Toiletries: Anything and everything that you put on and sometimes in your body. Deodorant, toothpaste, lotions, nail polish- etc. What can we do to keep our bodies healthy, supple and strong while still reducing waste in our homes and in the world? Today I’m going to take a look in our bathroom cabinets, nightstands and boudoir bureaus to find out. Think of this post as a reference. It is rather long but when you need a solution for your zero waste replacement dilemma, this should answer most of your questions.
The first step I took in this particular area was to declutter. The goal is to find out what you actually use and then from there what you actually need. Key word is actually. There are a lot of things we use occasionally and therefore justify keeping for five years past its expiration date. Instead of justifying why you should keep it though, try justifying why you should toss it out. You’ll find it much easier to let go when you are the devil’s advocate in this process. Some reasons to pull a product could be that it is expired, it is no longer applicable to your stage in life, it never worked as it advertised, you don’t like the smell, you don’t use it as much as you thought you would, the packaging is difficult to use, it may contain harmful chemicals and so forth. Most all toiletries should have indicators on their packaging as to how long this product should be good after it is opened. This typically looks like an opened jar with a number and M for how many months. If there are items you intend to use up that are near or past this suggestion, I’m more comfortable with keeping thick creams and lotions (like body butters) and dry powders past their date than anything that would bring irritation to sensitive skin like eyeliners, lipsticks, correcting pens and so forth. You can also use up things like expired eye creams or face lotion on tougher skin like elbows and knees if you want to use it up with out chancing irritation. But please do any of this at your own risk. I’m only sharing what I prefer to do because I like to use as much as possible.
Your back burner thoughts will try to tell you that the cluttering item you are trying to toss was expensive, it looks pretty, you could use it someday, it was a gift or you just haven’t tried it yet so you should keep it longer. But you need to be honest: if it has been sitting in your cabinet for years you will not try it, if it was expensive and expired and you have not tried it then you have already said goodbye to that money because it left a long time ago. If it’s just pretty but not doing anything for you but taking up space, lets replace it with something pretty that you’ll use. And finally, if it was a gift and it’s still good, pass it on. Same with any products that are unused or recently barely used and not expired. I would not recommend passing along products that have been opened over 3 months because of the possibility of bacteria building inside the container. It’s bad enough when it happens to you from your own products but I wouldn’t want to pass infection along to someone else. Squeeze bottles and pumps will be the least likely to develop bacteria because they have little to no exposure to the air but wide rimmed jars as well as containers that have an applicator go in and out like mascara are very prone to bacteria build up and usually have a shorter shelf life.
Once you have divvied up your products take a look at the packaging of the ones you intend to toss out. Sometimes near that shelf life or expiration symbol and sometimes on the bottom or edge of the container you will find a number inside a triangle. This number will indicate what level plastic your container is. If it is glass, then simply wash out and place in the recycling, but if it is a number then check it against your town or city’s recycling company’s acceptable plastic.
Sometimes this information can be difficult to find. While I was living in Seattle they only took plastics 1-5 but now that I am just outside the city limit and use a different company I found that I can recycle 1-7. I only found out by looking at the frequently asked questions page on their website since the acceptable plastics page only listed items and not types of plastic. You may even need to make a quick phone call to find out.
Once you’ve determined what is and isn’t recyclable, remove any unacceptable lids and empty your containers into the trash. You may need to cut them open to do this. Get excess out with a spatula or spoon and place in the recycling. Depending on the item you should not rinse out in the sink. If there are any preservatives, chemicals, dyes etc, I shy away from letting it enter our water system for our health and for the health of our fuzzy wuzzy sea otters. Ok, for all the animals I guess.
Some items are very tricky to clean out and recycle: nail polish is one of them. If you have any extra that you don’t use or want but still has a lot of life pass it along. Ask your friends and neighbors. Some little girls would love the extra polish for a sleepover. Even the local women’s shelter can always use something extra to help a mom feel prepared for that interview. If there is not enough in the bottle to pass along, rinse it out with nail polish remover or another alcoholic base. DO NOT put the rinse down the sink. You will need to keep it contained until you can bring it to a hazardous waste drop off site. The other option is to let it dissipate or evaporate until it is nothing but dried polish in whatever container you used. Do this outside or in a garage where nothing lives. Then it can be scraped off into the trash. I have a few bottles that I kept but most of it was barely used so I gave it away. However, looking at my nail polish habits I realized I never paint my nails and decided that I am not going to add any more to my stash, period. I don’t need it, don’t use it, its toxic and difficult to recycle. I do like to get pedicures for my birthday or other special occasions and will try to bring my own bottle so I won’t be neglecting what I already own. Even if I don’t though, I know that the salon will be using their bottles up and not throwing out half used bottles nor let their bottles dry up (hopefully). If I do go though, I will need to remember to bring my own sandals!
