Before adopting Zero Waste, I was an avid consumer of beauty and grooming products. But when I started to learn more about the chemicals they’re loaded with, and the negative impact they have on health, I began to feel like a guinea pig. When I decided to eradicate waste and toxins from our lives, I became the tireless subject of my own research.
At first, I needed all the energy I could summon to navigate a field of products, many of them harmful to health and to the environment. I found that the beads in common store-bought exfoliators carry tiny plastic particles that end up in our water, that the paper wrapper around many soaps is lined with plastic and is therefore not recyclable, that many organic brands care about ingredients but not the impact of packaging on the environment.
The bathroom is probably the second source of waste at home, but even here it can easily be avoided by decluttering, implementing reusables, and deploying collection receptacles.
While the basic function of bathrooms is to serve our everyday health, hygiene, and grooming rituals, I have found most households tend to breed duplicate shampoo containers, expired prescriptions, and disposable remnants of all types. But the signs of personal obsessions and self-doubts that we also attempt to hide behind closed cabinet doors are hardly a secret: many bathrooms are filled with miracle creams claiming to take years off, with cosmetics promising to cover up our imperfections and bewitching perfumes claiming to attract the opposite sex.
The first step to beauty (and therefore bathroom) simplicity is to try to limit our exposure to the media and store merchandising. It’s true that unless we live in a remote area, it is nearly impossible to completely avoid, but reducing our exposure is certainly possible, and with practice, you can even acquire selective vision!
Simplification is the second step to a Zen bathroom, and it begins with emptying the cabinets and drawers and assessing what is really needed.
• Is it functional? Expired? Old cosmetics provide a haven for bacterial growth and can become hazardous to health, just as combs with missing teeth can damage hair. Expired medications work up to a point, but can sometimes make your condition worse.
• Do I use it regularly? You might have bought a large container of lotion at Costco fifteen years ago, but you have since adopted a different brand. That lotion is waiting to be used and probably never will be. Don’t deny the facts: if you do not use it at least once a month or if it’s dusty, let it go.
• Is it a duplicate? How many brushes or combs does one really need? What about hair ties? Combine half-used bottles, samples, and hotel gifts in one shampoo dispenser. When editing duplicates, favor those that promote efficiency or dry faster (choose waffle weave towels over terry cloth ones, for example).
• Does it endanger the health of my family? Chemicals used in bathroom products can cause health problems. Make your health and that of your family a priority.
• Do I keep it out of guilt? Perfume is a common gift and many perfumes are toxic (and probably should have been phased out based on the previous question). But consider whether or not you are holding on to a product out of guilt because the bottle is pretty or someone spent a lot of money for it. Take comfort in knowing that recycling is inevitable; if you don’t throw it away, someone else after you surely will.
• Do I keep it because “everyone else has”?
• Is my precious time worth cleaning it? Moisture and dust are not best friends. If you clean decorative items in your bathroom, you know how difficult it is to clean caked-on dust. Is the nautical theme worth it? Probably not. Send the ship to the kids’ playroom.
• Could I use this space for something else? Hair rollers take a lot of room; if you let them go, you could use the space to put the towels in the empty closet rather than on a shelf where they collect dust.
• Is it reusable? Disposables take up space, too, and we will eliminate them in this chapter, but for now, your stash could help someone in need. Men’s shelters need disposable razors; women’s shelters feminine hygiene products. The latter could also be dropped off in a public bathroom (some provide baskets full of feminine products) to aid someone in an emergency.
Whether you need bathroom receptacles (compost, recycling, and landfill) will greatly depend on your access to bulk and your ability to switch to reusables. To simplify housekeeping, it’s best to store containers under the counter.
Recycle and compost what you can.
Try this: remove your trash can (reassign it for your recyclables until you can eliminate it altogether) . . . whatever waste you have to carry out to your landfill receptacle in the kitchen calls for a substitute.
For each disposable, many alternatives exist. But here are a few guidelines on making selections: • Keep an open mind. • Let your specific needs be your guide in defining what to adopt. • Watch out for the Dirty Dozen in the products that you do purchase. • Be patient. Some alternatives require a transitional period for your body to adjust. • Have fun. Maintain a good sense of humor when you stumble upon alternatives that don’t work for you.
Skin Hand/Body/Face Soap Bar: Solid soap is the best option in terms of waste if you can find it sold loose or in. You can use it for washing hands, face, and body, shaving, and shampooing.
• Store-bought: For long exposure to the sun’s powerful rays and those reflected by water, sand, or snow, I have selected a manufactured organic brand.
Dental products pose a tough problem to those of us living zero-waste lifestyles. Many parts of the dental hygiene routine create trash—the toothpaste tube and floss being the main problem areas. Recipes abound for homemade toothpaste and mouthwashes. The problem is, there is a large debate about which ingredients in (store-bought and homemade) toothpaste are good or bad for your teeth. Because I am not a professional in this area, I recommend you do what I did and speak with your dentist about your desire for an effective, safe, and zero-waste teeth-cleaning routine.
Virtually all toothbrushes are designed to be disposable after two or three months of use. And although no one is going to argue for a toothbrush designed to be used forever, this is a lot of waste headed into the landfill each year. The problem is that most toothbrushes are made from plastics, and they are not recyclable. Your better bet is to opt for something recyclable or biodegradable; both options do exist. Check out Preserve Toothbrushes. Toothbrushes made with a bamboo handle and biodegradable bristles are another option to consider. For toothpaste nowadays there are tablets that dissolve in the mouth in recyclable packaging without plastic tubes. Awesome swap!
It’s all part of making my life easier – just like I want to minerals my deodorant is made of. There are numerous ways to eliminate disposables while maintaining modern cleanliness and hygiene standards.
The first step to reducing waste in the bathroom is a change of mindset. To abandon the disposable toilet, you must embrace ‘s the idea of experimenting with alternative products until you find the right that fits your lifestyle.