If you’ve been looking to go zero waste, transitioning to a zero waste bathroom might be the perfect place to start.
Though it will require some time and mindfulness, transitioning to a zero waste bathroom can actually be quite fun. It offers the opportunity to clean out your cupboards and drawers, re-evaluate all of the products you use and swap them out for healthier ones.
It also offers the opportunity to declutter and reduce your environmental footprint.
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If you feel a little intimidated by the whole zero waste thing, that is perfectly understandable. Going zero waste is challenging. From having to bring your own containers to the grocery store, to having to start composting, and relearning how to clean your home—it can be a lot! But stick with me and I'll walk you through everything you need to know to get started on your zero waste bathroom.
Why does the bathroom create so much waste?
The bathroom is a big source of waste in the home because of products like toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss, toilet paper, shampoo and cleaning supplies that regularly need to be replenished.
Many of them come in plastics or non-recyclable containers which largely wind up in landfills or out in nature (even when they are recyclable). Where items like 100% cotton pads are compostable, common practice is to send them to landfills anyway, where they can't actually decompose. This all adds up to lots of landfill waste over time.
While seemingly daunting, figuring out how to reduce our waste offers us the opportunity to be more mindful. Not only that, but it can also help save money when we choose to be more careful about our consumption habits.
How to create a zero waste bathroom?
This will be an iterative process so give yourself time to learn and adjust to the new habits you will have to adopt to maintain a zero waste bathroom. You might also need time to figure out what works best for you in terms of the products you will need to swap out.
If you cannot find what you need right away or can't get rid of all the plastics in your beauty routine, try not to give up. Just look for alternatives as best you can, and try to find products that are at the very least recyclable or reusable. Some brands even offer take-back programs. And companies like TerraCycle will relieve you of your plastics for a fee.
Whatever you do, do not despair. There are lots of brands working to bring us better alternatives nowadays, some of which are featured in this article. Keep in mind that you don't have to do things perfectly in order to make a difference.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into how to start transitioning to a zero waste bathroom:
Step 1. Declutter
I’d recommend starting by decluttering your bathroom. Take stock of everything you have and keep only what you use and really need.
When it comes to beauty products, do not throw them away if you can still use them. Finish them first and then dispose of them as best you can.
Old expired products that can no longer be used should be sorted out and disposed of properly by recycling or reusing containers where possible. Old plastic bottles can be used to store and dispense bulk shampoo or similar liquids.
As for things like straightening irons and blow dryers, keep what you need and dispose of what you don’t by donating what still works. Things like broken hairdryers are actually considered scrap metal and can be recycled at a scrap metal recycling center. If you are not sure about how to dispose of something, look it up online.
Part of going zero waste is also reducing the number of things in our home, so duplicates or things that are not regularly used should be reconsidered here too.
That means extra towels, decor, and other bathroom supplies cluttering your drawers, and other storage areas.
This process is super important when going zero waste and will feel a lot better when you are finished with it. You will also learn a lot, which will help you along your zero waste journey in other areas.
Generally, the idea is to stick with the essentials and to find package-free alternatives where needed.
Step 2. Find zero waste swaps for what you need
Here you’re going to want to take stock of what you are left with after decluttering and start working toward finding zero waste alternatives wherever it applies.
Keep in mind that going zero waste is also about eliminating exposure to chemicals that may be harmful to you, the workers who are exposed to them and to the environment. This includes things like makeup, loofahs, soaps and cleaning products. Everything must be as clean and as simple as possible.
Since it is practically impossible not to generate any waste at all, we really just want to choose the safest alternatives that will help us keep as much waste from landfills as possible. The waste that is generated must ideally be recyclable, reusable or compostable.
It is with all that in mind that I’ve put together this list of zero waste swaps for you.
Here are our top picks for a zero waste bathroom
Zero Waste Toilet Essentials: Toilet Paper
Finding a sustainable alternative to toilet paper will depend on your needs and preferences. If you’d like to stick to TP, finding recycled toilet paper wrapped in compostable paper packaging is ideal. The wrapper and roll can both go in the compost or be sent to a landfill knowing they will pose less harm to the environment.
By opting for a sustainable toilet paper brand you can also rest assured that you had nothing to do with the tons of bleach, water and trees used to make generic toilet paper.
Who Gives A Crap is a great option for eco-friendly toilet paper. Their offerings feature some of the softest eco-friendly toilet paper I have ever tried, made of sustainably sourced and harvested bamboo.
