“Where do I start?” Easy zero waste changes in the bathroom

Wow, Simple Year friends, you really liked the “easy zero waste changes in the kitchen” post last month. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making such a list for the bathroom, but never got around to it. But now that we’re embracing the “from the ground up” mentality, this seems like a good time.

As with my kitchen post, this is not a complete list nor a mandate — I’m just hoping to share some concrete ideas for those who don’t know where to start. Pick one or two and see how it goes. Then tell me about it. (I just love how this community freely shares ideas — it’s like a big ol’ library we’ve got going on over here.)

This soap is unpackaged but does have one small sticker on the bottom.

This soap is unpackaged but does have one small sticker on the bottom.

Unwrapped soap

I can find bars of unwrapped soap in the natural foods section of my grocery store, and it’s less expensive than the individual bars usually found at farmers’ markets or craft fairs (which aren’t always zero waste), but still more expensive than traditional packages of soap. I don’t mind. I have a whole host of scents to choose from, but we just get sandalwood. It smells nice and everyone is on board.

Why is this zero waste? Less packaging means less to recycle or toss.

Soap saver

We used to try to adhere those slivers of old soap to a new bar, but usually they just fell off. Then I inherited a soap saver — mesh, unfortunately — but it works like a charm: Nice lather with tiny shards. When this one falls apart, as it inevitably will, I’ve got another idea for a homemade, “use what you have” alternative: an old, worn out sock. Who gave me that idea? Pretty sure it was someone here, but I can’t remember who. Anyway, I’ll be able to reuse the “suction cup and string” that’s on the one I’m using now, and the way Johanna goes through socks, I’ll have plenty to choose from.

Someone on the zero waste board I follow on Facebook also made one using an old washcloth, cut in half. Even I can handle that much sewing.

Why is this zero waste? Using up every scrap means delaying a replacement purchase … which means using less resources. Yeah, even for something as simple as soap!


Homemade facial cleaner

I love it when I can make something to replace something else with ingredients I already have. I’m over buying a bunch of items in order to make one replacement product. It’s fun, all right, but defeats the purpose. Anyway, I’ve had great luck with a facial cleaner recipe from One Green Planet. I halved it because I wanted to make sure it actually worked before I went crazy, and it’s lasted for a couple of months now. I also appreciate that my face doesn’t break out and that the oil keeps it from making my skin too dry.

Why is this zero waste? Because castille is available in bulk (at least here) and oils in glass containers, which can be reused or recycled indefinitely. Also, some purchased facial cleaners contain plastic microbeads in addition to plastic packaging, which can end up in the environment and cause all kinds of problems. They’ve been banned in the US, but changes don’t take effect until next year. (Fingers crossed.)

Bulk shampoo and conditioner

I am very, very lucky because I can get bulk shampoo and conditioner at the grocery store. I use a plastic honey bottle for that because I don’t trust myself with glass in a slippery shower. I’ve kind of given up conditioner, and I wash my hair only once or twice a week. Oh, which reminds me: I have a jar with one of those stainless steel shaker lids for “dry shampoo,” which is basically just cornstarch and/or arrowroot powder (and the contents of the powdered eye shadow that ended up being a total dud — waste not!); sprinkle on and work through with a comb. My hair is super thick and it takes forever to wash and dry, so I appreciate having a quick option up my sleeve for emergencies.

Why is this zero waste? It’s true that my bulk shampoo comes in a plastic container at the store for me to decant into my own bottles. But buying from bulk is less wasteful than buying an individual bottle of a product.

I got this one. Isn't it pretty? It scares the crap out of me.

Who knew I’d end up being such a fan?

Safety razor

For someone who was afraid of using a safety razor when my project began, I find it somewhat hilarious that I am now a full-fledged fan. I’ve only cut myself once, and that was because I dropped it and didn’t make sure the head was screwed on properly. (It wasn’t. So it moved.) Just keep this in mind: Hold it at a 45-degree angle, don’t press down, go slow.

Boom! Best shave ever. Not to mention I can pass this on to a future great-grandchild. I assume by that time zero waste will be the norm and she’ll be very excited to have something from crazy ol’ grandma. 😉

Why is this zero waste? According to THIS article, the EPA estimates that 2 billion disposable plastic razors are tossed every year. You still have to be careful about recycling the blades, but it can be done (also according to that article, by purchasing a blade bank or using a soup can).

