I have been on a winding path towards living a "zero" waste life for a few years now. It's been an interesting, often times frustrating, journey.
Right now, you might be wondering why I have added quotation marks around the word zero. I have done this because honestly... achieving zero waste as a person is pretty much impossible, especially in the current world in which we live. Products just aren't made to be totally free from waste. Some are closer to that ideal than others, but our currently economy is a linear one, not a circular one in which every part of a product -- from its packaging to its individual components -- can be fed back into the system through endless reuse or fed back into the earth through composting.
I think knowing this helps to relieve some of the pressure as a consumer. There is literally only so much we can do within this current system, so you shouldn't beat yourself up if you aren't able to fit all of your waste into a tiny glass jar. I know I am not at that point! There are just so many factors to consider including: Time, finances, resources available, etc. Everyone's zero waste -- or better yet, low waste -- route will be entirely different! That includes this list I am about to share with you below. Some of these may sounds amazing and you might totally jump for joy when seeing a low-waste alternative to what you are currently using. Others might not be feasible for you, and that's totally ok!
This list isn't meant to be a set of hard and fast rules. It's meant to offer alternatives and open up the discussion as to where you might be able to implement more low waste options into your life. And you don't have to do everything at once/ throw out all your old items and swap them for new - that is the opposite of low-waste!
All of these items I have slowly accumulated over the years as my originals have run out. And there are plenty of other items I know I will eventually swap for alternatives in the future. This is an ongoing process!
One last thing - I started writing this list and it became massive quite quickly, so I have divided it up to make it a bit more digestible. For today, I will be focusing on low waste alternatives in the bathroom.
There are SO MANY things you can swap out for low waste alternatives in the bathroom! This is where my journey began and I have slowly added to this list every year, swapping things that were bigger waste producers into ones that are more minimal!
Please note that none of the links below are affiliate links. I have purchased each of these products on my own over the years, and all opinions are my own.
In our bathroom, we currently use a combo of bidet + tree-free, plastic-free toilet paper.
Ya'll... if you don't have a bidet, you are seriously missing out! I honestly can't believe I went so long without one. It's seriously the most amazing little luxury, and it also saves a ton of TP, which I recently heard the average person uses around 57 sheets of a day!
Image via HelloTushy.com
If you have never encountered a bidet, it is a little device that hooks up to your toilet and cleans you by spraying water from the toilet tank (which is filled with clean water). It is really easy to install and can range from super basic and inexpensive to super beautiful and a bit pricey, but oh-so-luxurious with it's heated water options. We have a less expensive version that just does the basics.
We also stock up on tree-free, plastic free paper from Who Gives a Crap which is a certified B-Corp. They donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets where they are most needed. Each toilet roll does come individually wrapped in paper due to regulations, but the paper is pretty and can either be composted or reused as gift wrap - they even have a holiday edition paper design each year!
Another great option we have used is Reel, which is also tree-free and plastic free and they donate a compostable toilet with every box of TP purchased. They also have a breakdown on their site comparing their TP to Who Gives a Crap, which you can read HERE.
PS- I have found a fun way to utilize even the TP wrapping + inner cardboard rolls! I stuff the cardboard rolls with dryer lint and then wrap them up like tootsie rolls with the TP wrapping. This makes for a great fire pit/ fireplace starter!
Ear Picker / Reusable Q-Tips
I think this was my first unintentional low-waste swap way back when. I remember dating a guy in NYC who used a metal ear picker to clean his ears, and I was incredibly fascinated by this device. I had always disliked regular Q-Tips, but I also hated the feeling of my inner ears if I had gone too long without cleaning them. So, I gave the metal ear picker a try and OH MY GOODNESS! It was incredible! I've been using one ever since.
Image via Amazon.com
In the past, these kinds of ear pickers were difficult to come by, but a quick online search today yielded many results of many different styles and materials. I personally prefer the ones that look like a tiny spoon as I happen to have "wet" ear wax. (Did you know that everyone's ear wax consistency is different?) And I like stainless steel as it is less likely to break, like a bamboo or natural wood one might.