If you want to go entirely waste-free in this area, you can also opt for a bidet. Hello Tushy offers bidet attachments that pair with your toilet (and they even have one fit for travel!). If you can’t quite let go of the TP entirely, they also offer some eco-friendly toilet paper made of 100% bamboo, delivered to you in plastic-free packaging.
Zero Waste Personal Care (shower/bath/makeup)
Zero waste soap
Reaching for zero waste body soap might be one of the easiest ways of reducing waste in your bathroom. Look for a soap with no plastic or any other packaging that needs to be thrown away in the trash.
A good place to look would be at your local health food store. At mine, there are displays full of completely package-free soap. All you have to do is check the ingredients list for any dodgy ingredients, and bring your own reusable container.
Etee, one of our favourite package-free online shops, also offers hand and body soap bars without any plastic packaging to worry about. Their collection of soaps also comes in several lovely scents like honey lemon, minty fresh, lavender, blazin’ spice, or with no scent at all. It's all made of natural and organic ingredients.
Another great package free shop option is Kinsfolk Shop.
They offer a number of zero-waste soaps, and so much more. Based in Guelph, Ontario, all of their shipping is carbon neutral and plastic-free. They are by far one of my top picks for alternatives to Amazon, carrying a variety of home and bath essentials you will love. Their motto: Simple Living.
Where possible, finding multipurpose products like soap that is also suitable for your face is ideal to keep the number of products you need to a minimum.
Zero waste shampoo and conditioner
For zero waste shampoo and conditioner, the bulk section at your local health food store might have something for you. You can also search your area for bulk stores—just make sure the products they carry do not contain any harmful chemicals. Otherwise, just bring some clean containers of your own, get the tare, and fill up.
If that is not an option, Elva's offers some great recyclable and refillable shampoo options that might be just what you are looking for. They are 100% vegan and made in Canada with only the best certified organic ingredients. Their shampoo is also cruelty-free, paraben-free, sulfates/SLS-free, phthalate-free and gluten-free.
Zero waste deodorant
This one might seem a little tricky but nowadays there are several brands offering zero-waste deodorant options that work well. BIPOC-owned brand Piperwai is one such company making safe and effective deodorant that's suitable for sensitive skin. Packaged using Ocean Waste Plastic, their containers can be recycled by most curbside programs.
You can also try making your own DIY deodorant using ingredients from the bulk section.
There are tons of resources out there to help you make DIY zero waste bathroom products in general. Just keep in mind that it might take some trial and error. If a recipe requires too many ingredients that are not available in zero-waste packaging, it may be best to go for a store-bought product instead.
Zero waste tooth products
When it comes to toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss and mouthwash, the transition is a lot simpler than you might imagine.
Brands like Net Zero Co. offer a wide array of products like bamboo toothbrushes and compostable zero waste corn floss—perfect for avoiding the landfill and going for the compost instead.
For zero waste toothbrushes, do take note of what the bristles are made of. If they are not compostable, that’s fine. Check out my video on how to dispose of them properly.
For toothpaste, some people just go straight for a couple of shakes of baking soda (stored in a cheese shaker). But if that’s a little too bare-bones for you, there are lots of great zero waste toothpaste brands to choose from.
Zero waste razors
Disposable razors, while sometimes very handy, are also arguably the worst. They do not last very long and are destined for the dump.
The best zero waste alternative is a reusable safety razor.
Kinsfolk Shop offers a solid brass option made with one blade. It is completely plastic-free and offers a great shave while reducing irritation. Paired with a shaving oil, this safety razor makes for a great sustainable and zero waste alternative to disposable or plastic razors.
Zero waste make-up
Zero waste makeup has come a long way and there are so many brands bringing us everything from blush and lipstick to concealer and highlighters. It's important to note that there is really no such thing as 100% zero waste. It's why brands like Elate Cosmetics use terms like "low waste" instead, which I really appreciate. They are so transparent and it's just another reason to love them.
Elate has some of the best eye shadows, bronzers, foundation, mascara and everything in between. Today, as the green beauty industry continues to evolve consumers are requiring products that avoid harmful ingredients, as well as full transparency. A natural claim not backed by facts just won't cut it! And at the same time, we also want makeup that stays on l longer, gives us high-pigment colours and is on par with popular conventional brands.
Elate nails it in all those categories! It succeeds where many others don't by offering the cleanest ingredients along with the most innovative packaging in the space. They have successfully kept 697,270 plastic packages out of landfills thanks to their refillable compostable bamboo packaging. Not only that, but they are also planting good seeds by using seed paper packaging—so far 157,528 gardens have been grown! Oh, and they are also a Certified B Corporation, vegan and cruelty-free.
