On creating a zero waste bathroom…
The bathroom: a space of our house we often tuck away and forget about, despite using it for some of the – ahem – most vital functions. In fact, the bathroom is full of many items we can choose to not repurchase, DIY, or find non-disposable alternatives for.
Trust me when I say there’s definitely plenty of room for our collective improvement. To the tune of two billion disposable razors and one billion toothbrushes thrown away per year. Luckily, easy, low-cost investments can drastically reduce that number without much of an effect on your daily routine.
Let’s talk about all the ways you can easily build your own zero waste bathroom…
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at The sink
It’s funny how zero waste suddenly brings small things into sharp perspective. Toothbrushes, those innocuous little things, are a gigantic burden on our environment. One billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year in the United States alone. And once they end up in the landfill, they take centuries upon centuries to even begin to break down.
Clearly, better choices need to be made. Thankfully, there are options.
Easy actionable step: limit your capacity for stuff with a box. Assess your space, grab a container that fits how much counter space you want to take up, and commit to only using products that can be stored in that container.
- Toothbrush. I use The Green Root bamboo toothbrushes, and Brush With Bamboo if I run out since I can find them in the grocery store. (I’m not a fan as their packaging contains industrial compostable bioplastics.) Both are 100% bamboo with nylon bristles – just remove those and throw them away before composting. Many mainstream grocery stores are stocking bamboo toothbrushes (although in plastic – hi, greenwashing) in their dental aisles.
- Toothpaste. I’m ride-or-die for Fig+Yarrow tooth powder. It’s quite expensive but lasts way longer than a tube of toothpaste! David’s Toothpaste (in a metal tube) and BITE Toothpaste Tabs also get high praise.
- Floss. Dental Lace is a great company for plastic-free silk floss. Here is a bamboo-fiber option if you prefer vegan.
- Hand soap. I’m a fan of a basic castile bar for hand soap (or see here how to elevate a basic bar). If you can’t hang with a bar of soap, Zero Waste Chef has a dish soap recipe that I use for my bathroom pump.
- Hand towels and washcloths. While using what you already have is best, Boll & Branch is an organic, ethics-driven company that sells gorgeous cotton products if you’re looking to invest in new ones.
in the Shower
The big benefit of working toward a zero waste bathroom is that you’re able to pare down the products you use – saving you money and avoiding the sketchy toxic ingredients in commercial products. The shower is a high-impact way of getting this done.
Easy actionable step: the first Rs of zero waste are refuse and reduce. Flex that muscle by downsizing your shower routine by 10-20%. (20 items in your shower? Once you’ve finished them up, do not re-buy 2 (10%) to 4 (20%) of your products.)
- Shampoo. So many options, and expect plenty of trial -and-error since hair is so wildly different between people. Here are a few popular options: refillable Plaine Products, JR Liggett’s shampoo bar, a green tea rinse, ACV + bentonite clay + water (from a natural hair sustainability guru), an olive oil soap bar (natural hair), or a Milk & Honey shampoo bar.
- Conditioner. Again, so many options! I personally pre-treat with coconut or argan oil and rinse in the shower with ACV + diluted with water. You could also try any number of Etsy conditioner bars, refillable Plaine Products or for natural hair a mixture of grapeseed oil + cocoa butter + coconut oil.
- Soap. An unpackaged bar of soap is the way to go. DIY a bar of castile soap, grab a widely-available Zum Bar, or find one at Bestowed Essentials.
- Body scrubber. Kick plastic scrubbers or commercial exfoliators filled with microplastics. The easiest way is to use an old washcloth. Alternatively, use a natural loofah sponge or 100% biodegradable bamboo and boar bristle scrubber.
- Razor. I bought my stainless steel safety razor for about $15 at Target. There are also plenty of options online – this Leaf ($79 – yikes!) has a rotating head if you’re scared of cutting yourself and this long-handled Merkur safety razor is highly rated. Buy a large pack of blades and be set for a long time!
- Non-slip floor mat. This is not something I would have thought of, but my husband has been asking about a low-waste option for a while! Here is a 100% silicone option, or a bamboo mat that appears to hold up to wetness.
- Shower curtains. I’m lucky enough to have an enclosed glass shower, but hemp shower curtains are heavy enough (and anti-microbial) that they don’t need a plastic liner. Linen shower curtains also dry quickly, making them a good option as well.
Want to explore a waste-free bathroom even further? join the Essential zero waste blueprint – it’s zone 2!
We’re constantly sold that we need a different item for each specific part of our body. Luckily, that’s almost never true. A big part of a zero waste bathroom is minimizing the amount of toiletries we think we need.
