A Guide to Eco-Friendly Bathroom Products and Practices

The zero-waste movement is gaining traction as
people become aware of their impact on the environment—particularly when it
comes to single-use plastics and other disposables. Many people don’t realize
just how much waste their morning routine or personal hygiene practices may
create!

In an ideal world, it’s best to seek out items
that are not only reusable, but also recyclable or biodegradable. When these eco-friendly
items do reach the end of their
lifespan or purpose, they won’t end up in our oceans or in landfills for
thousands of years.

Metals (especially aluminum and steel), glass, bamboo, and even cotton and wood are better alternatives to plastic (though cotton and wood aren’t necessarily sustainable resources—that’s a whole other discussion!). Look for items that are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency or another reputable source as being biodegradable or compostable. Do your due diligence when buying from companies to make sure their values line up with your own in terms of green living.

We’re by no means suggesting that you throw away what you have, but you should aim to make more mindful choices when it comes to buying new bathroom items. Below, as a source of inspiration, we’ve outlined a bunch of greener choices for you to consider in regard to 13 different bathroom products and practices.

Toilet Paper

Toilet paper traditionally comes wrapped in plastic, so right off the top, you’re already contending with waste. However, companies such as Who Gives A Crap and Seventh Generation now offer paper-wrapped alternatives. While paper isn’t really a sustainable material, it’s biodegradable and a much better alternative to plastic.

Something else to remember, when it comes to toilet paper, is to ensure that it’s truly biodegradable. Toilet paper (in addition to other things we flush down our toilets) often contributes to “fatbergs” in our sewage systems, so choosing biodegradable toilet paper that will break down more easily can help ease the strain we place on those systems. Toilet paper that’s biodegradable and made from recycled materials is just an added eco-friendly bonus!

Better yet, to be even “greener,” why not try a bidet attachment for your toilet? They’re relatively inexpensive and can basically eliminate the need for toilet paper. Many users also swear that they leave you feeling much fresher than toilet paper does.

Tissues

Recycled and biodegradable materials can be used to make facial tissues, but an even better choice would be handkerchiefs! This might make you think of your dear granny, but handkerchiefs can actually be quite handy for people of all ages.

Instead of carrying a small (plastic!) travel pack of tissues, or a wad of tissues in your pocket or purse, you can carry a convenient and aesthetically appealing hanky. And it’s easy enough to add them to the wash!

Of course, a hanky might be less convenient if you’re sick with a cold and need an abundance of tissues to help clear up your sinuses (a neti pot can be helpful in this situation, too!).

Cotton Buds and Pads

Most cotton buds are made with a plastic stick,
or something else coated in wax or plastic that’s difficult to break down.
Plus, just think of how many cotton buds and pads end up in the garbage!

Cotton buds can actually be replaced with
bamboo or silicone alternatives that are easy to clean and reuse. If earwax is
a big problem for you, consider having your ears flushed by a medical
practitioner or use metal (and sterile) earwax removal tools.

Cotton pads are often used for removing makeup and nail polish, but they commonly end up in the trash as well. Fortunately, there are many varieties of reusable “cotton pads” available (these are made from materials like fabric and crocheted yarn), as well as reusable sponge discs that’ll do the same job. Many of these can be made at home or purchased online, and in the long run, they’re more cost-effective than all the packs of cotton pads you’d otherwise end up throwing away during your lifetime.

Dental Care

Bamboo toothbrushes. Photo from Superkitina via Unsplash.

Toothbrushes are a huge source of plastic
waste, as most people go through a toothbrush every few months! Bamboo
toothbrushes have surfaced as an excellent alternative to the plastic
toothbrush.

Using toothpaste in plastic tubing is also wasteful. Instead, look for toothpaste in a glass jar, or “crush and brush” toothpaste tablets! Some folks even choose to formulate a homemade toothpaste with baking soda, although if you have veneers or any health complications, it’s important to ask your dentist if this is OK for your teeth.

Finally, dental floss is made of nylon, which can’t be easily broken down and is another source of waste that we can eliminate by making a simple change. No, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t floss! In fact, there’s an alternative type of dental floss made with silk, which is biodegradable. Another flossing alternative is making use of a water flosser or water pick that’ll help you clean the spaces between your teeth by shooting high-powered streams of water between them.

Shaving

Traditional razor blades are, as many of us know, made of plastic. While the handles can be reused and the heads replaced, even the heads often contain plastic and usually end up in the garbage.

On the other hand, safety razors are made completely of metal, and the single blade of each can easily be replaced for a close shave. The metal blades are also highly recyclable! This type of razor swap can take some getting used to, but people tend to swear by the close shave of a safety razor once they’ve made the switch.

Shaving cream in a metal aerosol can isn’t entirely horrible, as the empty canister can often be recycled normally, though yours may need to be recycled via a Household Hazardous Waste program, depending on your municipality. Nonetheless, there are zero-waste alternatives such as shaving bars, conditioner bars and shaving powder that you can mix into a foam (old-school cool!).

Bathing

Ditch the plastic loofah! Not only are they
wasteful, but in my experience, they fall apart so quickly. Opt instead for a natural sponge, a bamboo brush with
natural bristles or even a reusable washcloth.

