Transitioning to zero waste can be overwhelming. Your house can go from a home filled with joy to a seemingly endless map of waste everywhere. When trying to reduce your waste, it’s often easiest to make the transition by narrowing down the space you’re working on converting.
The bathroom is an ideal starting point because there are already plenty of zero waste options out there and because there’s plenty you can do without spending a dime. Let’s take a look at eight simple zero waste swaps, items that aren’t worth swapping out, and some surprising ones that look zero waste but aren’t.
One of the most common starting points is the soap that you use to wash with. It could be as easy as swapping to a bar of soap from body wash in a plastic bottle, but not so fast. Many bar soaps include exfoliating “microbeads” and glitter, which are actually tiny bits of plastic known as microplastics.
Even though the bar soap has no bottle to recycle, it can still be full of waste that goes down your drain and into the oceans. Check your new bar soap to ensure that it doesn’t have microbeads or glitter in it before making this swap.
Alternatively, you can visit a refillery where you can refill your existing bottles with body wash. You reduce waste by reusing bottles you already have rather than buying new plastic bottles from the store.
Shampoo and Conditioner Bars
Shampoo and conditioner typically come in plastic bottles that must be thrown away. A simple swap is to use a shampoo bar instead. A shampoo bar can last the equivalent of 2–3 bottles of regular shampoo and works just as well, if not better.
If your first shampoo bar experience ends in a disaster, don’t be afraid to try again with a different brand. Shampoo bars come in all levels of quality, as does traditional shampoo. You may need to try a few before you find one that works great for you.
Conditioner bars are also available and can do beautiful things for your hair but may not be necessary. If you have some hanging around your house, try a splash of apple cider vinegar instead. It can do wonderful things for conditioning your hair—no additional product needed.
Dental care has a huge amount of single-use products behind it. Floss, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and mouthwash all end up in the trash at some point. It can also be the hardest for us to switch, as there are much fewer dental hygiene options than other products.
A bamboo toothbrush is one of the easiest swaps you can make here. The bristles themselves are sometimes plastic and other times compostable, so do your homework. If the head is still plastic, remember to cut the head off the toothbrush or pluck the bristles out before composting.
Floss is another difficult product to source sustainably, but this is one of the few options out there. Other options can be sourced from coconut fibers, and there are reusable flossers out there as well.
Toothpaste has several options available, including tablets you crush between your teeth and glass jars of paste that can be refilled. Many of them are also natural and fluoride-free for those who are concerned.
Another hard to source item is deodorant. It is hard to find deodorants in big-box stores that aren’t housed in plastic, and this bathroom item seems particularly prone to greenwashing. Many companies rush to sell you products that are “green” but actually contain plastic, or that clearly won’t help with deodorizing, in an effort to capitalize on this market.
A good deodorant will have more than just fragrance to cover up body odor and come in either a cardboard tube, a block, or a reusable container.
Shaving usually requires a plastic throw-away razor and a can of shave gel. You might also need an after-shave. The best solution here is a stainless safety razor, or if you’re scared of getting cut, the Leaf razor is another good option. Not only are they entirely plastic-free, but they take back old blades for recycling.
In place of shaving cream, try using shaving soap and a wooden or bamboo shaving brush.
Makeup is a huge source of waste in the bathroom, but it doesn’t have to be! There are plenty of sustainable brands out there making beauty products beautiful for the planet too. Antonym Cosmetics have their products packaged in bamboo, and RMS beauty also has thoughtful packaging for their products.
Be wary of anything that glitters, as the glitter is often made from plastic.
Another good way to cut back on waste in your beauty routine is by replacing disposable cotton rounds with cotton rounds cut from old t-shirts or purchasing reusable rounds already cut. These can save a lot of waste over time and can also be a useful way to upcycle old shirts that are no longer usable.
Another huge source of single-use plastic in the bathroom is menstrual products. People who have monthly cycles can end up going through huge volumes of plastic during their lifetimes, and it obviously can’t be recycled.
Menstrual cups are an easy solution for tampon users. Reusable pads and period underwear can all help cut down on plastic. Although learning to use menstrual cups is a bit of a learning curve, they’re also associated with a reduction in period time and heaviness. They’re certainly a worthy investment.
Since toilet paper is made of paper, most people don’t think too much about where it comes from. Unfortunately, most toilet paper comes wrapped in plastic, and even if it’s not, a million acres of boreal forest are clear cut every year to make it.
Companies like Bumboo and Tushy offer alternatives to traditional toilet paper. Both offer toilet paper made from bamboo, which is incredibly sustainable. Tushy also sells bidets, which can help you almost completely eliminate your toilet paper usage.
“Sustainable” Options You Don’t Need
Not every zero waste swap is a good one. Not only are some items less than practical, but otherwise sustainable swaps are susceptible to greenwashing. It’s essential to do your research on the products you buy—not everything on the label is necessarily true. Here is one bathroom zero waste swap you can skip altogether and others that you should be wary of.
You Could Skip: Reusable Paper Towels
Cleaning your bathroom with a paper towel and multi-purpose cleaner might seem a bit weird after cutting out so much waste. If you’re eager to get reusable paper towels to go with your new eco-friendly bathroom cleaner, think twice.
Zero waste isn’t about having trendy new items but about reducing waste as much as possible. Instead of purchasing reusable paper towels, use rags or old t-shirts you have lying around first. Before buying anything new, reuse what you already have.
Skip: Products Hyped as ‘Green,’ ‘Natural,’ or ‘Organic.’
It’s not that these terms are bad on their own, but that they’re often used as a trick for greenwashing. Just because a product has a green package, a picture of a plant, or claims that it’s green or natural doesn’t mean it’s really sustainable.
No organizations are governing what can be called a ‘green’ product. ‘Natural’ only means that some part of the product is made with a tiny number of natural materials. Organic is the only one of these terms that has specific requirements—but those apply to food and drink only.
A sustainable product is something that has little to no packaging. It should be reusable, and it shouldn’t be made using fossil fuels. It’s worth taking a little extra time to make sure these things are true.
If you’re not sure, look at the company selling them. If it’s a company that sells lots of unsustainable products—and one environmentally friendly line—they’re probably just trying to tap into your wallet. However, if they have exclusively environmentally friendly products, they’re probably serious when they mean their products are green and good for the planet.
Tips for Transitioning
When people decide to go zero waste, they often want to throw out all of their single-use products so they can begin their new life right away. This goes against the whole idea of being zero waste—you’re wasting a product by throwing it out before its lifetime is up.
Zero waste is about lowering how much waste you’re putting out into the world, and that includes half-empty bottles of shampoo. Use all the product, and if you can find a use for the bottle after it’s done, so much the better.
It may feel a little awkward to use a plastic bottle when you’re trying to make your bathroom waste-free, but by not letting anything go to waste, you’re truly helping the planet.
We only have one planet we call home, which means every little step we can take toward green living is a good one.