The 5 Easiest Plastic-Free Alternatives for the Bathroom

How to create a zero-waste bathroom (even if you’re on a budget)

An adult and child brushing their teeth in the bathroom
An adult and child brushing their teeth in the bathroom
Brushing teeth (Image by bbernard from Shutterstock)

We know plastic is devastating the planet. We’ve all seen enough depressing news headlines to understand this.

Fun fact (spoiler — it’s not fun): Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations.

When faced with such an overwhelming issue, it’s understandable to feel powerless. What difference can an individual make?

And besides, it’s so difficult to stop using the damn plastic that’s causing the problem — it’s everywhere!

Rows of plastic bottles
Rows of plastic bottles
Plastic plastic plastic (Image by Jonathan Chng from Unsplash)

Governments and corporations are reluctantly waking up to more sustainable methods of production. But this change is a process and the clincher is keeping things commercially viable. Laws need to be passed and product lines need to be overhauled. It all takes time.

What can we do in the meantime?

Well, a lot of us operate day-to-day within a capitalist society. Each and every one of us, therefore, has buying power. When we purchase a sustainable product, we cast a vote that we agree with its method of production. This supports the company manufacturing it too, so that they can grow and produce more ethical goods.

Of course the impact is small, but the more of us who start making these decisions, the greater the change good companies are able to make. Generally speaking, the higher the turnover of a product, the lower the cost isto manufacture it in bulk. This then makes it available at a price accessible to more of the population. Supporting companies who are breaking the mould is powerful!

There’s already widespread action happening against some types of plastic usage. Where I live, in the UK, bars and restaurants are replacing plastic straws with paper ones. A full ban on them is planned in England as soon as April 2020. Buying bottled water doesn’t seem as socially acceptable anymore, and I see reusable coffee cups everywhere in corporate environments.

Paper straws (Image by Karlevana from Shutterstock)

What about other products that we use in our daily lives? These can have just as great an impact.

As well as the energy cost it carries, recycling isn’t the cure-all we were led to believe fifteen years ago. In fact, only 9 percent of plastic ever produced has been recycled. The UK may have good intentions to recycle, but the Guardian reported in 2019 that this often isn’t what really happens.

Rather than trusting others to recycle our waste, it’s better to tackle the issue at its source.

The tips in this guide will show you how to become a more mindful consumer, as you change your bathroom into a zero-waste heaven!

A bathtub in a zero-waste bathroom
A bathtub in a zero-waste bathroom
Zero-waste bathroom (Image by Jared Rice from Unsplash)

Toothbrushes ❌

The average lifespan for a person in the UK now is 81 years, or 79 years in the US. If you replace your toothbrush every three months, this means you’ll throw 320 toothbrushes into landfill in your lifetime.

Plastic toothbrushes take about 400 years to decompose. And they’re usually not recyclable either. Until the year 2420 is a long time for your toothbrushes to sit in the ground.

A single red plastic toothbrush
A single red plastic toothbrush
Plastic toothbrushes *shakes fist* (Image by Alex from Unsplash)

Toothbrushes 👌

It’s super simple to replace the plastic with a better alternative! Zero-waste toothbrushes for the bathroom have been a thing since the 15th century, when they were made of boar hair bristles and bamboo handles.

Bamboo toothbrushes are one of the easier products to get hold of online, either from an independent company or a larger ethical goods supplier. I usually buy mine from Bambaw, as they have charcoal-infused bristles and I’m fancy.

The bamboo itself will decompose within 5–10 years if thrown in the trash, or 4–6 months in a composter. The nylon bristles, once removed with pliers, can usually be recycled. This page from Bamwoo gives details on how to do that.

Yay,bamboo toothbrushes! (Image by Superkitina from Unsplash)

So yes, unfortunately, bamboo toothbrushes aren’t 100% plastic-free. But the only current alternative is to source toothbrushes made from pigs’ hair bristles. As those contain a byproduct from livestock, they carry their own ethical and sustainability complications.

I’m patiently holding out for a fully compostable and animal-free toothbrush soon.

Toothpaste ❌

Toothpaste squeezy tubes are usually made from a blended combination of plastic and aluminium. This, along with being small and containing leftover toothpaste, almost always means they’re too difficult to recycle.

A tube of toothpaste usually only lasts a person a few months. This means that 1.5 billion tubes get thrown away globally every year.

Toothpaste from a tube on a toothbrush in a bathroom
Toothpaste from a tube on a toothbrush in a bathroom
Toothpaste from a squeezy tube (Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay)

Toothpaste in some form dates back to the Egyptians, as early as 5000BC. The ingredients of the first kinds of toothpaste varied but included ox hooves’ ashes, burnt eggshells, bark and crushed bones.

