5 Easy Plastic-Free Bathroom Swaps!
Okay – Raise your hand if you can relate to being overwhelmed at a convenience store lined with rows upon rows of plastic bottles for your personal care, with bright labels claiming it’s going to make you clean, shiny, and pampered. You finally pick a few of these bottles, because let’s face it the marketing techniques make it hard to walk away from, just to take them home to a bathroom drawer or shelf that is already cram-packed with plastic bottles of products that claim the same thing. Our personal care routines have become plastic heavy – it’s harmful to the environment, AND ourselves.
Many bathroom and self-care products nowadays are unfortunately laced with unnecessary harmful chemicals that can affect our endocrine system and our overall immune health, and they’re wrapped up in an unsustainable plastic bow. They are designed to be one and done – use it and dispose of it without a second thought. Major brands are lacking in clearly labeling what can be recycled, which leads to confusion on the consumer end, and unfortunately plastic has a low rate of actually being recycled so here’s where we turn to more eco-friendly, plastic-less options.
Well, why should you buy eco-friendly? The typical purpose is to have something reusable, less-resource intensive, less-toxic, and safer for the environment, wildlife, and all of your neighbors on Hometown: Earth. I am positive that when you switch to more eco-friendly options you’ll find yourself with minimal shelves of products you know will make you feel clean, healthy, beautiful, and happy with a stamp of approval from mother earth!
I will start with the disclaimer that the best way to be sustainable is to use what you have before you go out and buy an eco-friendly product. It took me a long time to make some of these swaps because I had bottles of the same product that took months to go through. I just only replaced what I needed with an eco-friendly option when I actually needed to. And I’m glad it took me some time to go through what I already had because it gave me time to research what options of replacements I had and what would work best for me, instead of waiting until the product ran out and impulsively purchasing something cheap and more readily available since I needed it and I wasn’t prepared to make a better decision.
You’ve heard me and other guests on this podcast talk about how it’s best to make one switch at a time so you don’t get in over your heard, and your wallet. And I don’t want you to get overwhelmed with the options for a more sustainable bathroom, like a sustainable convenience store aisle in your head, so we are gonna keep to a simple 5 easy switches you can make to achieve an eco-friendly bathroom.
Let’s start with something we all use – toilet paper! I actually made the switch to bamboo toilet paper early on in my journey, because we go through so much of it and it was easy to buy an eco-friendly replacement online, but I didn’t really look into the production processes or why bamboo or recycled pulp was better for the environment until recently. The long and short of it is that most toilet paper is made from virgin pulp. They take the tree, strip it, chip it, and use a process called digestion which essentially uses mass amounts of water and chemicals to make a slurry (which to my personal horror looks like a huge spit wad), then they bleach it, heat it, and press it into the nice little roll that we are familiar with that just instantly gets flushed down the toilet – making it a single-use paper product.
Buying recycled toilet paper essentially is diverting paper away from landfills, reducing the demand for living trees to be forested, and using half of the water to produce much less harmful chemicals than regular paper production. If you’re buying recycled, look for one that doesn’t use inks, dyes, or fragrances – like the brand Who Gives a Crap, and they also give back 50% of their profits to help build toilets because no-so-fun-fact – 2.4 billion people don’t have access to a toilet, and because of that the waste typically ends back up in water sources contaminating food and people. So needless to say it’s a good cause.
You could also buy bamboo toilet paper, which is my preferred choice, because it is typically softer than other alternatives, and bamboo is the fastest growing plant on the planet so it’s a renewable resource – just make sure it is sustainably sourced. Reel is the company I use and they give a toilet for every roll purchased, as well as partnering with SOIL, an organization that works to turn waste into compostable material in Haiti.
Another option is a bidet, which eliminates the need for toilet paper and uses 1/8th of a gallon of water per use, versus the 37 gallons it takes to make one regular roll of toilet paper.
The second switch that is easy to make is from a disposable razor to a safety razor. I am SHOCKED at how much more I love a safety razor for the sake of my skin, because with fewer razors going over your skin there is less irritation and bumps, and I know it’s great for my wallet because I don’t have to keep buying overpriced razors – only one stainless steel razor that you change the blades on.
I will say this product has a higher price tag upfront, but when you look at the cost over the life of the product it will save you so much money! The blades come in packs so I’m stocked up for at least the next few years without having to buy anything and it takes up hardly any space on my counter or in my drawers, and the best part is that the blades are recyclable. The EPA estimates that 2 billion razors are trashed each year! You can fix this by using a safety razor and recycling your blades in metal recycling bins that are available in most cities, or you can send them in through Terracycle – a company partnering with Gillette, to send in all of your used blades and razors so that they can be properly recycled. Terracycle has a lot of programs for recycling typically non-recyclable items so it’s definitely something to look into. But, I will say it takes just a little bit of practice to use a safety razor, as you have to hold it differently than a regular razor, and you can’t take safety razors on a flight when you’re traveling so that’s something to keep in mind.