If you want effortlessly chic, Elate is it!
River Organics also makes for an excellent zero waste makeup option. Their selection of vegan zero waste products includes highlighters, concealers, brow wax and more—all packaged in compostable, recycled kraft paper tubes.
Both are great options for anyone looking for zero waste brands or blue beauty products. I remember a time when it was impossible to find natural foundation, zero waste lip balms or even affordable natural makeup! Not the case today.
Zero waste moisturizers and skincare
Here too there are lots of options to replace the chemical-filled and plastic-riddled conventional product lines—hello clean beauty! Along with their hand and body soap bars, Etee also offers hand lotion bars and facial cleansing bars.
There are tons of green beauty brands that are killing it right now, making it so much easier to find zero waste alternatives to face wash, body wash, natural moisturizers and everything else you might need to create your zero waste bathroom kit.
Reusable cloths or makeup rounds
To relieve you of your disposable makeup wipe woes, reach for some reusable cotton rounds. They will not only help you to reduce your ecological footprint and make the transition to a zero waste bathroom, but they will also save you money in the long run.
Zero waste Q-Tips
To replace plastic cotton swabs, NakedSwab offers a reusable swab 2-pack, complete with a handy travel case. Made of medical-grade silicone and 100% bamboo, they work for cleaning your outer ear and to touch up makeup too. Just rinse after each use with soap and water. The bamboo handles can be composted, but the silicone cannot.
Swabs made with cotton handles as opposed to plastic also make a fine substitute since they can be composted. But do remember to consider the packaging they come in.
Zero Waste Period Products
There are several options to help you make the transition here, too. You can choose from cloth pads like my favourites by OKO creations, or check out Viv. Viv offers a wide array of earth-friendly period care products, including menstrual cups.
Kinsfolk’s line of carefully curated products also features period care products worth considering too, including organic bamboo pads, reusable liners, and heating pads.
For more on zero- and low-waste period products, check out this article.
Zero Waste Cleaning Products
It all comes down to some good zero waste bathroom supplies, some handy DIY zero waste bathroom products and a little getting used to.
In terms of supplies, simple switches like using rags instead of paper towels, or biodegradable sponges and brushes are a lot more accessible than you might imagine.
To replace the chemical-filled products we’ve come to know and love, I have several DIY cleaning recipes, which you will find do a great job too... and without the bleach and ammonia!
My all-purpose bathroom scrub and cleanser contains only three ingredients and effectively keeps surfaces clean and scum at bay. You can add my DIY all-purpose kitchen scouring scrub & cleanser to your cleaning arsenal as well.
As you would with personal care products, finding multipurpose products is ideal here too. Castile soap is one such option and is one of my favourites.
If you’re short on time and cannot make your own cleaning products, there are some great Canadian Natural Cleaning Products that are both safe to use and effective.
Step 3. Waste Audit
Once you’ve found what zero waste swaps work best for you, this is where I would conduct a waste audit to see what waste remains in your bathroom and how best to deal with it: Composting? Recycling? Reuse? Landfill?
The major addendum here is that it’s important not to rely completely on recycling when going zero waste. Recycling is simply not reliable. According to the Guardian, since 1950 we’ve generated an estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic, whereas only 9% of all the plastic waste ever generated has been recycled. This makes the odds ever so not in our favour when it comes to reducing our waste.
Choosing products accordingly and getting a compost bin or starting a compost heap is your best bet. If you have nowhere to put your compost, look for compost pick-up or drop-off programs in your area.
Along with your vegetable scraps, you can then divert things like cotton face pads, cotton swabs (with cotton handles), bamboo toothbrush handles, facial tissue, loofahs, hair, nails, natural fabrics and compostable packaging.
As you work your way toward refining your zero waste bathroom, it’s also important to remember not to use your toilet as a garbage bin. While it is suitable for toilet paper, flushing down other miscellaneous items is not recommended and may result in septic issues. Best to throw whatever it is you are thinking should make it down in the garbage instead until you can figure out what the best zero waste solution is.
A few final things to think about your zero waste bathroom
I hope this covers all of the essentials to get you started on your zero waste bathroom. Whatever you do, it’s super important to remember that this may take some time to get used to so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it perfectly right off the bat.
In fact, even the most experienced zero wasters have a pint jar of plastic and other non-compostable tidbits in their home. Just do your best and stick to what you can actually commit to. Doing your part by choosing zero waste alternatives wherever possible will make a difference.
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