The bathroom is one of the main culprits of the endless demand for products contained within single-use plastics. I’m afraid a lot of the responsibility for this, as in many other cases, is down to the advertising and marketing campaigns that make us feel as though we need these products. In actual fact, most toiletries are full of things we don’t need, such as preservatives (so products have long lives to sit on shelves), fragrances (to hide all the chemicals) and surfactants (these give instant foaming effects, but actually damage aquatic ecosystems). If we are what we eat, then it follows that we are what we clean ourselves with too.
Most toiletries are full of things we don’t need, such as preservatives (so products have long lives to sit on shelves), fragrances (to hide all the chemicals) and surfactants (these give instant foaming effects, but actually damage aquatic ecosystems)
Our bodies have not spent thousands of years in evolution to create systems that are bad for us – they are great at self-regulating to keep our skin and other areas in the best possible condition all on their own. How many of the available scrubs, creams, lotions and potions can we really not do without? Many of them are probably just confusing the natural processes in our bodies. Try stripping your list of toiletries right back and see what you can do without. Plus, it’ll be so much cheaper that you could probably afford an extra holiday within the year.
What is enough? Do I really need to wash myself all over with soap every day? I actually started to reduce my soap usage a few years back. Now, I wash my body once or twice a week with soap. Clean, hot water is actually very good at cleansing the body, because most of the time we don’t need to be super clean. Obviously, I do the important bits daily (especially hands, which are used for everything). But washing all over with lots of soap too often can actually disrupt the natural PH levels in our skin.
Advertising agencies and skincare companies stand to profit from our expensive personal hygiene habits
Our top dead layer of skin cells contains lipids (a sort of fat) that protects the healthy new skin underneath. Constant cleaning with soap breaks down the protective cells on top, which puts the body into a continuous state of repair through excessive oil production. The likelihood is that it won’t be able to keep up though, and skin will become dry. The resulting irony is that through overuse of soap, we then feel the need to repair ourselves by using lots of another product to replenish moisture. Advertising agencies and skincare companies stand to profit from our expensive personal hygiene habits, but it is a pretty inefficient system for us and for the environment.
The same goes for shampooing our hair. Excessive use of shampoo every day will dry your hair out and make you reach for lots of conditioner. Instead, use less good quality products with natural ingredients and let the natural oils on your scalp do the job they are meant to do.
Everyone is different, so I cannot prescribe a daily routine, but just questioning your own personal habits and keeping an eye on the quality and amount of products you use will help you and help the world.
Eco-friendly bathroom switches*
- Wooden or bamboo toothbrushes
- Reusable cotton or bamboo make-up remover pads
- Recycled loo paper – there are some fantastic brands out there that sell recycled toilet paper packaged in recycled paper, who don’t use chemicals and who use their profits in charitable ways, like building loos for people who need them
- Shampoo and body wash bars – the production of liquid soaps requires five times more energy than soap bars, and can use up to twenty times more packaging
- Palm oil-free soaps
- Plant-based products
- Bath towels and bathmats made from organic and sustainable materials
- Reusable washcloths – they wash really easily and colour coding them is a great way to know whose is whose
Things to think about installing
Some of these things are cheap and easy, others are expensive and require work. Don’t feel like you need to install all of these, but pick what’s best for you, save up and/or wait until something needs replacing before you make a switch. Build up to these moments and make sure you congratulate yourself when they happen – investing in living more sustainably is such an achievement.
- Put two sand-filled containers in the toilet cistern – this reduces the amount of water that the cistern needs to fill up, so each flush uses less water. Experiment with how large the containers are to control the amount of water you need
- Make shelves out of reclaimed wood
- Use reclaimed glass toothbrush holders
- Use locally made furnishings, or even better products made within 30 miles of where you live
- Use natural products like stone, cork, and 100% natural rubber
- When you need a new bathtub, get a metal one – acrylic or fibreglass normally end up in landfill
- Motion sensor taps
- Low flow taps and showers
- Low energy extractor fans
- Shower aerators – these can reduce the amount of water to half without loss of pressure
- Waterless loos
- Compost loos
- LED lights
- Underfloor heating – this avoids overheating and wasting energy
Making your own shampoo is, of course, the most Earth-friendly way of washing your hair. There are many books and online tutorials out there dedicated to offering different homemade shampoo recipes suitable for different types of hair, so do your research and find one that works well for you. It may take a little time for your hair to adjust to the new routine, so I recommend alternating homemade shampoo with your regular shampoo every few uses and building it up from there.
There is roughly 200,000 tonnes of menstrual product waste a year in the UK, which equates to about 200 kg of waste per person in their lifetime. I’m told that periods are difficult enough without having to contend with the guilt of all that single-use plastic too! Thankfully, there are many companies out there producing innovative reusable and/or plastic-free options that aim to be more comfortable for you and better for the planet. Whatever you decide to go for is rightly a very personal choice.
Menstrual cups Made of medical-grade silicone, the idea is that these cups can hold more blood than other methods and they are a cleanable, reusable option. They require a small investment, but this pays off very quickly when you think you could save yourself the purchase of approximately 11,000 or more disposable sanitary products in a lifetime.
Reusable period underwear Avoid those microplastics that exist in tampons and pads and opt for a pair of period pants instead. Depending on the brand, you can wear them for up to 12 hours and they can hold up to four tampons’ worth of flow. They’re leak-proof and are machine washable. Invest properly in a good pair, firstly because you deserve it and secondly because it will save you loads of money long term.
Reusable pads Did you know that 90% of a normal menstrual pad is made of plastic? Sustainable versions of these are made from organic cotton, which is what should be next to your intimate areas rather than plastic and chemicals. This can save you itchiness, soreness and discomfort. Invest in quality period products for yourself and for the planet.
Charities There are some wonderful charities out there which aim to bring safe sanitary products to everyone and train people to make their own reusable sanitary products. If you see these charities around, please think about donating.
- Extracted from Join the Greener Revolution: 30 easy ways to live and eat sustainably by Ollie Hunter, published by Pavilion Books
- *As with the kitchen items, don’t buy anything new until you run out of old products, and buy in bulk if possible to help reduce packaging and transport.
- Image: Unplash / Autumn Goodman