bathroom products use plastic heavily as the items are liquid. But if we are trying to have a zero waste bathroom then we can dive deeper. Toilet paper often comes wrapped in plastic, but more than that, toilet paper comes from trees. We are literally cutting down trees to use for about 1 second to wipe ourselves before throwing it away. It's not actually very sustainable at all when you think about it, especially when you consider how valuable trees are to take CO2 out of the atmosphere to reduce the impact of global warming. So what do we do? Firstly we can make our toilet paper from renewable sources so we are not cutting down fresh trees. Companies like Who Gives A Crap and Green Cane Paper make toilet paper that is plastic free and is made from recycled paper stock so you're not cutting down new trees.
You can also consider going further and using either a reusable toilet paper substitute made from fabric, often referred to as family cloth, or a bidet which is basically a shower attachment for your toilet to wash off down below to minimise the need for paper.
If you are currently using wetwipes as toilet paper I strongly recommend you stop. These, despite how they are sometimes sold, are not biodegradable and are made mainly of plastic meaning they won't ever biodegrade. If you flush these then they can also block sewers and lead to sewage ending up in rivers - there are millions of wet wipes washing up on the shore of the river Thames after being flushed (3). Please don't flush them!
If you want to use a wet cloth consider this alternative from cheeky wipes. These would also work if you are using wet wipes to remove makeup, but you may also need a makeup remover as we discussed above.
Although cotton pads are not made from plastic, if they end up in landfill they will not breakdown as there is not enough oxygen for them to decompose. Even if they did, cotton requires a lot of water and energy to grow so using it as a single use product is very wasteful (and hard on your purse). Consider investing in some reusable makeup remover wipes like these ones from Honour Your Flow, or consider making your own.
Now this actually is a whole article, which you can read here, but there are many reusable options to prevent the monthly waste of many single use items going in the bin. Reusable products like silicone menstrual cups, reusable period pants, and reusable pads are becoming more accessible and widely accepted. The Lancet recently published a study (4) reporting that menstural cups are as safe and effective as tampons which shows how mainstream these items are becoming. There are also lower waste option like reusable tampon applicators which you use traditional tampons with. They save an incredible amount of waste being sent to landfill and over time can also save you a lot of money too.
Finally as we are talking about a zero waste bathroom, we all need to be conscious of how much water we are wasting, no matter where we live. Here are twenty tips to save water.
So there you have it, all the zero waste personal care replacements I use or have tried. You may not need all of these, so tailor them to your circumstances. There are so many more options and more becoming available every day so if you haven't found ones that suit you then don't give up - keep hunting! Creating a zero waste bathroom is not an easy process but with a bit of determination, you will get there.