Humans are creatures of habit as they say and this is true for the way in which we use plastic in the bathroom. If we stop and take a look around, the bathroom is littered with plastic packaging and items. From shower gels housed in single-use plastic to cotton buds and toothbrushes, not forgetting the children’s bath toys. Going plastic-free in the bathroom is a challenge.
Yet, today more than ever, we recognise that the amount of plastic we use is a problem. Simply put its creation pollutes and as we dispose of plastic it can find its way into our environment and cause harm to marine life. And even enter the food chain.
And single-use plastic is a big culprit. All those shampoo bottles, tubes and even wet wipes we use only once and throw away. Thankfully, its easier to go plastic-free in the bathroom than you might think.
Amongst growing concern for our polluting ways, pending single-use plastic bans, and a growing number of alternatives there is no need for us to use as much plastic as we currently do. Many initiatives exist to help us reduce, reuse and recycle. Given how easy it is to see plastic everywhere in the bathroom, making some small changes can make all the difference.
With many options available to us we no longer have to accept plastic as a form of packaging or as a material in a wide range of bathroom products3. Here’s some ideas to swap out or reduce our plastic use in the bathroom.
Plastic is durable, flexible and perfect for use in the bathroom. Of course, if you just consider its function rather than its manufacture and potential environmental harm.
Many items in our bathrooms need protecting from moisture and plastic, therefore, fits the bill. Items such as toothbrushes or cotton buds need to be waster resistant and we’ve come to expect to buy them cheaply. Shower gels or shampoo similarly need to reliably hold liquid and plastic’s flexible makeup provides us with that satisfying squeeze.
It is clear to see why we rely on plastic but it is also clear just how big the issue is. Some of the plastic waste from our bathrooms gets flushed down the toilet. As a result, bathroom waste is ending up on our beaches5.
Similarly, many plastic bathroom items don’t get recycled due to either their size, makeup or use.
Going plastic-free in the bathroom requires commitment and considered choices. To do so, we have to resist the convenience of the supermarket aisles lined with plastic bottles. Rather we need to look towards options that come in sustainable or biodegradable packaging. Or towards refills, reusable items and aim for those made entirely without plastic.
Thankfully to help us on the way, as consumers, we now have more choices to help us go plastic-free in the bathroom. We don’t have to buy big brands and their plastic products or packaging. The growing amount of alternatives provide options for us to reduce plastic waste.
For most of us, it won’t happen overnight. Yet if we all make small improvements to reduce our plastic consumption, then together we can significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate.
And the more of us do so the more we can encourage wider shifts towards environmentally friendly products. As more consumer start to demand more sustainable packaging and products the big brands will be further motivated to change their own products4.
The first swap we could make is the toothbrushes that we use. Bamboo toothbrushes are just as useable as plastic toothbrushes. In the US alone, around a billion toothbrushes are used annually. This creates 22 million kilograms of waste each year, a percentage of which ends up in landfill or worse our oceans1.
The bamboo alternatives work just as well and they are biodegradable. Further bamboo as is something of a wonder plant, fast-growing, cheap to produce and containing natural antibacterial properties it’s a perfect replacement for all those plastic handles.
However, the bristles are still nylon and therefore can be removed and disposed of separately.
We all have toothpaste in the bathroom. Of course, the vast majority comes in the ubiquitous plastic tube. These tubes are intentionally designed to last for ages so that toothpaste can be stored on supermarket shelves indefinitely. Of course, this means that once disposed of plastic toothpaste tubes also last for 100s of years in our landfills.
And because of most of the time, our discarded plastic toothpaste tubes still contain a bit of leftover toothpaste, they typically aren’t recycled. Most municipal recycling programs, therefore, don’t accept plastic toothpaste tubes. Do check where you live however as exceptions do exist.
And with each home in the country getting through a tube or so a month, that’s a whole lot of plastic that we really don’t need to waste. In fact, estimates suggest that globally we discard around 1.5 billion plastic toothpaste tubes every year.
Thankfully, there’s a growing number of new brands entering the market that provide plastic-free bathroom swaps to replace all those plastic toothpaste tubes. Seek out glass jars of plastic-free toothpaste, or dental tabs that do just as good a job without the plastic waste.
Wet wipes and makeup removal pads have become part of the bathroom routine for many. However, what some may not realise is that most of these products on the supermarket shelves contain plastic. Manufacturers blend plastic into our wipes to help prevent them from tearing when wet.
And that’s not the end of the problem with pads and wipes. Because they are often flushed after use they can find their way into our waterways and can even eventually wash up in our oceans. They can also collect together and cause sewage blockages. One study in the UK even found that wet wipes accounted for 93% of sewage blockages9.
And like many of the items we use in the bathroom every day, we get through a whole lot of wipes. Around 11bn a year in the UK alone.
Hence swap out wipes with plastic for biodegradable alternatives or reusable cotton pads.
Or have a browse of a number of colourful and eco-friendly wipes and pads on Etsy:
Cotton buds, or rather the plastic tubes that connect the cotton buds, have previously been found to be the 6th or 7th most common item collected on UK beaches8. Another seemingly essential bathroom item that is hard to recycle due to its size, each cotton buds plastic tube is one we can do without.
Biodegradable alternatives are a simple swap we can all make towards a plastic-free bathroom.
Or browse the selection on Amazon:
Another problem in the bathroom is disposable razors with more than 2 billion being disposed of each year6. However, we do not have to use disposable razors just for convenience. A safety razor makes a great alternative and over time, it will significantly help to put a dent in the amount of plastic waste we create.
