So, it’s been a few days since my first post on the subject, and Plastic Free July is officially underway.
It’s been a few months now since I took the first steps on a journey to make my life simpler and more sustainable. I started by downloading Banish Clutter Forever: How The Toothbrush Principle Will Change Your Life by Sheila Chandra. The ‘toothbrush principle’ is simple and it boils down to this – keep things where they are used.
And then I set to work on Chapter 2: The Bathroom Exercise. This exercise essentially takes the ‘toothbrush principle’ and extends it to the entire bathroom. So, I set aside an afternoon and I took apart my bathroom.
I started off with several loose rules in mind regarding my de-cluttering:
- Throwing things away would always be the last resort.
- All items which could be re-purposed would be – I found this more difficult to achieve in the bathroom than elsewhere in the house, so I admit I relied more heavily on the rules below for the bathroom.
- All items which couldn’t be usefully repurposed in my own house would be donated to somewhere they could be – for example, the fantastic Give and Make Up, which takes donations of unused toiletries for women in need. I didn’t rule out donations to friends or family either, but most of my friends and family have a plentiful supply of what they need to live comfortably.
- All items which could not be usefully repurposed either by myself or by donating to a charity or organisation would, where possible, be recycled – this applies to things like empty shampoo and shower gel bottles.
- No half-finished bottles, tubes or containers would be thrown out unless there was no other option. I knew I wanted to go ‘plastic free’ but it did not make sense to me to throw away half-finished bottles of shampoo and the like just to achieve that goal a little bit quicker. I admit this was hard for me, being as impatient as I am, but I feel better for having made the rule and stuck to it.
- All necessary items would be replaced with more sustainable options as and when they ran out. Everyone’s list of ‘necessary items’ will be different. Mine, it turns out, is not as long as I thought it might be.
Making The Changes
I felt so much better once the bathroom was decluttered, and once it was, I could hone in on my essential items and start finding plastic-free, sustainable replacements for these (in some cases, for when they ran out). Below are a list of the swaps and replacements I have made so far:
- Single use plastic toothbrush for bamboo toothbrush – I realise there’s some debate about the efficacy of this swap as many bamboo toothbrushes are not made with compostable or biodegradable bristles. I did err on this front and mine do not have biodegradable bristles, so I will do more research before I buy again. However, I will reuse the toothbrush as a cleaning brush after it has served its purpose on my teeth so it isn’t a complete failure.
- Toothpaste for Truthpaste – I have Peppermint and Wintergreen at the moment. It’s not so much the flavour I have struggled to get used to but the texture. The paste is clay-based and so is very different to commercial toothpastes. However, you do get used to it. It also comes in a little glass pot that can easily be re-used afterwards – even to refill with your own homemade toothpaste if you’re braver than I am!
- Shampoo in a bottle for shampoo bar – I currently have Friendly Soap Ltd’s Lavender and Geranium Shampoo Bar. It is lovely and my hair looks amazing. I don’t get paid to say these things, they’re just true.
- Shower gel for solid soap bar – at the moment, I have a sweet orange and frankincense soap I found online. For the future, I have a stock of Faith In Nature soaps which I got for a song, unwrapped, at Real Foods in Edinburgh. Some Faith In Nature products do come plastic wrapped though, so be careful when ordering.
- Spray antiperspirant for cream deodorant – one of my favourite swaps so far. I have swapped to Earth Conscious cream deodorant. It’s a little messier than a spray antiperspirant, but it also actually works! And the saying ‘a little goes a long way’ was designed for this stuff, I promise you. It may be more expensive to buy, but it lasts longer so in the end you buy less. I currently use the Mint variety, but I have stocked up and bought their citrus and lavender varieties for future use. It comes in a little metal tin which once it’s finished can be washed out and repurposed – I have my eye on one for sewing pins.
- Simple Face Wipes for a homemade tea tree cleanser and reusable pads – This is another area where I have erred, in that the face pads I ended up with were not particularly absorbent and so I tend to end up wasting a fair amount of my cleanser whenever I pour it on to them. That said, this is something I can fix in time with different face pads and the tea tree certainly works well for my skin.
- Tampax Tampons for Thinx Underwear – I have to admit this is a swap that scares me quite a lot. It is undoubtedly the biggest financial commitment I’ve made to any of the swaps. However, I am at an age where my period is now quite predictable and not generally very heavy (yes, I’m lucky). Thinx pants are unquestionably the expensive option and there are many other cheaper options (more on those below). This swap is yet to be tested so time will tell whether they were worth the investment. I will report back on the success, or otherwise, of this swap in due course.
