Most bathrooms are something straight out of a zero waste Nightmare on Elm Street. 90s kids, I’m looking at you! Not too long ago, we were living on Elm street: plastic disposable razors, cotton swabs, plastic-wrapped virgin tree pulp toilet paper, make-up pads, and oh so many plastic bottles and tubes (many of which we hardly even used!). Let’s not even get started on those millions of “exfoliating” micro-beads that we bought into.
How bad was that?!
Since then, we’ve come a loooong way on our zero waste journey. We’re proud of that and so we take great care to maintain a zero waste bathroom.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A ZERO WASTE BATHROOM?
It does sound like a bit of an oxymoron doesn’t it? Considering the bathroom is the human wasteroom! Human beings (or any animals for that matter) are simply not zero waste in and of themselves.
But looking at the whole picture and the philosophy behind zero waste: take only what you need and redesign or re-imagine our use of products, using only that which can be reused or composted, rather than sent to landfills or incinerated. A circular economy, if you like.
A zero-waste bathroom, then, operates under the belief that the only waste created in the bathroom should be our own (and even that is recycled in its own way, but that’s another story).
With simple product changes and near-effortless zero waste swaps, a lot of waste can be reduced or eliminated all together.
Just like the zero waste journey itself, there is no perfect zero waste bathroom out there. It’s a spectrum and we all land somewhere on the line. It’s just great to make incremental improvements over time. Then, when you look back and realize the impact you’ve had (and the waste you’ve saved) over that period gives you a really really warm fuzzy feeling. The good kind.
In our own journey towards a zero waste bathroom, we realized that we didn’t actually need a lot. Many of the products which somehow landed up in our bathroom we’re almost unconscious purchases. We were often duped into buying stuff we didn’t need thanks to clever marketing. Now, we stick to healthy essentials (no more mystery liquids and unused bottles to say the least).
Our once plastic cluttered bathroom is now a (mostly) minimalist, clutter-free zone that looks cleaner… and isn’t that what we want from a bathroom?!
Here’s some key components of a zero waste bathroom!
Toilet paper is a necessary evil, no butts about it. However, traditional TP is the bathroom’s most wasteful thing: from the harvesting of virgin trees (384 trees over each American’s life, to be precise), to the water, electricity, and literal tons of bleach used in the manufacturing process. Right down to the plastic wrapping that ends up in your waste bin, there are so many horrific things about it (not including what ends up on it).
Instead, go “tree free” with your TP! There are several different ways to do it: reusable family cloths (i.e. washable wiping cloths – we know this is not the easiest alternative to adopt!), bamboo toilet paper, recycled toilet paper, and, for the ultimate in zero waste bum wiping, a bidet! We won’t go super in detail, as we’ve already done that in this article, but we wanted to outline some options here for you.
Did you know, that all the shampoo bottles that get thrown away every year could completely cover 1,164 football fields? We’re so conditioned (😆) to think that shampoos and conditioners must be liquids and liquids, surely, must come in plastic bottles…
In reality, there are tons of options out there (check out our detailed article for some specific ideas) that either have no packaging or come in reusable zero waste containers. We personally love shampoo and conditioner bars because they’re not only zero waste (they come in compostable paper packaging if wrapped at all), but they’re super compact, long lasting, and perfect for travel.
If you’re still partial to those liquid suds, companies like Plaine Products implement “bottle return programs” where you can purchase their product in a 100% recyclable and refillable aluminum bottle, which you send back to them for a refill as needed. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have convenient access, take a reusable container to your local bulk store and fill it up there.
You can also even use home brewed (or store bought if you don’t have the time) raw apple cider vinegar as a zero waste conditioner to naturally cleanse and soften hair.
This one is especially simple because soap often comes in bars anyway! There are so many options for buying eco-friendly (ideally biodegradable) paper wrapped soap bars or soap nuts. You can even make your own. These days, we buy locally made, palm oil-free soaps from our local bulk store.
This switch really just means cutting out liquid hand soaps that come in plastic pump bottles and liquid body wash, especially the ones with little plastic beads. If you really want exfoliation, instead make your own super simple sugar-based scrub (we like this recipe), DIY saves the day!