Cloth pads or a cup

Not everyone is going to be up for this, and that’s okay, but I want to toss it out there anyway. I have a set of reusable cloth pads I purchased from a Portland-based shop (but you can find them almost anywhere now), and I dearly love those things. I prefer them to disposable pads, to be honest, so it wasn’t hard to switch over. To clean, I run them through a rinse cycle in the washing machine, then wash again with towels (or stomp around on them in the shower). So there’s some extra water in play here, although my washer is energy efficient and weighs loads, which cuts down on excess use.

Or maybe try a menstrual cup — like Mooncup or DivaCup. The health food section of my grocery store even sells pads and cups. Pretty cool. It’s getting more mainstream!

Why is this zero waste? An estimated 20 billion pads are tossed each year in North America alone (SOURCE). And when they wear out, natural cloth pads can be composted (SOURCE).

Bamboo toothbrush

Johanna and I have switched to bamboo toothbrushes, and we are big fans. The packaging on ours is one small wrapper and a box — both of which are 100 percent biodegradable. Um, it still takes a while for stuff to biodegrade. But still. Better.

Why is this zero waste? It’s important to point out that the handles are compostable, but the bristles are generally not. HERE is what Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home does with hers.

Glass is much prettier than plastic.

Glass is much prettier than plastic.

Use what you have!

One thing I kind of forgot in my zero waste mania is that I have a bunch of products purchased pre-project that really, really need to get used up. Some I inherited from the girls, some I’ve had for a while. Um, some I bought, like a jar of homemade lotion that I found at a craft fair. Since I like the look of zero waste (glass jars!) more than not zero waste (weirdly shaped packages!), I decanted what was in those packages into jars, and am now working to use it all up. What is it about humans that we must always get new stuff? You’d think as a minimalist I’d already have that one figured out. (Bummer.)

Why is this zero waste? It’s the whole soap saver idea — if you use something in its entirety, it delays a future purchase, which saves resources.

Going the extra mile: Family cloth

Jennifer shared easy zero waste sewing projects recently that included family cloth — and the good news is that you don’t even have to sew that! Now, full disclosure, I’m not at this stage yet myself so you won’t find me throwing any stones if you’re not there either, but I think it’s worth mentioning. I’m not sure why I can do a cloth pad but not a family cloth. I am not a logical person.

Alternatives: Recycled paper toilet tissue. Although my family totally rebelled against this when I brought it into the house, and I couldn’t find it in me to blame them. That stuff is rough. Bidets have also come up in the comments here, and I did some research but ultimately decided that wasn’t for us, either. But hey, options do exist.

Wow, these posts end up being ridiculously long. Sorry about that. I have more to add … but we can do that later.

Next up: Something a little shorter. 😉

5 Responses to “Where do I start?” Easy zero waste changes in the bathroom

  1. Thanks for sharing these tips. We do some of these (unwrapped soap from bulk store, use soap until it disappears, cloth pads, solid shampoo bars).

    Have you tried making shaving cream? There are recipes on line. I tried once, but it was a big fail (note to self: don’t use olive oil soap and then try to heat it = very smoky kitchen).

    We are thinking of trying the bamboo toothbrushes. We camp a lot and could use the leftover handles as kindling for campfires.

    • I haven’t tried to make shaving cream — I just use soap — but I’ve gotten that question a couple of times. I may try it just to say I did! We really do love our bamboo toothbrushes — and yes, they’d make great kindling. I’ve also seen little crafts using them as, like, garden markers. They are more expensive, however, than standard plastic brushes.

  2. An old knee-high or the foot from a pair of tights makes a good soap saver!

    The green community seems split over Lush, but I want to mention their products because it might be a good option for unpackaged personal care products if you can’t find things like bulk shampoo refills. True, their products aren’t as natural as some, but they do have a greener ethos than many companies and their products are free of some of the worst chemical offenders. I’ve lived places where a bulk or health food store was nary to be found, but where Lush was available. So if you’re okay with them, it’s worth considering.

    I use a Lush shampoo bar and conditioner bar, and both work like the conventional liquid options and have lasted a long time. You can get them package-free.

    • Knee-highs would make great soap savers! And probably no sew to boot. I’ve never used Lush anything — we don’t have one here, and I’ve never ventured into a store in the Big City an hour away — but I’ve noticed a split reaction to them too. I was actually checking out their makeup selection online this weekend (first time I’ve really looked at what they have), but didn’t get anything. I’ve also been wanting to try a shampoo bar … glad to hear that works.

  3. Pingback: Wrapping it up part I | The Simple Year

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