- Ordinary toilet roll for Who Gives A Crap toilet roll – This switch means as a single person I’m currently drowning in toilet rolls (the smallest box they sell is 24 rolls), however, if it avoids nasty plastic film wrapping + does good for the environment and people in need then I’m down for having toilet rolls stored on every available surface for a while.
- Generic shop bought cleaner for a home made vinegar / bicarbonate of soda / essential oil mixture – I am amazed at how powerful a cleaner vinegar really is. However, because I don’t want my bathroom to smell like a chip shop all the time, I add lavender essential oil to my mixture. It works really, really well. I bought two largish glass spray bottles on Amazon to hold the mixture, and one of these bottles now lives permanently in the bathroom with a pile of repurposed cloths. I also have a copy of The Organically Clean Home by Becky Rapinchuk which has all sorts of nifty recipes for organic cleaners for the harder to clean (and less frequently cleaned) areas such as tile grout and the showerhead.
Still Room For Improvement
Even with all the work I’ve already done in the smallest room in the house, there are some items that I haven’t swapped out yet. These will be swapped in time, and include:
- Disposable razor – I am researching my options and thinking very carefully about this. I know my propensity to be hurried and clumsy and to shave my legs as an afterthought, which means I frequently cut myself with my disposable. For that reason, I am still a little wary of a safety razor. I still have an entire box of blades for my disposable though, so it’s a little while before I have to make this decision.
- Conditioner – I use conditioner very infrequently, so my current bottle is taking a long time to run out. I think, measuring everything up, it is likely that I will just buy some apple cider vinegar and for the rare occasions my hair needs conditioning I will use an apple cider vinegar rinse. This option has come highly recommended via social media.
- Sunscreen and aftersun – I live in Scotland so, again, these items are taking a while to run down (however, if the current heatwave continues they may be gone sooner than I could have imagined). I would be very, very wary about making my own sunscreen, given the potential medical importance of getting it right, and so I will be looking for the lowest impact option which I can buy ready made. I will admit this isn’t an area I’ve researched in detail yet apart from reading the odd Facebook post, but as and when I do I’ll update with my decision.
- Hair dye – I’m afraid I’m at that age where I’m going grey but still feel too young to go fully embrace it and live with my hair grey, and so my vanity gets the better of me. There’s going to be no perfect solution here, so I will be researching the best practicable option for me. Whatever I decide will undoubtedly be better than the shop bought chemical horror stories I’ve bought previously. When I decide I’ll update.
- Toilet brush – I’ve already decided when the current one finally breaks, it is being replaced by a wooden or bamboo brush. But for now, the one I have battles on!
Handling The Hard To Handle
There are unique challenges when clearing a bathroom, as opposed to other rooms in the house, and these come in the form of the medications and first aid supplies that all homes inevitable have. Medications have to be dealt with in accordance with the correct legislation and protocols and should always be disposed of by someone who is qualified to do so – I’ve always been told to ask in my local pharmacy and this is what I did here for any prescription medications I had left that needed disposed of.
First aid supplies, unfortunately, do have a certain shelf life (yes, plasters have a use by date. Check the packaging on any you have if you don’t believe me). However, if you are rigidly going plastic free and have supplies to get rid of, consider a donation to a local first aid society (check your nearest University) to be used in their training exercises or ask the Red Cross or St Johns/Andrews Ambulance (which will depend on your country of residence) if they could use the materials in their first aid training (this obviously only applies to, for example, gauze and crepe bandages, rather than just sticking plasters). These were two areas where, unfortunately, my bathroom clearance did produce actual waste rather than material for donation or recycling.
There’s Always Options
I would by no means claim that my swaps will work for everyone, or that they are the only option out there – I made them because they work for me, at my stage of life, my economic status and my current living conditions (i.e. living in a small flat in a city centre location). It depends on whether your commitment is to ‘plastic free’ – any variant thereof including simply a commitment to cut down single use plastics – or ‘zero waste’. There are a lot of inspirational zero-waste bloggers and Instagrammers out there, and a lot of useful resources. I’ve posted a selection of links detailing options regarding homemade toothpastes/scrubs and other bathroom essentials and options for dealing with periods, which I hope will be useful. I am also a member of several extremely useful plastic free and zero waste Facebook groups which are an incredible resource – I’d suggest searching one out in your area.
Zero Waste / Plastic Free Inspirations
She also has an Instagram which I highly recommend following:
I found once I started with the bathroom, I started seeing all the changes that I could make to other areas of my life and house. I am attempting a whole scale change of my consumer habits, however, even if you aren’t looking for such substantive change I’m hoping there’s something here that inspires you, that makes you realise that it isn’t really difficult and that there are plastic-free options which might work for you.