So, now your stash of products that have been left behind should be your tried and true items.
If you plan to go completely zero waste then the next step will be to find substitutes for these products that do not come in packaging. Don’t get scared just yet. This will take months if not an entire year so there is no withdrawal. At least I haven’t had one yet.
The rest of this post will focus on replacements for various toiletries as you run out of them:
While not completely zero waste yet, the solution for toothpaste here in the NW is Toothy Tablets. Toothpaste tubes are not recyclable and if a plant does take their recycle number does they will always be a pain to cut open and clean. So, the best solution is toothpaste tablets. We have been using them for about a month now after our tubes ran out and it has been an easy transition. They are like mints that you chew up but don’t swallow. Wet your brush and get to work. They sud up like normal paste and have a refreshing flavor. My husband says his mouth feels cleaner than with the paste. I have not had any sensitivity problems (I used Sensodyne before). The only caveat is that they come in a plastic bottle from Lush. I have heard that they used to come in paper bags but there was the problem of moisture. I’m hoping that one day they will be offered in bulk at the Lush store so we can bring our own containers. The plastic container is recyclable and if your area does not take them you can bring it back to Lush and they will recycle it. Pretty cool.
I am still using up my regular shampoo since I bought a bunch when it was on sale a while back but I have my shampoo bar ready for action as soon as we run out. The brand I got was at the grocery store and it was also on sale so I can’t say a lot for what makes it better than other brands. I always like to save a few bucks so as long as it works I’ll take it. However, I know that there are so many options for shampoo bars out there. If you are going to Lush for toothpaste tablets or deodorant already, then get some there, but they are also in any natural grocery store and some gift shops and of course online. The idea is that you don’t need a fancy bottle that is mostly water. A bar will get sudsy just like goop will and you can use your own water to do it. It also should last a bit longer since it does not wash down the drain lickity split like a gloop of shampoo will. A better review to come once we start using it.
Another option if the bar is too uncomfortable: Some stores do offer shampoo and conditioner in bulk. Our local Country Market has these and also lotion and bath salts. I’m not sure how expensive it would be compared to the $5 shampoo bar but it may be worth a test sometime.
Conditioner Solution: There are also several options for this. Once I run out of conditioner I would like to try using a Apple Cider Vinegar rinse. It should leave my hair soft I suppose just like Vinegar leaves your laundry soft. I don’t know. Haha! I will give it a try. But I can always use the bulk conditioner from the grocery store as a back up.
Just buy unpackaged soap. Even Fred Meyer has package free soap in their natural section in several varieties. If that is not available, find soap that is at least in cardboard packaging. Support local artists at your farmers market and buy package free soap there. There is always someone selling it!
Razors: There are still a few disposable razors in my cabinet. I plan to go through them first so at least once they are in the garbage they have been used. After that I will start using a safety razor and you can too! These razors will last your whole life which makes their price tag, between $35-$50, very sensible. Once the blades are dulled and cannot be sharpened or used, collect them and bring them to a recycle plant. This isn’t a weekly or even monthly chore so don’t fret. I’ll probably let my used blades stack up a year before I manage to get down there. The point is to not put straight up razor blades in the recycle. Duh. But because they are metal then they should be recycled. Duh again.
Deodorant Solution: Like the shampoo bar and soap bar, deodorant can also come in a bar. We’ve all heard about the poisonous ingredients that we are spreading into the pores of our most sensitive armpit skin all to keep up smelling wonderful. However, it is hard to think about abandoning something so culturally ingrained. Let me tell you that it is easier than you think. I suggest doing an armpit detox (the internet will tell you more) to teach your body how to sweat again and get rid of all the toxins that your antiperspirant has been shoving back into your skin. As your body sweats and you kill off the odor causing bacteria with witchhazel or ACV you’ll notice that you don’t smell bad. You smell like a person but not an ogre. Then either make your own or purchase a deodorant bar and use as normal. I did have some issues with the bar from Lush drying out so I melted it down in a double boiler on the stove let it semi-cool and poured it into a washed up used deodorant container.
