Together for tomorrow


20 ways to cut plastic and other waste from your bathroom

by | Jul 12, 2019

Have you had a good look at your bathroom recently? Plastic everywhere, isn’t there? Now that it’s Plastic Free July, try Helen Moffett’s tried-and-tested plastic-free grooming habits. The published poet, author and editor has always been waste-free and waterwise. “My parents were green: an environmental botanist and an organic gardener. They both grew up on farms, and so did I for the first eight years of my life – in the thirsty Little Karoo. Having watched my parents deal with every scrap of waste our family produced for decades (there is no garbage collection from farms) means I’ve never been able to take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to waste.” Unless she’s suggesting you give up a bad habit, you can buy most of Helen’s plastic-free alternatives at stores listed below.

1. Ditch the disposable razors. Never was a plastic gadget so inaccurately named. There is no safe and green way to get rid of them. Use good old-fashioned safety razors instead, and dispose of the blades the same way you would needle sharps. Or stop shaving: grow a beard, wax, laser your armpits (not nearly as expensive and painful as you might think) or just go natural.

2. Use bamboo toothbrushes. To my surprise, they cost no more than plastic ones.

3. As with so many waste-free options, you have two options for replacing tubes of toothpaste. You can find something clever but more expensive, or for next to nothing, you can make your own. (See tip 20).

4. Biodegradable earbuds should definitely be on your shopping list. My tip for disposing of my remaining regular cotton buds (I bought a jumbo pack years ago) isn’t going to stop the planet burning, but people really like it: I snip or strip the ends into the bin in which I collect stuff for burning, and chuck the remaining plastic sticks into my eco-bricks. Once again, best to use fewer of them: use washable make-up brushes and sponges instead.

5. Don’t use wet wipes or cotton puffs for cleansing the skin. Use washable flannel facecloths, like your granny did (and her skin was flawless, right?) If you must use wet wipes, choose biodegradable ones. Never flush them. I wash the non-biodegradable kinds and use them as household wipes, strainers, etc.

6. To replace plastic bottles and packaging, soap and shampoo bars are now easily available from places like Lush and the zero-waste stores opening in cities around the country. The reports coming in are mostly good.

7. We’ll use less stuff if we stop buying into the propaganda that insists we constantly wash our bodies, faces and hair. One reason we need so many moisturisers and lotions is because through excessive washing, we’re stripping our skin of its natural protective oils and serums.

8. Let’s face it, the beauty industry flogs mostly utterly needless products for astoundingly presumptuous prices. This industry generates an excessive amount of waste. Think of all the fussy “pretty” packaging: those tiny pots, lipstick cases, plastic shampoo containers, and more.

9. To tackle this, go through your bathroom and finish absolutely everything in it before buying anything new. Cut open those tiny expensive tubes and scrape out the contents. Same with the samples you get in magazines. If elegant local actress Grethe Fox does this, so can you.

10. When I reach the end of a lipstick (I hold no truck with ‘This Will Make You Forever Young Yeah Right’ moisturisers, but I dearly love make-up), I scrape out the bit left behind into a special pot, add a drop of almond or coconut oil, mix, and apply with a lip brush. Because this gets added to regularly, the colour is always changing, which is fun.

11. Make your own moisturising creams and lotions. This will not only reduce waste and save money, you’ll also avoid slathering chemicals on your skin. The Internet has a deluge of videos showing you how to do so easily, cheaply and safely. Interestingly, friends who’re experimenting with this say the most costly ingredients are the pure scented oils – which aren’t actually needed, and which can be replaced with lavender and herbs.

12. Note that you can concoct your own make-up too. This is beyond the ambit of this list, but You Tube, Instagram, Pinterest and a thousand green beauty blogs will tell you how, in exhaustive detail.

13. Hotels and guesthouses are replacing little plastic shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles with big bottles to be re-used by multiple guests. But they have to bolt them to the shower walls to stop folk swanning off with them. Still, that’s the way to go. Meanwhile, collect those miniature bottles and soaps and donate to organisations like Rape Crisis, which put them in comfort packs to give to children who’ve suffered unspeakable violation.