Of course, much of our time spent in the bathroom is spent washing in the bath or shower. Therefore, we go through masses of shampoo and other body cleansing products. One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce plastic waste is to purchase soap, shampoo or conditioner in bar form. No plastic bottle required.
They work in the same way and there is no plastic waste. Better still, they last longer and save money and they come with a lower carbon footprint when it comes to transportation.
Similarly, our bathrooms do need a good and regular clean. Many of us will have dedicated bathroom cleaning products that we store in our bathrooms. This will include bleach, cleaning sprays and a variety of other products.
Of course, all of these come in their own plastic packaging. Towards a plastic-free bathroom you can also explore natural alternatives to using manufactured chemical-based cleaners. For example, lemon juice can remove stains or make a cleaning paste from bicarbonate of soda.
Reducing the amount we use and being savvy with our purchases can make a huge difference.
Many manufacturers are now doing their bit to help the environment. Whether it is cleaning products or body products, it is now possible to reduce plastic waste by using refills.
From shampoo to shower gel and evening limescale removers, manufacturers are now supplying products that can be emptied into the original bottle. This makes it possible to keep the same bottle regardless of how many times you need to replace the products.
Therefore a simple way to reduce plastic waste is to choose refills. Albeit some of these still come in plastic at least its an improvement. Or where possible choose refills in cardboard packaging.
In a perfect world, we would reduce and remove plastic overnight. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that and so, it takes time. We can use up existing products such as hair care products or toothpaste before we purchase anything new. Then, we can take an incremental approach and change one thing at a time.
Of course, we are all different and switching products might not work for everyone. Therefore, it is also worth testing products to see if they are right.
There is also the cost aspect for people to consider. Sometimes the smaller brands or those with eco-friendly credentials can be a touch more expensive.
It can also help to make a list of all the plastic items in your bathroom. This can help you to see just how much plastic waste you currently have. It will also help you to decide what you want to swap. This can help with budget planning while gaining a clear understanding of the situation.
It requires a number of approaches to deal with plastic waste in the bathroom. In the bathroom alone, on average we only recycle half of the plastic we use. Simply placing a small recycling bin in the bathroom can improve the number of plastic items in the bathroom you recycle at home or work.
It is also worth understanding the plastics that we can recycle as well as any local schemes7. They do vary from place to place and taking the time to understand which bathroom items can and can’t be recycled can help you work out which items make for the most important swaps. For example, typically most plastic bottles can be recycled, smaller items such as cotton buds or anything used for personal hygiene is less likely to be.
Further, a growing number of brands such as Mac provide their own recycling programmes. If you decide to stick to a favourite brand a little research should tell you if they can accept back packaging your local recycling scheme might not take.
Making use of these programmes and remaining organised is key to recycling as much as possible2. This will prevent plastic waste from being discarded into landfill where it pollutes the environment for centuries.
It is possible to feel overwhelmed with all the choices and decisions to make in pursuit of a plastic-free bathroom. Making the swap in some instances is relatively straightforward. However, in some cases finding items that are accessible and affordable can prove a challenge.
However, there is a huge amount of help for you out there. If you feel passionate about making a change then there are zero-waste groups in almost every area. Here you can speak to people who can help you find alternatives.
To add to this, you can also enhance your knowledge by researching products using websites such as the Ethical Consumer. Good reviews by credible organisations can help you make the right choices.
As consumers, we have the potential to make a change. We have the ability to make manufacturers sit up and take notice.
We no longer have to accept plastic products as the norm. The bathroom is a menace when it comes to plastic waste. In fact, it is the menace that can go unnoticed as we’ve become so used to the convenience of many of the items we use on a daily basis.
From razors to toothbrushes and even our toilet paper, they all use some form of plastic. Despite this, it is possible to slowly and gradually change our ways. All it takes is a considered and organised approach. Over time, we can replace products, make smarter decisions and help to reduce plastic waste in our bathrooms.
|Cressey, D. Bottles, bags, ropes and toothbrushes: the struggle to track ocean plastics. Nature 536, 263–265 (2016) doi:10.1038/536263a|
|Brenton L. Fletcher, Michael E. Mackay, A model of plastics recycling: Does recycling reduce the amount of waste?, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 17, Issue 2, 1996, Pages 141-151, ISSN 0921-3449, https://doi.org/10.1016/0921-3449(96)01068-3|
|Song J. H., Murphy R. J., Narayan R. and Davies G. B. H. Biodegradable and compostable alternatives to conventional plastics. 364. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2008.0289|
|Chin, Chi & Weng, & Yazdanifard, Assc. Prof. Dr. Rashad. (2013). HOW CAN BIODEGRADABLE PLASTICS SAVE OUR MOTHER EARTH THROUGH MARKETING?.|
|Philipp R, Pond K, Rees G. Litter and medical waste on bathing beaches in England and Wales. BMJ. 1993;306(6884):1042. doi:10.1136/bmj.306.6884.1042|
|Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Alternatives for Waste Management. Fahzy Abdul-Rahman. NM State University|
|Seonaidh McDonald, Rob Ball, Public participation in plastics recycling schemes, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, Volume 22, Issues 3–4, 1998, Pages 123-141, ISSN 0921-3449, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0921-3449(97)00044-X|
|Great British Beach Clean. 2018 Report. Marine Conservation Society|
|Wipes and sewer blockage study. Andy Drinkwater and Frank Moy. Water UK. 2017.|