It’s perfect now- feels fresh and clean and I know I’m not putting any unnecessary metals up in my pits.
If you are able to make the switch to a compostable toothbrush then that is awesome but it will require some research.
There are many levels of bio-friendly toothbrushes and some end up bring just as bad as the plastic ones. There are toothbrushes made out of recycled materials and ones with replaceable heads so the handle is reused. Both of these options are better than regular toothbrushes I suppose, but if you are going to pay more for your toothbrush and you care about the environment then go all in and get a wood one. The dentist recommends getting a new toothbrush every 3-4 months anyways so you should be going through at least 3-4 a year. If you follow through with this that ends up being over 300 toothbrushes in your lifetime. Should they all still be here after you die or should they go back to the dust? I don’t need a toothbrush legacy (insert image of toothbrush shrine here) so I’m going with wood. This blog has a done a great job outlining the different types available on the market. I picked up a bamboo handled charcoal bristled brush like this one from Barney’s but we will need to remove the bristles before composting the handle. The kids also got bamboo toothbrushes with bristles that are plantbased. I recommend getting them in a pack to encourage renewing your toothbrush every 3-4 months. I even wrote the name and months on the handles of the kids’ brushes to tell them all apart. The bristles are not compostable but the plant based plastics are more eco friendly to manufacture than petroleum based plastics. So when the time comes I will be using a pliers to pull out the bristles and I’m ok with that. If you aren’t then there are pig hair bristled brushes available as the only currently 100% biodegradable brushes. I’m opting out of those for the time being.
So what should we do with the used plastic ones for now? I like to give them more use before they’re refuse. I use them for cleaning tile grout, shower runners, dishwasher and washing machine rubber runners and window sill crannies. I also stash them in the art supplies in case we need to paint or glue with something too yucky for their paintbrushes like sand art or something.They could be great for an archaeological dig in the sandbox. I use some for brushing the dogs teeth (not that often though haha). They could probably work for even more. However, as we switch to compostable bamboo toothbrushes they will get to go in the compost!
There is no biodegradable floss like we are used to right now. There are some alternatives though. Silk floss and beeswax covered floss are both available on the internet. HOWEVER, even the companies that make biodegradable products are packaging them in plastic. So, I honestly don’t have a good answer for this yet. There are a few German companies that sell floss by the spool that you replace in a glass container much like the original floss packaging at the turn of the century. It is also available in bulk (as in you must buy 200 etc) from overseas suppliers. For now I will try to find floss that comes in cardboard and reuse the used floss for whatever I can think of. Garden tying, art projects, ??? Any ideas or input about floss is appreciated- comment below!
Feminine Products Solution: I won’t go into too much detail but I have been using a Diva cup and compostable panty liners for particular days. They are biodegradable and bleach free. They are widely available as well. From PCC to Walmart. Other options available online include reusable cloth pads and underwear with sewn in pads like Thinx. A great option that has been around for longer than you’d think is the menstrual cup. The Diva brand cup used to be more difficult to locate but not any more. Most any store that has a wide selection of menstrual products should have it.
Hair Care Solutions:
In all honesty I do not mess with my hair much. I have a brush that I have to dust. Truly, I pull it out every so often and see how dusty it is, rinse it off and then end up pushing it to the back again. I can’t seem to get rid of it though since, like, everyone should have a brush, right? My hair is very wavy and if it is brushed it ends up looking like a jet flew too close to my head. I let my hair dry in a bun after I shower and it comes out perfect every time. But I realize I am the exception to the rule so I’ll try to walk through some hair products…
Brushes and combs are available, like toothbrushes, with wood handles and either goat hair, boar bristles, wood teeth or plastic bristles. Sometimes these are easy to find in stores (my grocery store has some) but of course there is great selection online as well. Choose a quality brand and it will serve you well. Try to find one that has some sort of guarantee if possible especially if your hair, like mine, has a tendency to eat brushes and combs.
Blowdryers and straighteners are not something I need– they are a special occasion thing or at least they used to be. When I realized I never used them I donated them. BUT on the flip side, many people NEED them to take care of their hair. If you need a new electronic hair care product, ask your community first as they will know if the product is quality and is working well. If one doesn’t appear, find a used one at a thrift store. Always take precautions with used electronics when you don’t know their history. Inspect the cords and plugs for cracking or melting. Let the electronic run for a while to wait to see if there is a burning smell or worse. It may seem gross to use a personal item that has been used by someone else, but you’ve probably used a hotel hair dryer before so let’s get real. Sanitize it with your favorite method and call it a good day for planet earth.
