While I was trying to minimize the waste in my kitchen by cutting down on single-use plastic and reduce the number of chemicals for cleaning purposes, I was on the lookout for other potential sources. Not surprisingly, the bathroom scored quite high. In this post, I’m only going to explore the first few steps towards a change of products I use for my personal care regimen. In future posts, these are going to be explored in depth.
Looking through my bathroom cupboard, however, I realised that I had done away with a lot of things a long time ago without even realising it. There was no shower gel to be found anymore, nor any squeezy bottles with facial wash, nor numerous liquid soap dispensers and certainly no cotton buds. It had been my idea to refill the empty dispensers I already had with soap from a bigger plastic container, although that still created too much plastic waste for my taste. Other than that, I have stopped using peelings with microbeads long before they were banned simply because it was ruining my skin. The same applies to makeup, mascara etc. I now limit myself to using a black charcoal eyeliner and Burt’s Bees lip balm. Needless to say, I was of course also one of those who used tampons, shaving foam for my legs, liquid soap etc. But can any of these be replaced? What are the alternatives?
Here are just a few ideas of what you can do…
Have you ever thought about how many empty plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner you have thrown away, never to be used for anything else ever again? In a few hundred years or so they might be an interesting surprise to future archaeologists, although quite frankly, plastic bottles seem far from appealing.
If you do go for bottled shampoo/conditioner in plastic bottles get it from Suma who has also published an RSPO pledge. This is important, as the glycerin in shampoo is almost always palm oil based.
Another option is to use a shampoo bar. Not only will you reduce plastic waste, but it is also palm oil free and locally manufactured, thereby reducing your carbon footprint. It takes a while of getting used to, as your hair will most likely initially react with increased oil production which is only the natural way of your hair to take care of itself. Frequent and thorough combing and perseverance will help it settle down after about a fortnight or so. Believe me, I tried.
Sulphates (Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate) are found in almost every shampoo product on the market. Although this is what makes your shampoo and shower gel “lather” and foam this doesn’t in effect make you clean. These so-called “primary surfactants” contain molecules that attract both water and oil which enable them to separate dirt and oil from your hair. Sometimes they do their job so well that they end up literally washing away natural oils . They can also irritate the skin , particularly in those suffering from skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.
2. Skin care
Instead of the bottled shower gel imbued with artificial fragrance, phthalates, parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate, just use the good old bar of soap. These days there are a lot of palm oil free or at least sustainably sourced options available which smell lovely. As with the shampoo bar, this is also easier on your budget. According to a Swiss study, carbon footprint of liquid soap exceeds that of bars by 25%, i. e. it needs 5 times more energy to produce and can use 20 times more packaging. You can also get detox bars with active charcoal which make your skin feel soft and definitely very clean. Use a facial bar on your face with a natural sponge to produce a lather and gently wash your face. Rub and rinse.
The list of lotions and creams and potions on the market is far too long to even start. They are mostly full of phthalates which make the fragrance linger longer on your skin and parabens which increase their shelf life. Natural oils do the trick perfectly well. According to your skin type, there are lots to choose from. Go for almond oil, safflower oil, avocado oil and others. For more information look here.
As an alternative to peelings, try cleaning your face with a soft brush in the morning. Loofah pads do the trick under the shower to exfoliate. Once they have ended their life-cycle, they are also compostable. All you want to achieve with peeling is, simplistically speaking, to scrub away dead skin cells and encourage the skin to produce soft new ones. You can also use loofah sponges on the rest of your body.
3. Dental care
Millions of plastic toothbrushes are thrown away and end up either in landfill or due to poor waste management in the ocean every year, every month and every day.
There are currently several different brands of bamboo toothbrushes on the market, such as the Humble Brush or Environmental Bamboo brush. At least that way, they are biodegradable and made from a renewable source. The hairs though are still made from nylon fibres. There is only one so far on the market from German-based Life Without plastic which uses pig’s hairs. Smelly and not very appealing for various reasons, esp. if you’re vegetarian or vegan. Currently, there seems to be no alternative to nylon fibres, so snap off the head and dispose of it separately.
Another possibility would be to opt for a toothbrush made from recyclable plastic such as the Source toothbrush. Some also offer a scheme where you can send it back.
Toothpaste is another problem, containing sodium lauryl sulfate as a foaming agent. A possibility would be to use bicarbonate soda as tooth whitener and to go for brands like Weleda. They use far less packaging, too.
Granted, we all want to smell clean. Still, you would want to opt for something which isn’t clogging your pores and stopping you from sweating but a product that neutralises the bacteria which make you smell. A crystal deodorant stick is a good option. They are much kinder on your skin and last for ages.
5. Female Hygiene products
I confess: I have been using tampons and pads for about 20 years (not at the moment though, thanks to lactational amenorrhoea). That is until I discovered the mooncup. Sceptical at first, but then I was entirely convinced. The mooncup is surprisingly easy to keep clean. You can boil it before you use it. The risk of infection is very low, and I for my part would be more concerned about inserting chemicals such as polyacrylate into my body which makes other sanitary products so absorbent. This chemical is still found in nappies but it has fortunately been banned from usage in tampons as it was thought to be linked to toxic shock syndrome. Thinking about nappies this should send your alarm bells ringing!
Tampons and disposable pads are a nuisance when being disposed of, but it is also the pollution their production alone causes. They are also wrapped ten-fold in plastic and are often heavily fragranced, which is a hazard in itself. Very often they are bleached and why would you want that so close to your reproductive system?
Spray bottles with shaving foam should be an absolute no-no. One option is to go for shaving soap and a brush. This has worked for generations. Shaving with an electrical device is another possibility.
Single-use razors are one of the worst items ever to pass the threshold of my bathroom door. The best way is to invest in an old school razor.
… and by the way, beards are back!