Using a bar of soap is far less wasteful than using
liquid soap in a plastic bottle (just be sure your bars of soap don’t come
wrapped in plastic!). There’s one exception to this: Bulk stores will often let
you bring your own reusable container and fill it with liquid soaps.

Be on the lookout for palm oil in all kinds of soaps and moisturizers. Unless it’s specified as being sustainably sourced, palm oil is typically harvested in unsustainable and unethical ways that involve forest clearing and the destroying of habitats. Despite this, it’s found in many products from popular brands.

Hair Care

Just as bar soap is a better alternative to liquid soap in a bottle, shampoo and conditioner are much the same in that way. These products can be purchased in bar form, or from a bulk store at which you can use your refillable container.

Ideally, soap in any form should be biodegradable—when we rinse it down the drain, it doesn’t disappear forever! To be kind to the Earth, make sure the soap you’re using won’t contaminate our water sources or harm the environment.

Some people actually stray from traditional shampoo and conditioner altogether, and rely on natural concoctions that contain ingredients such as apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, essential oila and more.

Hairbrushes from big box stores are often made of—yet again—more plastic! There are bamboo and wood alternatives with natural bristles that are not only better for the environment, but are often better for your hair and scalp.

Deodorant

Deodorant and antiperspirant sticks often come
in those plastic push-ups that, like other plastic products, eventually end up
in the garbage and then in a landfill for years on end. Aerosols in metal cans
are a step up from these, because metal can be recycled.

Common zero-waste deodorant options come in glass jars and are used like a balm—you’ll need to swipe your fingers through the deodorant and then wipe it under your arm. There are also eco-friendly personal hygiene companies, such as Meow Meow Tweet and Stick Up, that are offering push-up sticks in biodegradable cardboard containers. So, if a stick is your preference, there are ways around that!

Deodorants and antiperspirants can also contain harmful chemicals, and by choosing a green product, you’ll likely be able to avoid those toxic chemicals that are commonly found in personal hygiene products and cosmetics.

Lotion

Coconut oil in glass jar via Pixabay

Natural moisturizers like coconut oil and Shea butter are often available in glass jars, instead of plastic bottles or tubs. Some brands also carry lotions in aluminum tins or tubes, which are excellent alternatives to plastic containers, since aluminum is a highly recyclable metal. There are even thermodynamic lotion bars (sort of like shampoo and soap bars) that melt when they come in contact with the heat from your skin. These will provide just enough lotion for you to lather up!

Menstrual Products

While menstrual products are essential items, a
ton of tampons and pads end up in sewage systems and landfills, where they’re unable
to break down for many years. Plus, there are health risks associated with some
of these products—mainly toxic shock syndrome (TSS)—that can be entirely
avoided with the use of alternative products!

A popular option is the menstrual cup, such as the Blossom Cup or Diva Cup. While these often involve a bit of a learning curve, they’re an excellent alternative to tampons. They’re usually made of silicone, which is easy to sanitize and doesn’t promote bacterial growth. You can wear one of these for 12 hours at a time (and some folks have gotten away with more!) without any concerns for your health and safety (looking at you, TSS!).

To “change” one of these, you simply empty the
contents into the toilet, rinse and wash the cup, and re-insert. Again, this
only has to be done once every 12 hours or so, so you can safely get through a
whole day at school or work without having to worry about doing it on the fly. No
more awkward walks to the bathroom as you try to hide a menstrual product under
your hands or clothing!

Another popular option is the reusable fabric
pad or liner; these look much like the disposable pads people often use, but
you toss these in the wash between uses instead of tossing them into the trash.

On a related note, there are now several options on the market for what’s called “period underwear.” These panties are made of highly absorbent materials that collect liquids and are also tossed into the wash between uses. Popular brands include Knix and Thinx, among others!

Water Waste

While these aren’t necessarily bathroom products in the sense of direct personal hygiene, low-flow shower heads, toilets and sink aerators can also help the planet by decreasing water waste. Since we have such finite freshwater resources on our planet, it’s important that we do our best to conserve them. Plus, the added savings on your utility bills certainly won’t hurt!

Textiles

If you have the option of buying new textiles for your bathroom, look for bamboo or hemp. Both bamboo and hemp are able to be woven into excellent towels, shower curtains and mats. These materials are sustainable to grow and weave, and they can also be biodegradable, unlike nylons or plastics.

Cleaning Your Bathroom

View of toilet, sink and shower. Photo from Steven Ungermann via Unsplash.

As alluded to above, the things we rinse down the drain or flush down the toilet don’t just disappear. Many cleaning solutions for the bathroom or toilet contain harmful chemicals—just think of the fumes you experience when using many of them! It’s best to try to purchase green cleaning alternatives that are biodegradable, meaning that they’ll break down over time and “return to the Earth” without leaving anything behind.

If you still produce trash in your bathroom, make sure you use biodegradable or compostable trash bags, so just a little less plastic ends up making the trip to a landfill.

A Journey Beginning With a Single Step (Or Two!)

It would be difficult to make all these changes in one fell swoop. But making an effort to change one or two things at a time, with the goal of eventually phasing all of these practices into your routine, will lead to sustainable change.

To read more about green practices in the bathroom, visit DIY Composting Toilets: 3 Tips For Success»

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