Once you start down the sustainable living path, it is a bit amazing to step back and consider just how much plastic is in our washroom spaces. All of a sudden, you see it! It's a little army, a sea of plastic bottles. The sheer amount of products that are usually in the standard bathroom, especially if you have several people living with you or children, is impressive on its own. And the number of these items packaged in plastic? It's almost 100%.
Check out your Ingredients
And... before we get too far into the plastic path, we also need to look at ingredients in our products. The Environmental Working Group is an awesome source for quality information in this department. From their website, you're able to look up products and brands as a whole, or specific ingredients (so, if you can't find your brand, you can still get some solid info). There are many products that we use in our washroom every single day, so slathering artificial ingredients, intense artificial scents, and toxic ingredients onto the largest organ you have day after day is cause for concern. Sure, there are regulations that govern the maximum level of ingredients in consideration of this toxicity, but if you're using more than one product that contains that ingredient, you're possibly above board. Plus, companies are not looking into the interactions of their products with other company's products. You're basically mixing your own formulations and concoctions daily.
Plastic in the washroom is tough because the majority of people never wash out those packages when they are empty. They may be thrown in the recycling bin; but at the recycling plant, this leftover product has the capacity to render a full recycling load contaminated... and then it all becomes garbage. This is pretty striking - if anything, make sure you wash your recycling before it heads out to (hopefully) make it through a better waste cycle than the pit at the dump to live forever and ever.
Here are the swaps that we made in our own home. My plan was just to use up an item, and then try to make a better choice the next time I had to buy it. For some things, this was quick (toilet paper, facial tissue) and other things (like the foundation I had stocked up on during a sale) I am still working through. I realized that I didn't need half of the things that were in the bathroom as well, so figuring out a plan for that took a bit of time. I have a women's shelter nearby that accepted a lot of the products, and some were shared with my sisters and friends that I knew could use them. Luckily, the kids at my dance studio took a bunch of things off of my hands. My bathroom is so much more simplified, and this simple routine and lack of wondering and trying out a ton of new products has made things more peaceful to be in there, as well.
Plastic-Free Shower Swaps:
1. Body Wash
My plastic bottles of body wash were swapped for soap bars. There's also the option to go with a refillery body wash, if you love your shower gels and body washes. I love the beauty and the ritual of the bars of soap.
Finding a good bar of soap is a big deal! Look for a small company that uses quality ingredients. My husband jokes a lot about drugstore soaps that made his skin feel like 'it could crack' growing up - shea butter and quality oils are ingredients that true natural soaps use to moisturize. Essential oils are the fragrance you're looking for - if the ingredients list "fragrance," move along. That could be anything - the term '"fragrance" could contain a whole slew of chemicals that are allowed to be listed under that term. Artificial colourants are another thing to avoid - nobody needs a bar of lime green soap.
2. Plastic Loofa
So, in my research, I learned that you're actually supposed to replace your loofa every couple months, not when it falls apart, as I had been. The reason you're supposed to do this is because dead skin and bacteria can build up on the plastic and then you'd just be scrubbing that all over yourself. And there is no one anywhere that 'cleans' their loofa. The plan? Ya just throw it out and get a new one. A loofa is not a recyclable thing, so all of the loofas that were ever made, and all that ever will be made, are going to be around forever and ever. Just trying to picture that amount of garbage is astounding.
You have a couple of options here. You can get a natural loofa, which is renewable and sustainable, you just have to figure out how to hang it. There are also bath mitts that you can hang to dry, if you want to use a body wash. I swapped my loofa for a soap saver bag, which is a bag made of natural fibres that a soap bar goes inside. This soap saver allows you to use the ends of the soap when they get down to little nubs - just stick a new, bigger bar in there, and use both up at the same time. The bag can also be washed in the washing machine or dishwasher, so it is actually quite a bit more sanitary than the plastic loofa. Finally, when it is time to replace it (around 6 months of use - mine have lasted longer, but my husband seems to be more aggressive with them, haha), you can compost the remains and not worry about your impact.