Hair Accessories Solutions:
There are natural rubber hair ties available online. I have a large pack of hair ties/pony tails that will take me years to work through so I don’t need to worry about purchasing the natural ones for now. However, when you do purchase hair accessories look for ones in cardboard packaging without tape when possible. Think about whether you will truly use it too, or are you just pulled in by the sale price? If you have little girls, ask around your tribe for used barrettes, bows, headbands and tiaras. If you are still low on what the princcess desires, consider creating your own bandanas and headbands out of t-shirts and odds and ends from her craft supplies- there are just so many kid friendly simple YouTube tutorials on this approach. If you think about it there are billions of barrettes and bows floating around this world. You shouldn’t have to spend money on any. Finally, if you use it and you love it and it breaks, try to fix it. My favorite headband’s elastic snapped and that was the pits, but I retied it and secured it with needle and thread and then superglued it as well. I will wear it until either I or it dies.
Bobby Pins: only buy bobby pins that come on a recyclable cardboard package. Check for texture since some will be plastic coated and shouldn’t be recycled.
Hair products are more gimicky than you think. Look for natural recipes for whatever your condition is. Make a hair mask out of an avocado, rinse your hair with ACV and so on. It is taking a risk I suppose because you don’t know if it will work the way you want it to, but buying an expensive product is also a risk. How often do we return hair products or shampoos if they don’t work for us? I don’t think I’ve ever done that.I would much rather risk $1.50 on an avocado than $30 on a hair cream that promises the same effect.
Here is an example of a recipe that can replace something that we would normally find in a tube (not recyclable). We have been testing out our first home made hair clay for about 3 weeks now. I got very positive reviews from my husband, thank you very much. It came out to be about $4 a batch so even cheaper than his normal stuff. He has been using the same hair gel since he was in middle school and after using the new zero waste all natural one I made he won’t go back! I’m a happy wife. I will list the ingredients below but be aware that it should be tweaked for your personal wishes of texture and consistency. Climate may also play a role though we haven’t seen a difference.
Home Made Hair Clay:
Bentonite Clay: about 2-3 TBL
Beeswax: 1 oz brick
Coconut Oil: about 1/4 cup
Jojoba Oil: eyeball 1-2 tsp
Essential Oil of Choice: 10 drops of choice
Place all ingredients in a double boiler. If you have a designated double boiler for crafts I recommend using it because the wax will be difficult to remove after.
Mix and add ingredients to your liking, testing by dipping a spoon or some kind of tool in, letting it quickly cool and rubbing the clay between your fingers or even testing on your hair. When you like it, pour it hot into your desired container. Stir as it thickens so the clay doesn’t settle too much. A shallow container works best. I bought a metal soap bar container from Lush since I was already there.
Where to find these ingredients? Beeswax bars package free I found at my local crystal and medicinal granola shop (bless their quirky quacky hearts), bentonite clay and essential oils can be found at many health food stores including the big chain Super Supplements, and coconut and jojoba can be found at the grocery store (sometimes the natural section). Unfortunately, the only item I found package free was the beeswax but I do get the coconut oil in bulk. I couldn’t find the other items in glass but at least they are recyclable unlike the tubes of hair gel we have been buying. It is also great that this clay lasts soooo much longer than the gel. A little bit goes a long way. Another bonus is that whatever remains on your hands can be rubbed in like Working Hands because it is not really sticky. It holds his hair in place but he can reposition if need be. And for the first time in all the time I’ve known him his hair is soft, not rock hard like before. He can sleep in it if need be which was not really an option with the extra hold gobbledy gook.It washes out fine with warm/hot showers. I’m also comfortable with the kids wearing it- I didn’t want that glue stuff in their hair before. If you are worried about heat and the coconut oil, my husband just had a work trip in Phoenix. Yeah, Phoenix. And the clay worked perfectly.
I have also created some other simple cosmetics which I will need to go over in another post because this one is just out of control! But I’m not going to groom it- It just needs to get out so you have the references you need. Remember, this is not something you can or are expected to accomplish in a day, a week, or even a month or maybe years. One decision at a time will get you closer to your own personal goal of waste reduction. This stage is tricky but with a few changes here and there you can make living without trash a part of your routine. I know that for us it has been very freeing and has created a lot of order in our lives. I wish the same for you!