Plastic deodorant sticks may say they’re recyclable but in all likelihood they’re going straight to landfill. Why? Well, not only because the stats of actual recycling are stacked against them but also because just about every component is a different type of plastic. This would require complete disassembly to be properly recycled. Unfortunately, in this day and age, ain’t nobody got time for that it seems.
But just because the plastic sticks stink doesn’t mean you don’t have to!
It might surprise you to learn how many zero waste deodorants there are on the market. We’ve searched high and low for some really great options (find these here) made from exceptional brands! Cardboard sticks are the main solution, being completely compostable in their packaging yet allowing for the same basic hand-off application method.
Other options include deodorant creams or balms that come in glass jars (some brands even offer take back refill programs) and spray-on “sensitive skin” deodorants that come in refillable spray bottles.
First, stop buying plastic toothbrushes. We know plastic toothbrushes are tantalizingly cheap and come in a rainbow of colors, but they’re devastating the environment. 90 billion of them get thrown away annually. As we’ve said before (somewhere here on Sustainable Jungle), we urge you to check out Life of a Toothbrush if you’re not convinced.
A simple swap to a bamboo brush does wonders. Even if bamboo isn’t as colorful (sigh), it’s a quick replenishing resource that yields a biodegradable brush. Just be sure to remove the bristles before composting as no bamboo toothbrush (yet, at least) has truly compostable bristles (check here for more info).
Bamboo toothbrushes are super accessible these days. Alternatively, check out The Goodwell Company which makes super sleek looking aluminum handled brushes with refillable bristles.
Next, swap out your really slow to non-degradable tube of toothpaste for some toothpaste tabs, tooth soap sticks, tooth powder, or your own DIY paste; Again, we’ve found some great options which you can check out here. Then, you can finish off with mouthwash tablets!
Finally, if you’re a frequent flosser (which you should be, as it’s great dental hygiene practice!), switch over to zero waste floss. Yup, this is a thing too! And haven’t you ever thought how crazy it is that with regular floss they package it in such excessive plastic for the little amount of floss you actually get? Us too!
Thankfully, there are lots of options for this as well, but we personally love Georganics Natural Cardamon Silk Floss. It’s gentle, strong, and they offer refills in little cardboard boxes 🙂 – this floss is compostable and the “cruelty-free silk is obtained only once the worms have hatched and the cocoons are vacant, made in a way that is more humane to silkworms than many traditional methods”
Another option is the cordless water flosser, like the Waterpik, but please get rechargeable batteries for it so as to reduce hazardous waste.
These guys are making a comeback!
Another really easy zero waste swap that’s easy to overlook is the razor. Before the junky little disposable plastic razor was a thing, people used safety razors. Which, we admit, look anything but safe. Though, I’ve used it heaps and have only ever had a couple of small nicks because I was rushing the job!
These metal gadgets function the exact same way as a plastic razor, but they last so much longer, making the higher upfront cost worth it, both financially and environmentally. The steel blade can also be properly recycled!
If you want to go really old school and feel like you’re back in the 1920s, you can even get into the art of shaving with a straight razor! This is, of course, a level up on the safety razor – don’t try this at home kids (without reading the guide first!).
Not only is traditional makeup unhealthy for you and your skin (thanks to the synthetic additives and cheap fillers), they almost always come in plastic jars and palettes that are incredibly difficult to recycle properly.
But the zero waste make-up industry is on the rapid rise thanks to consumer demand. We want cleaner and greener products for both ourselves and the earth.
Now, you can find everything from lip stains and highlighter to eye shadow and custom skin-matched foundation. Check out our detailed brand guides and product recommendations here.
For the creative and daring (and those who have time), you can even go DIY! There are tons of simple (though admittedly a little messy) way to make your own zero waste make-up. Have a look at what this kind of process entails here.
Don’t forget the reusable cotton facial rounds to help you take it off!
For those with dry skin, fear not! You can still moisturize without the pump bottles (that have a bunch of different plastics involved).
The easiest solution is to make your own zero waste lotion out of mere coconut and essential oils. We did some research on various ingredients for body care products and these are really beneficial for your skin. I find plain old coconut oil applied straight out of the shower works well!
Otherwise, there are lots of product options out there, including our beloved bars, balms, whips, creams, and more. There are some great handmade options available on Etsy
Another come back product from the days of old!