However, maybe the thought of sticking a tiny spoon in your ear is unappealing. Perhaps you even like traditional Q-tips. If that's the case, there are also reusable/ washable Q-Tip options, too!
Image via LastObject.com
One of the first things I remember swapping out when I started this zero waste journey was my soap. It was just too easy to switch from using liquid soaps (which I wasn't a huge fan of to begin with) to bar soaps. At first, I tried bar soaps that came wrapped in cardboard, like the Zum soap bars.
Image via IndigoWild.com
Then I moved on to ordering unpackaged bars of soap from Lush, or purchasing them whenever I was in an area that had a Lush store.
Image via LushUSA.com
It wasn't until we moved to our current area that I found a totally unpackaged soap product at our local bulk store, Sprouts!
The soap smells wonderful and the only packaging it has is a little barcode sticker for the cashier to ring me up. Plus, each bar of soap lasts SO LONG! In between washes, I simply place my soap bar into an old Lush soap container to keep it from sticking to the surface of my shower. And when I am about to travel, all I have to do is pop on the lid to the container and it's ready to come with me!
Finding a good toothbrush alternative hasn't always been easy. When I first started looking into zero waste, there were practically no options I could find that offered a toothbrush that I could feel good about using. But as the years have passed, more and more items have slowly been developed and now... I love my toothbrush!
I use a Brush with Bamboo toothbrush that is made from bamboo and the handle is 100% compostable with biobased bristles which can be recycled.
I generally purchase a pack of 5 of these at a time and they last about as long as a normal toothbrush. When you are ready to compost / recycle the various parts, all you have to do is remove the bristles with a pair of needle nose pliers or even tweezers!
The handle is said to break down in the compost in about 6 months time, but you can also reuse the handle for other things! I am planning on turning my old toothbrush handles into garden markers which I think is so fun!
Tooth Paste/ Mouth Wash/ Floss
I want to preface this section by saying that dental health is not something that should be disregarded. Yes, there are LOADS of alternatives out there to make your teeth brushing/ flossing routine pretty much waste free, but that should never come at the expense of your teeth. As someone who has struggled with sensitive teeth that stain easily, finding the right blend of products has been a struggle. I am happy to report that after a lot of trial and error (and backsliding into using traditional toothpastes when my homemade ones or zero waste ones weren't working well), that I have finally nailed down the products that are right for my dental health!
Let's start with toothpaste.
I have tried it all - literally! From Tom's Toothpaste (which comes in 100% recyclable packaging now - yay!), to DIY toothpaste, to Lush toothpaste (which I LOVED but they started sending it in plastic at one point), to Bite toothpaste (which I also loved, but didn't love at the same time? I can't explain it. Maybe I was just tired at that point.)
Love all this extra info they give on the back! They also have a wide range of toothpastes with different ingredients so you can choose what's best for you!
Some of my final Bite Toothpaste tablets.
Through all of this trial and error, I have found that works best for me is a simple combo of baking soda (bicarb) mixed with a few drops of sweet orange essential oil to help mellow the flavor. I got this recipe (and modified it only with the essential oils I used) from Erin Rhoads' book Waste Not and she confirmed it was dentist approved! I've only been using my version of her recipe for about two weeks and I can already see major improvements to my teeth.
I should have taken a before and after, but there is a patch on my lower teeth that have been stained for a few years now. Every now and then I take the time to thoroughly (and gently) scrape the stains away, but they inevitably come back. My brother even mentioned it immediately when he saw me just before my wedding (eeep!).
Anyway, those stains have started to shrink! And my teeth look visibly better! And I haven't done anything but swap my toothpaste from the last bits of my Bite Tablets + Tom's toothpaste.
