Eliminating Plastics in the Bathroom

Why zero plastic?

Petroleum based plastics can take up to 1000 years to decompose, which means that the plastics that have ever been produced by humans all exist somewhere on the Earth (source). This is incredibly problematic since the plastics can fill up the landfills and the ocean, where they release toxic chemicals that harm plants and animals - including humans - for hundreds of years. And of course, extracting petroleum releases CO2 into the atmosphere. 

"Compostable" plastics fare better but do require proper composting environments to completely decompose, which not all recycling centers currently have. There are also different types of "compostable" plastics where all nuances live (source). Seattle (where I live) is good in that "biodegradable" plastics can be put in the curbside compost bin, but "degradable" or "oxo-degradable" plastics cannot be in the compost bin and instead should be in the garbage (source). 

Recycling plastic often makes people feel better but is simply not working in the US. One reason is that plastics are contaminated way too often which voids the recycling process. Another reason is that the recycled plastics simply have nowhere to go; other countries used to take the US's tons of recycled plastics but stopped accepting them due to high contamination. Therefore, the plastics that you wash and place in your curbside bin is likely to end up in the landfills or incinerated (which is harmful for the air) (source). One study found that only 9% of plastics ever produced have been recycled (source). 

So.... plastics are bad, and recycling is not working, and the best solution seems to be to eliminate plastic!

I decided that I would stop purchasing products that contain plastics. This is pretty hard to do really; most things have some components of plastic in them whether through the actual product or packaging. I decided I would focus on one category at a time - this post is on the "bathroom" category. 

1. Hand soap

For many years, I've bought these giant plastic refill bottles (on the right) to fill soap into my soap dispenser (in the middle). I thought this approach was overall using less plastic than if I bought a plastic, one-use soap dispenser every time (on the left). Plus, it looks nicer! But there's a way to completely eliminate plastic..

I discovered that there are tablets that dissolve in water and turn into hand soap! I think it's a brilliant idea since tablets do not take up much space and can be packaged in just paper. One brand is Blueland with their Soap Refill Packs and they come with great scents, too! When I run out of my soap refills, I will definitely try them out and update this post.

2. Floss

Floss seems so small and harmless... but when it is in the environment, especially in the ocean, they can be a real problem. Most common, nylon-based floss can take up to 80 years to decompose and they often end up in the ocean. There, they can suffocate marine animals and/or end up in their stomach, causing health problems for many years (source).  

Seal with plastic wrapped around its neck..
Poor seal, dead from suffocation
due to plastic wrapped around its neck..
For full set of (a bit disturbing) photos,
see here

When I looked for alternatives to Nylon-based floss, I was happy to find this Biodegradable Charcoal Bamboo Floss! As the name suggests, it's made out of Bamboo charcoal fiber, so it breaks down in approximately 60-90 days in the compost. So now I just toss the used floss in my compost bin. I've enjoyed flossing with it and I do not miss the Nylon-based floss at all. The Nylon-based floss is also waxed with perfluorinated chemicals, or PFC, and they can cause numerous health issues as well. So I am very happy for my health and the environment with this switch.

3. Toothpaste / Toothbrush

Billions of tooth brushes and tooth pastes end up in landfill every year (source). These plastic-based toothpaste and tooth brush will take up to 400 years in the landfill to end up in the ocean. Again, they often end up hurting our wildlife.

Often, these plastic products will kill wildlife Source

Finding alternatives to plastic toothpaste was easy. I chose this Zero Waste Toothpaste that comes in a glass jar, so it's plastic-free. I have really liked using it - it leaves my mouth feeling fresh every time. Other options include Toothpaste Tablets or Toothpaste Powder that come in a compostable paper packaging, or you can also try making your own Homemade Toothpaste. When I run out of my Zero Waste toothpaste, since I now have a jar I can reuse, I plan on buying the powder product so that I don't introduce more glass jars into the system.

Finding alternatives to plastic toothbrush, however, has been a bit misleading. To my dismay, I bought these "Zero Waste" Charcoal Bamboo Toothbrush but realized afterwards that the bristles are actually Nylon based which do not decompose in the compost. Apparently, making bristles without Nylon is a challenge (source). I'm a bit confused about the branding of the Toothbrush that called it "Zero Waste". Anyways, when I run out of the toothbrushes, I will buy these toothbrushes with "Biobased Bristles" since they seem more "Zero Waste" than the ones I bought. 

This set is what I bought! 
So it says "waste free" but it's not. 
The bristles are Nylon-based. 
For actual "waste free" toothbrushes,
 look for bristles that are not Nylon based
 and can actually be decomposed like this one.

4. Hair Care

I've had the same plastic bottles for a couple years now and have bought refills for my Shampoo / Conditioner needs (See below)

Refills that I use..
Still plastic based!

I thought I was being "eco friendly" enough but with simple searches, I found that there are even better solutions! Check out these Shampoo Bar and Conditioner Bar that comes in a paper packaging. I plan on trying it out when I run out of my shampoo / conditioner refills. If the bars do not work out well for my hair though, I might explore shampoos that come in refillable Aluminum bottles like this one. Aluminum over plastic is generally a good idea since aluminum is sturdier, and is better recycled than plastics (source). Look out for products, like the linked one, that allows you to return the bottle for free when you finish using it. This allows the bottle to be reused (not recycle so even better!), and you can simply purchase another one. 
Bar-based products come like this!

5. Lotion

For face lotion, I've been using this Loccitane Shea Butter lotion, which comes in glass container and paper packaging, for about 8 years now. So this has actually been plastic-free for me. 

For hand/body lotion though, I've used various products all with varying degree of plastics. I am yet to run out of them, but when I do, I want to try bar-based products similar to above shampoo / conditioner bars.  For example, this lotion that comes in a tin, also allows you to send the tin back to the company so that the company can recycle it through TerraCycle! 


Overall, through my searches, I've found that there are a lot of websites that have bath products that advertised as "zero waste". It's important to actually read up on the product to understand its ingredients, packaging, and end-of-life disposal process. One "gotcha" was definitely the toothbrush with Nylon-based bristles that were advertised as "zero waste" but is not actually "zero waste". So understanding different components of a product and component-based lifecycle, looking out for paper-based packaging, and looking for companies that support "return just the container for free" will be a good things to keep in mind as a consumer. Some websites that feature only sustainable products are also helpful, like EarthHero, ZeroWasteStore, and BlueLand.


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