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 bathroom out there. There’s plenty you can do without spending a dime. Let’s take a look at 17 simple zero waste bathroom swaps, items that aren’t worth swapping out, and some surprising ones that look zero waste but aren’t.
According to Foreo, 1 billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year in the US, which is about 50 million pounds. They’re made of polypropylene plastic and nylon, both of which require fossil fuels to make. The industry is also a victim of greenwashing, as brands like Colgate create products that only minimize the impact of plastic pollution.
Swap: 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.
Your average toothpaste tube is not recyclable and considering how much of the stuff we go through, making a chance is quite impactful. It’s possible to TerraCycle some toothpaste tubes, but it’s better to avoid them altogether.
Swap: There are several zero waste toothpaste options available. You could hit up your local refillery to refill in bulk. If that’s not an option, consider a toothpaste tablet or powder. They’re available in both fluoride and fluoride-free formulas, so do your research before buying.
- Dental Floss
Dental floss pollution is a huge problem. Generic dental floss is housed in plastic, and those single-use disposable plastic flossing picks are a nightmare.
Swap: Floss is another difficult product to source sustainably, but this is one of the few options out there. It’s housed in glass, refillable, and made with natural and biodegradable fibres. Other options can be sourced from coconut fibers, and there are reusable flossers out there as well. Even a WaterPik may be a better option if you get a lot of use out of it.
- Liquid Soap
Hand soap is quite an easy swap to make, as you can simply purchase soap bars. Those pesky hand soap bottles are often tossed, and some brands greenwash the heck out of their soap. Fun fact: if it’s housed in plastic, it’s not great for the environment.
Swap: You can purchase soap bars in big box stores, from your local refillery, or a specialist shop. Either way, make sure it has minimal packaging. Alternatively, you can refill liquid soap or make your own!
- Body Wash
One of the most common starting points is the soap that you use to wash with. There are hundreds of options to replace that plastic body wash bottle that ends up in the trash.
Swap: 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 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.
Replacing body lotion and moisturizers is a tough one, especially if you’re used to some of the more elegant formulas out there. Thankfully, there are some options for every budget.
Swap: If you’re a fan of DIY, you can make a simple lotion out of oils and other ingredients you can purchase. That’s not for me, so I like to refill my body lotion at a refillery. You can trust that they’ll carry cruelty-free, natural products.
- Shampoo and Conditioner
If you’re like some people I know, you might go through conditioner bottles like they were water. And if you tried shampoo/conditioner bars even five years ago, they may have been lacking. But things have changed.
Swap: Listen up. The shampoo and conditioner bars of today are amazing. Formulas have gotten more elegant, they last forever, and there are bars for every hair type. But if you’re partial to liquid, some brands sell shampoo and conditioner in aluminum bottles—or, again, you could refill!
Let’s face it, deodorant isn’t something you want to skim on. We need them to work and be long-lasting. And if you need an antiperspirant, you’re even more aware of how hard it is to find a zero-waste option.
Swap: If you’re on the market for a deodorant, there are bars, sticks, and even pastes out there. Some are packaged in compostable tubes, some in jars, and some have no packaging at all.
I’m someone who sweats, a lot, and I’ve had a had time finding a zero-waste alternative. Then routine came along. I can’t say enough good things about routine deodorant. They have a ton of fragrances, both with and without baking soda, and even sell their formulas in sticks.
- Menstrual Products
Consider this: on average, each woman will use a total of 9,600 feminine hygiene products in their lifetime. Not only is the way they’re packaged a problem, but the product of these products involves even more plastic, energy, and chemicals.
Swap: There are a quite a few options out there. If you haven’t already, consider making the switch to a menstrual cup. It’ll save you a ton of money, and once you get used to it, you won’t miss tampons.
You can also purchase period panties or reusable pads—both are suitable replacement for pads.
These tiny bathroom essentials aren’t the worst, but they’re not great either. They used to be made of plastic, but now they’re paper and compostable. The box is recyclable. So, not the worst.
Swap: You can purchase reusable Q-Tips if you so choose. There are tons of options out there, just give it a Google. However, you really shouldn’t be cleaning your ears with Q-Tips anyways!
The zero-waste makeup industry is growing, but it still makes up only a small percent of the market. Traditional makeup is filled with chemicals and fillers, and the packaging is generally plastic. The cosmetics industry makes some very hard to recycle products.
Swap: Brands like Elate Cosmetics are pioneering the zero-waste beauty industry. Their formulas are great for the skin and they focus on sustainable packaging.
- Cotton Rounds
I can remember it clearly; me, 16, slapping my Proactiv-filled cotton round on my face. What a nightmare. Thankfully, I no longer use Proactiv or single-use cotton rounds.
Swap: The K-beauty industry are the front-runners in the industry and typically apply toners with their hands. If you can’t do without cotton rounds, purchase reusable cotton facial rounds that can be machine-washed.
- Safety Razor
Consider the environmental footprint of your disposable razors. 2 billion pounds of disposable razors and blades were thrown away each year in the 1990s. This number is probably much higher now.
Swap: Safety razors are the best alternative to plastic razors. The blades are made from stainless steel and are recyclable. The handle itself will last you forever.
- Hairbrush and Combs
I don’t think I’ve ever walked into a big box store and found a brush that wasn’t made of plastic. Thankfully, there are some superstars making products we love.
Swap: Consider trying a bamboo hairbrush. The handle and pins are both made of bamboo, making the entire thing compostable.
- Toilet Paper
Toiler paper is so wasteful when you consider the amount of plastic they’re wrapped in and the manufacturing process.
Swap: Rather than buying toilet paper wrapped in plastic, consider purchasing from a brand like bumboo, who makes plastic-free toilet paper made from bamboo. Personally, I’m partial to a bidet (see: Tushy).
- Toilet Brush
Another no-brainer, the plastic packaging of toilet brushes is entirely unnecessary.
Swap: A bamboo toilet brush and holder with last you forever and perform just as well as the plastic counterpart.
- Bathroom Cleaning Products
Trust me when I say that you don’t need four different types of cleaners for your bathroom. Minimize your products and maximize your space and bank account.
Swap: DIY a cleaner using common ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. Or (not to sound like a broken record) hit up that refillery!
“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.