Next up is mouthwash + dental floss! I found both of these fairly easy to replace with zero waste alternatives, and they happen to come from the same company!
Mouthwash is easily accessible in tablet form and I have really enjoyed my occasional use of the Georganics mouthwash. All I have to do is mix it in water and gargle as I normally would. It leaves my breath feeling fresh when I need it, and since I hardly ever use mouthwash, this little container has been with me for over a year!
Floss is another really easy item to swap out for a zero waste alternative! As a sewist, you can utilize silk thread and then compost the thread when you have finished cleaning your teeth! Now, I don't actually use silk thread often, so I wound up purchasing a small glass bottle of Georganics vegan, fully compostable floss.
Plus, this particular brand will send you a package free refill whenever you run out, so you can keep reusing your glass bottle for basically forever! And great news- there are LOADS of other brands out there that offer this exact same service! So you have your pick of which floss you might want to use!
There are loads of shampoo alternatives out there, and I seem to have also tried them all. Shampoo is just so personal to each individual person, and it may take some time to find the perfect option for you!
Currently, I use two DIY recipes for my wet shampoo and dry shampoo. I don't wash my hair every day as the ends get really dry. However, my scalp is very oily, so I find that having a dry shampoo helps on those in-between days.
For my wet shampoo, I mix the following together in a glass bottle (I have one with a pump but I have also used an old mason jar in the past):
- 1/3 cup liquid castile soap
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tsp of baking soda
- 1 tsp coconut oil OR jojoba oil (depending on which I happen to have)
I then squirt a few drops directly onto my head when I am showering and lather up as I normally would!
I will say, I am going to transition into trying the "no-poo" trend once this DIY bottle runs out. That is the most zero waste option, after all! I am just not sure if my hair / scalp/ oils will naturally recalibrate without shampoo, but we shall see!
As for the dry shampoo, I mixed together cocoa powder + cornstarch in an old spice container and shake it on to my roots whenever my scalp feels a bit too oily. The amount of cocoa powder I add is based on how dark my hair is. If you have light hair, you can get away with using just cornstarch as dry shampoo!
I should note that there are also shampoo bars available almost everywhere! I originally tried shampoo bars from Lush, but they were way too heavy for my hair (that or I was using them wrong).
Image via EarthHero.com
These bars are a great option if you don't feel like making your own shampoo. Plus, there are loads of conditioner bars that come unpackaged now, too! I personally haven't used conditioner in quite a number of years. I just found it unnecessary, especially if I brushed my hair immediately after showering and let it air dry.
Deodorant was one of the hardest things to find a good alternative for considering I am just incredibly smelly without it. No lie. My underarms sweat a lot and without deodorant, I am not pleasant to be around.
Nowadays, there are loads of cardboard packaged deodorants, unpackaged deodorant bars, deodorant creams and even deodorant crystals (which TBH, I am super curious about!).
Image via ZeroWasteOutlet.com
But back when I was first trying new items out, there were just a handful of options, and none of them seemed strong enough for my pits.
So, I began experimenting with making my own. I figured that if I couldn't find something available that worked for me, trying my hand at making something might be the best route. It took me a *long* long time to find a recipe that I enjoyed, but I did! And you can check it out too right HERE!
This recipe makes enough for me to last about 6 months or so which is awesome! Plus, nearly all of the items can be found in low-waste packaging. I believe the only things I omitted/ changed based on what I had on hand were swapping out arrowroot powder with cornstarch and skipping the vitamin E since I didn't have any at the time.
There you have it! These are just a few options for zero/ low waste alternatives in the bathroom. My next post will continue in the bathroom, but this time focusing entirely on grooming and hygiene. I wasn't sure how else to separate these two posts as when I had all of the items listed together, it was quite a long post!
For now, I hope that this first list has inspired you to take a peek into your own bathroom to see what alternatives might be waiting for you. And if there is anything I might have missed, or you have a great low waste alternative you'd like to share, feel free to leave it in the comments below!