3. Shampoo + Conditioner Bottles
So, I get that there is a bit of worry on this one for replacing your plastic, as most refill options are glass bottles. Mason jars with a pump top, or a glass pump bottle, are very easy to dump your refill inside when it is time (see my blog post about getting started with bulk living for more info on setting it all up, if you're interested). I have toddlers and I know that carrying glass bottles in and out of the shower doesn't exactly work out very well. Our kids shampoo is in a glass bottle, but seeing as they just have baths these days, it is easy to keep in the vanity and distribute it when needed. Nevertheless, I've had amber glass bottles for my shampoo and conditioner in the shower for several months now and never had an issue. We do have a 'seat' in the shower, so they are in a pretty solid position to not fall and break.
Another option - getting a plastic bottle to use long term. Just fill up the plastic dispenser that you already have, and just make sure you keep using it. I was just going to offer bulk refills in my shop for shampoo and conditioner, but realized that getting the Oneka plastic bottles allows a person to continuously refill a quality plastic bottle and also know what's inside. So there's that!
And a little note about the Oneka line... I have been a 'natural' living advocate for a very long time and shampoo and conditioner was one of the biggest struggles for me. I have very thick, long hair, and was unable to find something that was natural and effective. If you saw my personal 'swap stories' before I started Harlowe Green, you'll see a different bottle of shampoo every time in the background, and nothing about finding something that worked. I first found Oneka at Nu Grocery in Ottawa, and gave it a try. I will never use anything else. I found my shining star. It works. It is wonderful. It makes my life better and I do not have the greasy hair of an alley cat anymore.
Shampoo + Conditioner Bars
So, shampoo bars are amazing. They are a true innovation and are going to save SO much plastic. Our bars, from Birch Babe, have won clean beauty awards (just check out their Instagram!) and are the only bar that has worked on my very thick, long hair. I do not presently offer a conditioner bar, mostly because I haven't found one that I find truly works yet, and I don't want to offer it just because. As soon as I get there, I will be so excited to share it with everyone!
Getting a tray to keep your shampoo bar inside the shower up and off the surface of the shower will increase its longevity. The tray will allow it to dry between uses and not have a layer of film-scum to clean off of your shower. The bamboo shelves I have from No Tox Life were originally intended by the company for their dishwashing soap blocks, but they are awesome in the shower and allow you to stack up your soap bars. This will be helpful for anyone hoping to do this with several people using the same shower, or if you have a few bars - a body bar, a shampoo bar, a shaving bar, etc.
4. Shaving Cream
So, I am going to do another blog about using and maintaining a safety razor and probably get into the shaving cream swap there, too. But, same as above - get a bar version of this item. It will save money and work better with your safety razor, and you're not relying on a host of artificial ingredients to make your legs feel like a lily pad while you're in the shower. Shaving oil is also a great option, I just haven't found one that I can use that doesn't run away quickly - a soap bar lather I can manage to lather up half my leg and it remains before I'm finished shaving that same body part.
5. Safety Razor!
This girl is the real deal. Check out my blog post on choosing, using and maintaining a safety razor for more information!
6. Face Wash
One of my favourite swaps ever has been to a charcoal soap bar to wash my face. I just have the one that I keep on my bathroom shelf and I just bring it over to the shower when that's where it is needed - I definitely forgot the first few times, but the habit wasn't too tough to form.
My facial bar is a charcoal face bar by Birch Babe. I first started out with Herbivore's version of the bar and loved it. This guy cleared my adult, hormonal acne, and cost so much less than the Sephora products I found that were working best (after trying to try so many things). Once I found Birch Babe, that was it. She's a small, woman-owned shop that is local to me, and her bar was even less expensive and has ironically lasted longer. Birch Babe also makes a glorious oatmeal bar for your face as well, if you have more sensitive skin.
Welp, that’s about it for my shower at this time! Look forward to more bathroom swap stories soon!