Easy actionable step: do a toiletry audit. Divide your items into “keep”, “DIY”, and “do not re-buy” to help visualize what you need to pare down.
- Face/body lotion. For my all-purpose lotion, I made a 1:1:1 mixture of shea butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. Simply melt the shea butter and coconut oil in a double boiler then add the olive oil. Once it dries, you’ve got lotion! Don’t want to DIY? You can buy lotion in large, returnable containers from Plaine Products. Other small makers with great products includes thpapothecary and Natty Naturals.
- Deodorant. I’m such a proponent of deodorant DIY. It’s so simple, and the perfect way to dip your toe into the zero wast world. Here’s the 3-ingredient deodorant recipe. If you’re absolutely not a maker, try Schmidt’s, Meow Meow Tweet or Lalin et La Siren – but know it’ll cost you compared to the DIY option.
- Perfume. Paris to Go has a simple perfume recipe on her blog; I also posted about a solid perfume option for easier on-the-go access.
- Facial toners, serums, and scrubs. While there are many low-waste DIYs out there, this is one area I like to buy for. This herbal toner works really well for me. I have my eye on these gorgeous botanical-infused serums, and this entire line of facial products from Bohemian Collection has excellent reviews.
- Hair brush. What you need specifically depends on your hair type, but a 100% wooden comb or natural brush could work well for most.
- Styling cream or gel. If your hair natural or otherwise thick and textured, some oil or butter run through may be enough for you. Otherwise this homemade hair spray may work better for you.
- Dry shampoo. Cornstarch with added cocoa powder to darken if needed. Dust on with brush, carefully comb or massage out. Boom.
in the makeup bag
Finding the right zero waste makeup brand can seem almost impossible… It takes a lot of trial and error to find what works for you, but paring down your cosmetics is a key part of a zero waste bathroom.
Easy actionable step: just like at the sink, create a specific amount of space for your makeup to help keep the product creep at bay.
A list of low-waste makeup options:
- Besame Cosmetics. Not specifically zero waste, but my holy grail for mascara. They’re a vintage company, and their cake mascara in a tin is the best. Beautiful and functional.
- Alima Pure. They offer refillable compacts with magnetic pans and has some major dedication to the Earth. They’re a carbon neutral company (unlike any other on this list), they donate 1% of their gross sales to grassroots organizations, and all their ingredients are listed and explained in an easy-to-understand way.
- Elate Clean Cosmetics. Vegan, cruelty free, gluten free, and toxin free cosmetics made in Canada. Their cases and containers are made of sustainable bamboo.
- Kjaer Weis. Luxury, sustainable cosmetics. Their compacts and other cosmetics containers are high-quality metal which are meant to last; the company offers refills for its products that drastically reduces the amount of packaging you create with their products.
Nothing too wild on this bit of the zero waste bathroom tour. We still use regular toilet paper, though we try to buy the eco-friendliest options (recycled paper, no plastic packaging, or larger plastic packages when necessary). My husband grew up with an outhouse and is not keen to go back to primitive living. I get it, I respect it.
Easy actionable step: get together with the people in your house and see what limits can be reached. Can you switch toilet paper brands? Get rid of toilet paper altogether?
- Toilet paper. The least scary option for most is to invest in toilet paper that doesn’t cut down trees to make something we wipe ourselves with, like Who Gives A Crap. The next step would be to cut out toilet paper altogether and make or buy family cloth wipes. You could also pair either with a Tushy bidet to further reduce the need for wiping.
- Toilet brush. Use what you have until it no longer works, but consider replacing the plastic option with 100% natural brush and stand when the time comes.
- Toilet cleaner. I use 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water. Spray, let sit for 5 minutes, and scrub clean. For particularly tough spots, I sprinkle baking soda, spray with vinegar, and let it sit for 10 minutes before scrubbing. (Need even more zero waste cleaning recipes? Here they are!)
Talking water usage
Easy actionable step: make sure all of your water-fixtures and appliances are water-saving when you need to buy new ones.
While in fact the bathroom has a fairly limited impact on your overall water footprint (really – see where you waste the most water by far here), there are some simple ways we can reduce water waste in the bathroom.
- Switching to water-efficient items like faucets, toilets, and showerheads can reduce your home water usage by 20%.
- You can do a simple shower test: if your shower fills a one-gallon bucket in under 20 seconds, it’s not water efficient.
- Little things can have a big impact: if your faucet drips once per second, you waste five gallons of water per day! (source)
There are thousands of different items we can swap and actions we can take to create a more zero waste bathroom. It’s important – though – to choose just a few things to take on at once, otherwise the process can seem overwhelming. If you need more guidance towards a zero waste life, I recommend checking out The Essential Zero Waste Blueprint.