14. Some things are very tricky to dispose of safely. Certain pharmaceutical and medical waste has to be professionally disposed of: used needles and other sharps, blood bags. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to proceed. Plastic syringes can be taken apart and their component bits packed into eco-bricks.

15. Never throw away expired drugs (most especially not antibiotics or hormones), or even worse, flush them down the toilet: ask your chemist to dispose of them for you, or take them to a hospital for incineration.

16. Never flush used condoms. Researching green methods of disposing of condoms and sex toys was amusing, but not in the end very enlightening. It seems these will indeed have to go out with the garbage.

17. There is no getting away from the fact that periods are a messy business. Apart from some villages in northern Kenya, where women use dried cow dung as pads, and then bury these, there is no waste-free way to menstruate. You will need either to burn or throw away disposable pads, wash reusable pads, or use running water to rinse menstrual cups and sponges. The latter two options are the greenest option, with reusable pads maybe the best for those in water-scarce communities.


18. Apart from underwear and any clothing in which we do manual or dirty labour, or exercise, the test for when to wash a garment is: it has to be visibly dirty (ring around the collar, spills down the front) or smelly before it goes in the laundry basket. Change out of any smart or formal clothes as soon as you get home, and hang them up to air. If you’ve been somewhere that has permeated your outfit with an unwanted smell, hang it on the line, spritz lightly with water into which you’ve put a spoon of scented or apple-cider vinegar, and let it air. And protect your clothes – wear an apron when cooking, and tuck a napkin into your collar when eating something gloriously messy.

19. Pack your own shower cap when traveling so you don’t have to use the disposable one in the hotel. I haven’t been able to come up with a non-plastic alternative, but I re-use shower-caps until the elastic perishes, and then they go into my travel bag to wrap around shoes when packing them in luggage.

20. Here’s a final bathroom, beauty-and-waste-related thought: Julia Roberts was recently asked for her single most NB beauty tip. Here it comes, from one of the most iconic and bankable faces in the world: LOOK AFTER YOUR TEETH. The best part? She doesn’t use toothpaste. She brushes with bicarbonate of soda. Be more like Julia. – HM

Stores for zero-waste shopping

These stores are great for natural and organic cosmetics, self-care items, natural cleaning goods, dried and fresh organic foods and plastic-free packaging options. Take glass jars and re-usable bags along. Below the city guide is a list of food delivery services and a list of national stores where you can do a fair amount of zero-waste shopping. (With thanks to Anna Bailey for the Johannesburg information.)

Cape Town

Nude Foods
5 Constitution St
City Centre

Shop Zero
403 Albert Road

Good Store
242 Sir Lowry Road,

Daily Goods Store
29 Palmer Rd,


The Refill Den
Suite 102, 68 Adelaide Tambo Drive

House of Bravo
Shop 1
295 Florida Road

Unit 15 Gregory Park
Garlicke Drive

Good Source SA
42 Old Main Road


The Refillery
Cedar Square

Linden Gourmet Cheese
3rd Avenue
71A 7th St
For cheeses wrapped in wax paper

Impala Fruit & Veg
177 Beyers Naudé Drive
For moderate selection of canned and bottled foods and of loose vegetables and fruit

Oaklands Farm Supply
Oaklands Shopping Centre
Kruger St & Pretoria Street
Moderate selection of loose vegetables and fruit

Dunkeld Fruit and Flowers
279, 281 Jan Smuts Ave
Moderate selection of loose vegetables and fruit, and for flowers

Port Elizabeth

Waste-Not Groceries
21 Bain Street
Richmond Hill


Lush has a great selection of shampoo, moisturising and cleansing bars.

Online shop for menstrual cups, soaps, bamboo toothbrushes and other products.

  • The 20 Tips are an extract from Helen Moffett’s new book Waste Wise: 169 Ways to Save the Planet (published by Bookstorm), which will be available in August.
  • Image credits: Masego Morgan/Twyg


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