Shampoo and Conditioner bars
Speaking of traveling, a benefit to switching to shampoo and conditioner bars is the ease of traveling versus their liquid counterparts. You don’t have to worry about TSA limits, and you get more product in a smaller-plastic free package. Most shampoos and conditioners are 80% percent water, while the bar versions are super concentrated and can last much longer than a bottle – saving you money! Since the products have water, a lot of them require preservatives, like Triclosan and parabens, to make them shelf-stable, preventing separating and bacteria growth, but can be harmful to our bodies – most notably our endocrine system. And as the icing on the cake, the FDA doesn’t approve cosmetics, including shampoos, so the fragrances that you smell are typically are a lengthy concoction of different non-FDA approved chemicals. When I realized this I decided that I’m no longer interested in spending my hard-earned money on a product that’s all water and chemicals in a pricy plastic container that isn’t helping my hair or my body.
If you’ve ever seen “sulfate-free” on a shampoo bottle and didn’t know what a sulfate is – it is essentially a strong detergent that is used to strip away dirt, so if you’re shampoo lathers REALLY WELL it most likely has sulfates in it. This strips our hair and scalp of its natural oils and is usually the reason that a conditioner has to be paired with a shampoo – to coat and hydrate our hair again. Sulfates can be petroleum, which means you could be using a non-renewable resource, or palm oil-based, which is linked to deforestation. Many of the shampoo bars you’ll find have essential oils, natural ingredients, and are cruelty-free. Which is good for your hair and the environment.
I will say the transition for this is hard for a lot of people. Since we are used to products that strip our hair, the natural oils usually overproduce when you stop using them – which makes a lot of people stop before they get to the good stuff. Since I had cut down to only washing my hair once or twice a week a few years ago, I had already gone through some of this transition, so the switch to a bar was only noticeable for the first few washes, AND since then I haven’t needed as much conditioner. I’d say if you’re making the switch, have arrowroot on hand as a natural way to help with the oiliness – and if you’ve got darker hair just add a little cocoa powder to it to match your color – and yes I just gave you the secret recipe for your own natural dry shampoo so use it wisely!
toothpaste to tooth bits
Now here’s the icky part, the same sulfates and chemicals that are usually found in shampoos can also be found in your toothpaste! I lived with my sister during the last year of her dental hygiene school, so I picked up on a few things, like the fact that our oral health is linked to our overall health more than we realize. Poor oral health can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and more, so really anything you’re putting in your mouth, especially something as often as toothpaste, should be good for you because it has a widespread effect on your health.
That chemical I mentioned earlier, Triclosan, was actually banned from antibacterial soaps because the FDA said that they couldn’t prove it was safe – as it has been suggested to be linked with hormonal, allergy, and gut health issues, so if you wouldn’t put it on your hands you probably shouldn’t be putting it in your mouth, right?
The same thing goes for sulfates. They are harsh chemicals that are known to cause irritation, inflammation, dry mouth, and canker sores and yep, they’re extremely common in toothpaste so you get the foaming sensation that we are accustomed to, but is that really worth it? In my personal opinion – NO.
Over a billion toothpaste tubes are thrown away a year in the US, that’s the equivalent of over 50 Empire State Buildings worth of toothpaste tubes with chemical residue ending up in landfills or oceans, and due to their structure, they’re not recyclable.
If you’re wanting to ditch your blue-dyed chemicals and pick a real clean product that’s good for you and the planet you have a couple of options.
I made the switch from toothpaste to toothpaste bits, from the company Bite, but they are available from a lot of companies now! They’re little mint sized bits that you bite down on, and use your wet toothbrush to activate it into a paste! It is an incredibly easy switch to make, and I love how it has no harsh chemicals, there is no plastic involved from shipping to the product itself, it isn’t tested on animals, and there are no sulfates or parabens. Not to mention that I can easily take it anywhere without the bulky plastic tube in my bag. The same goes for my natural mouthwash tablets – you just activate with water – ditching the plastic and harsh chemicals.
Another option is buying a similar toothpaste powder, where you take your clean, wet toothbrush and dip it into the powder.
If you’re not ready to make a full switch from the tube, you could opt for a metal toothpaste tube with natural sulfate and paraben-free toothpaste, like David’s or Risewell. These tubes are recyclable with metals, but you do have to do a little work on them before putting them in the recycle bin, like opening and washing the inside.
