Sustainable Switches: Bathroom Edition

Originally published on Dec. 18, 2018

If you take a hard look around your bathroom through the lens of waste-consciousness, you may be surprised to find all the harm contained in tiny products that were marketed to you as good! The tricky thing about consumerism and capitalism is that lots of people are telling you what you should buy, what you should use, where you should buy it and how to find it cheaper. These people don't have your best in their mind; they're only thinking about lining their pockets. Between commercials, editorials and curated Instagram's, it's hard to find what's really good!

Thankfully, with a push toward organic foods, whole foods and natural approaches to skin-care and medicine, we're all starting to get better at reading ingredients.

Before I was zero-waste, I was naturally-minded. I would take the time to look at the ingredients on my "organic" shampoo and to google the stuff I didn't understand. This was a great practice and one helpful tip I learned is that: if there are many ingredients that you can't pronounce, it may not be good for you. The one exception here is if a vitamin is written using its scientific name, or if baking soda is written scientifically, etc. Although, I have an allergy to baking soda in products so either way I'm not buying it.

"Our current culture of consumption is unsustainable. Extracting raw materials from natural spaces requires large amounts of energy and causes pollution, whether it is logging a forest, mining for minerals or drilling for oil. Processing these materials requires more energy and causes more pollution. Once they’re used, the goods are simply dumped in a landfill or destroyed in an incinerator." - Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) 

The alternative to this culture of consumption is a zero-waste approach. This kind of approach would conserve natural resources and reduce pollution.

Adopting the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle" and living by it means less products are made, people buy less and products are made to last. Recycling keeps waste out of landfills and supplies manufacturers recycled materials instead of raw materials to make new goods and products.

We're learning more every day about the dangers of plastic, both to our bodies and the earth around us. That being said, when we approach purchasing, we're not only thinking about plastic packaging. We should consider ingredients, where it came from, how far it traveled and how it is packaged.

First and foremost, before you make these sustainable switches, go ahead and use up what you already have before you buy a replacement (unless what you're using is straight up harmful and full of chemicals). Some shampoo and conditioner bottles can be recycled, so be sure to read the bottle carefully. If it can be recycled, clean out the bottle and lay it out to dry before you place it in the recycling bin.

When you're ready to start replacing your old items, you have the internet available to you to help guide your decision making. There are plenty of product reviews now, written by real people. There are also many zero-waste bloggers giving their opinions (of which I am one). Take everyone's opinion with a grain of salt and find what works for you, especially with skin care. Everyone's individual needs may be a little different so don't beat yourself up if what your body needs comes wrapped in plastic. We're all just doing our best.

Let's talk about a few sustainable switches!

Toothbrushes: did you know that over 1 billion plastic toothbrushes end up in the landfill every single year in North America? That's just North America! They also take 400 years to decompose.

Sustainable Switch: Bamboo Toothbrush! Here's a list of many

Body wash/Soap: Usually come in plastic, may not contain ingredients that are good for you. Even if that plastic bottle can be recycled, only 50% of what we put in our recycling bins is actually recycled. It takes about 1000 years for a plastic bottle to decompose if thrown into a landfill, and each bottle leaks harmful chemicals into our environment as it decomposes

Sustainable Switch: loose soap bars made of natural ingredients! If not loose, in cardboard or paper.

Razor/Shaving: typically disposable razors that are plastic and can't be recycled at all. Perhaps a plastic reusable body with only disposable razors. Shave cream in tin can or plastic bottle, full of chemicals to make it foam.

Sustainable Switch: Safety razor - it will last forever and is made of real metal. It can eventually be recycled through the proper channels (not your bin). Blades that are also metal and can be recycled by the company who makes them (you would mail them back). Natural loose soap bars that do create a layer of foam but not the fake chemical kind.


Floss: usually made of nylon, in a plastic container. Very harmful to marine life.

Sustainable Switch: Dental Lace comes in glass, not synthetic. Check it out

Shampoo/ Conditioner: possibly non-natural ingredients, possibly full of chemicals. In plastic, potentially non-recyclable plastic.

Sustainable Switch: loose shampoo and conditioner bars like these, or if you can find a refill station that let's you refill your own containers. There are no refill stations in Baton Rouge, where I live. I buy shampoo bars from online shops. Whole Foods has some bars in cardboard if I run out and didn't order online. I've heard Lush makes a shampoo bar, but can't remark on its quality.

Toilet Paper: made from trees, harmful in production and harmful in disposal.

Sustainable Switch: a bidet like this or toilet papers like the one from Who gives a Crap?

Tooth paste: in a plastic non-recyclable tube. Who knows what's in it?

Sustainable Switch: make your own using coconut oil and baking soda with a few other ingredients! You can buy tooth powder, or tooth paste in glass jars. If you're buying and not making, be sure to read ingredients.

Lotion: typically in plastic tube or container. Usually non-recyclable packaging. Questionable ingredients

Sustainable Switch: make your own! Or, buy lotion bars. I love this lotion bar. I love this face lotion. 

Deodorant: Antiperspirants control both sweat and body odor. They prevent sweat with aluminum salts dissolving on the surface of the armpit, creating a plug near the top of the sweat glands. This can be damaging for your body in a lot of ways. There are also certain ingredients like parabens that have been reported to increase the risk of breast cancer. Typically comes in plastic packaging.

Sustainable Switch: I use this deodorant from Little Seed Farm Little Seed Farm in glass made of all natural ingredients.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and this list doesn't touch on menstrual care, or household cleaners. More to come on that soon. Unfortunately, I probably won't be the person to go to for your makeup questions, as I rarely wear makeup. I do hear of people making their own and I may do some research in 2019 to guide y'all towards good brands.

Just remember -- small switches make long lasting impacts! Even if it feels like you're just doing something small, it matters.

Emily McCollister