This little cloth product is super versatile and can replace far more than just tissues around the house: paper towels, napkins, cotton balls, baby wipes, and more.
Best of all, you probably already have plenty of things that you can upcycle into these: old washcloths, retired t-shirts, bed linen, scraps from sewing projects, and more! If you must buy, you can even get lovely sets of cute and colorful organic cotton pads that are soft and skin friendly.
Just in case bathroom banter hasn’t been personal enough, let’s talk menstruation. Having a zero waste period reduces so much waste in the form of pad wrappings and plastic tampon applicators. To put it in perspective, consider that on average, each woman will produce 2,400 tampons of waste in their life!
First off, switch to a menstrual cup. I did over a year and a half ago and it was actually way easier (in many ways!). They last around 10 years and are totally safe for your body too. There are so many options on the market these days, but we recommend the Saalt cup because they donate 2% of revenue towards educational programs and women in need. If you live in the US / Canada you can find them on Amazon or if you’re based in the UK, Amazon will have local stock there too.
For overnight, pair your cup with some period panties or when you can’t be bothered with the cup. These are basically just leak-resistant, absorbent underwear, that replace pads, only you can wash them and wear them again and again. I recommend Modibodi (they also give back), which come in tons of different styles of underwear for different flow days (they even have a G-string option!). Amazon US, Amazon UK and Amazon Australia stock them.
For both menstrual cup options and period panties, Etsy also stock both from some really great brands that have glowing reviews.
That’s right, composting and recycling isn’t just for the kitchen. We find it super helpful to also have a small collector bin right in the bathroom.
For compostable waste (like floss – per the above) you can either transfer the material into your actual compost bin or vermicomposter, or take it somewhere where it can be composted. For recyclable waste (like toilet paper rolls), we find it much easier to collect the bathroom recycling in one go when taking out the recycling rather than transferring small things to the main recyclable bin a few times a week.
If you need to also have a trash can, either go linerless or use 100% biodegradable liner bags. We like Unni’s plant starch-based bags, because they’re certified in both America and Europe as 100% compostable AND biodegradable.
Once you’ve knocked off the big ticket items, you can start looking for little things on the road towards a zero waste bathroom. Q-tips, or cotton swabs, are a huge (little) one. If you use them to clean your ears, first consider that most audiologists actually advocate against this (it can impact wax and damage the ear canal).
If you’re set on cleaning your ears, a simple reusable bobby pin is actually the better way to go (it scoops wax out instead of pushing it further in).
We like a clean bathroom; everyone does (we hope). Most of us keep some degree of cleaning supplies in the bathroom, and while we don’t need a lot, we do still need them.
But did you know you can buy cleaning supplies in bulk? That’s how we buy toilet bowl cleaner (which is made of all natural ingredients so it’s earth friendly) and we just keep it in a reusable glass jar.
Also consider getting a biodegradable toilet brush when the time comes to replace your current one. We like this one, which has an untreated beechwood handle and coconut plant fiber bristles. You can store it in yet another repurposed container, like a coffee can or large jar.
For sinks, bathtubs, countertops, and floors, if you have the time consider making your own zero waste all-purpose cleaner with vinegar which you can bottle in one of many spray bottles you probably cleaned out of your bathroom. Again, we struggle to find the time for this and tend to just buy at the bulk store.
Next to the kitchen, the bathroom is one of the most wasteful areas of the home. Fortunately, with some simple changes and swaps it’s an easy fix towards a zero waste bathroom. Admittedly, reading the list above, may seem like a lot, but you might have also noticed a lot of these are already in your basic zero waste kit.
Remember, a zero waste bathroom doesn’t materialize overnight. It’s small incremental steps that will become good habits before you know it. Continue to use up existing products and merely replace them with zero waste alternatives as needed.
Plus, many of these zero waste swaps are not only better for the environment but better for you, as zero waste brands tend toward natural and organic (i.e. generally less synthetic, harmful and other synthetic chemicals in their products).
We’ve found we actually gain time because we spend less time taking out single-use bathroom trash!Just because the bathroom is the ‘dumping ground’ doesn’t mean it needs to be filled with so much sh*t (well, not the plastic and chemical kind anyway).
Any zero waste swaps you’d like to suggest – do tell, we’d love to add them to the list!