Either way, you choose, you still have to use a toothbrush to get the job done. The main issue with plastic toothbrushes is that they aren’t recyclable and take a long time to break down – so the first ones that were made 90 years ago are still out there in a landfill – as a matter of fact 50 million pounds of toothbrushes are added to US landfills each year – which is a lot of plastic, so you definitely want to consider replacing your toothbrush with a non-plastic alternative when you’re old one is done for. Electric toothbrushes fall into this trap too, because most of them require a plastic head to be replaced every three months.
I mentioned why I like bamboo earlier, so I went with a bamboo toothbrush as my replacement. And if you’re wondering – this type of Moso bamboo is different than the type Panda’s eat so you take that sigh of relief right. But if you’re going this route – check if bamboo is sustainably sourced, and that it is a single piece of bamboo that doesn’t have any glue or preservatives – usually companies that have these features are pretty upfront about it in the item description or ingredients. After about 3 months when you’re done with it, you just pull the bristles out with a tweezer and compost the handle.
Another popular option is a silicone toothbrush, which is non-toxic alternative that lasts twice as long as a normal toothbrush and is 100% recyclable. Since they’re easier on gums than traditional bristles, it can act as a gum stimulator too. I for one am an aggressive brusher so if you’re like me this could be a good option.
When your toothbrush needs to be replaced, consider repurposing it to use for household cleaning – like scrubbing your tile with water, baking soda, and your old toothbrush!
So that’s it!! 5 ways to easily switch to a more eco-friendly bathroom!
Bonus Tip! Menstrual Cups
I don’t know about you, but I really had no clue that there were reusable options for feminine products until about a year ago – mostly because no one ever talked about it, and the market is dominated by the same pads and tampons I’d always seen when walking down the aisles. When other options are brought to your attention, usually it sparks a few questions like what is in your tampon? Why is it bad to use a tampon? Are they feminine hygiene products unsustainable? Why should you switch?
In general, tampons are made from cotton and rayon. And they have a plastic casing that can be recycled, but usually isn’t due to Menstrual pads are made up of 90% plastic. There is a chemical that has been controversial with tampons for quite some time now, and it’s called dioxin. Dioxin is a highly toxic chemical that is harmful to our reproductive and immune health, and they remain in the environment for years. Big companies now say they may only have trace amounts in their tampons, but that builds up over time with the number of tampons that we use in our lives, especially since it is something we are inserting and leaving in.
Tampons are a single-use product, you use them and then throw them away. You’d think that the cardboard or plastic applicator could be recycled, but because they come in contact with bodily fluids – they aren’t. The wrappers that these come in also can’t be recycled. Another big issue is that these applicators and wrappers are being flushed down the toilet, causing major sewage issues. Overall it is an unsustainable product that is toxic for our bodies and the planet.
Here’s where menstrual cups come in! I use the Lena Cup – and you can get $5 off by using the code LENA-HOMETOWN-EARTH. Menstrual cups are reusable and can be used for years before needing a new one. They are made with non-toxic food-grade silicone and can be recycled at the end of life. It’s healthy for you, convenient, and comfortable. You can wear them for up to 12 hours without leaks and without the worry of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
If you didn’t want to switch to a menstrual cup, you could try using organic tampons that will break down without the plastic involved!
something to grow on
So now that we feel good about our sustainable switches – are y’all ready to grow? So as I was thinking about the products I am using now, and the ones that I hope to switch to when the time is right, it made me think how it’s almost like we are wanting to revert back to life before plastic. We feel like there have to be new ways to reinvent the wheel, when in reality the simplest, most effective solutions to our plastic pollution problem may be in our past. I text my aunt and all of the things we talked about in this podcast were close to what they used before the huge emergence of plastics in the 60s – back to a time when your milk was still delivered to your house in a glass bottle. For instance, she said they used glass bottles for shampoos and conditioners, wooden toothbrushes, paper bags, metal containers for toothpaste – sound familiar? They bought local, ate local, drank local – all things that are common sense goals for all my eco-friendly warriors out there!
Older generations can teach us so much about our past, and our future, if we just listen. So your challenge this week is to call your grandparents, your parent, or in my case, your aunt – literally just anyone you may know who grew up before the 60s, and ask them what they used before plastics. What did they use to clean the house? What was in their bathroom drawers? What was in their kitchens and how did they get it? Take a page out of their book and see if you can incorporate it into your new sustainable routine – and let me know on the Hometown Earth Instagram what you learn!
When it comes down to it it’s about changing a lifestyle. Living with a little more consideration and a lot less complication.
more from this episode
I’ve made a digital worksheet that you can use to help outline your goals, your priorities, and your actions for the week and month that you can download for free! Subscribe below to get the worksheet emailed directly to you. You can check out Hometown: Earth on Instagram @hometownearth for statistics on the top household offenders for harmful products and waste that may help you to decide what you want to try to change first!
Thank you to our listeners
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