Zero-Waste Your Toothpaste 👌

It’s time to rethink what we put on our teeth and look beyond the paste-like substances which have only been marketed to us in the last half a century. This is especially as research has shown that brushing with toothpaste versus no toothpaste makes no difference to the removal of plaque. Brushing correctly is the most important part of dental hygiene. 🦷

Whilst it’s possible to buy toothpaste in glass jars with recyclable lids (like these from Butter Me Up Organics), you expand your options to buy zero-waste if you consider tabs or powder too.

It’s a personal decision to buy toothpaste with fluoride or without. But I’ve found that getting pastes, tabs and powders online will still allow you this freedom of choice.

The most ethical tooth powder maker award goes to Dirty Hippie, who:

  • 🎉 boast totally zero-waste
  • 🎉 are 100% vegan
  • 🎉 don’t use slave or animal labour
  • 🎉 accept empties for refill (within Australia)
  • 🎉 support a number of charities

The product comes in a glass jar with aluminium lid. It’s packed for transport in recycled newspaper, paper tape and boxes.

Closer to me and mine in the UK are Anything But Plastic, who distribute toothpaste tabs in handy little jars of one or six months’ supply.

Zero-waste toothpaste in a glass jar
Zero-waste toothpaste in a glass jar
Toothpaste from a glass jar (Image by DanaTentis from Pixabay)

Another way to cut down on your plastic consumption is to make your own toothpaste (provided your ingredients don’t come wrapped in plastic of their own). I have my own guide on how to do this here:

Whichever way you choose, if you can keep your toothpaste in a glass jar it can be reused time and time again. Then just recycle it with your empty bottles at the end of its life.

Shower Products ❌

This is annoying. You’ve already found your favourite shower products, yet here I am telling you that you need to start all over again. Yep, I want you to look for bars of soap á la the 1950s or every hotel room.

Natural handmade bar soaps
Natural handmade bar soaps
Natural handmade bar soaps (Image by catalina.m from Shutterstock)

Shower Products 👌

However, when you buy bar products you can cut out the plastic from your soap, shower gel, bath gel, shampoo and conditioner — it’s a 5-in-1 deal.

Bar soap tends to last longer, due to its lower water content. This consequently makes it more cost-effective.

A 2019 Swiss study found that producing the raw materials for liquid soaps requires five times more energy than bar soaps. Packing takes twenty times more energy. The study also observed that whilst we do run more water each time we wash our hands with bar soap, we use one-sixth of the quantity of product.

When you buy bar products, use the following as guidelines:

  • 🚿 Choose products wrapped in minimal, plastic-free packaging
  • 🚿 Avoid chemical ingredients (bar soaps aren’t automatically free of those)
  • 🚿 Do your research on soaps that use palm oil in their production
  • 🚿 Don’t buy soaps containing farmed animal fats and oils, because of their environmental problems
  • 🚿 Buy locally

Cotton Buds/‘Q Tips’ ❌

Cotton buds came 7th place on the list of items Marine Conversation Society volunteers found most often on beaches in 2018 — yikes. People think you can flush them but you really, really shouldn’t. Otherwise, they pass through the sewage system (which isn’t designed to filter out such large items), into the sea and the stomachs of marine animals.

Even if you dispose of cotton buds correctly in your bin, that stem is a lot of plastic to only use once. They aren’t recyclable either, so they’ll undoubtedly be sitting in the ground for hundreds of years. Even so, in the UK alone, we use 1.8 billion mostly both single-use and plastic cotton buds every year.

Plastic cotton buds in a bathroom
Plastic cotton buds in a bathroom
Plastic cotton buds (Image by Adriano Gadini from Pixabay)

Cotton Buds/‘Q Tips’ 👌

Hello bamboo! All-natural bamboo or wooden cotton buds are 100% compostable and an environmental dream. Or maybe FSC-certified paper stem cotton buds take your fancy instead — they’re out in the market.

Either way, check the buds are made of certified organic cotton wool when you buy.

Some brands use cardboard packaging for their cotton buds too, so don’t think you have to settle for buying in a plastic box.

Loo rolls ❌

Have you noticed how plastic covers every toilet roll you buy? You then take the roll out of the plastic immediately. If you’re careful enough you can make a bin liner out of it. Otherwise, it’s ripped, distorted and not useful for anything else.

Yet plastic isn’t the only way to keep paper products secure and dry.

A small pile of toilet rolls
A small pile of toilet rolls
Loo rolls (Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay)

Loo rolls 👌

Look for compostable packaging, like paper wrapping or a cardboard box. It’s not necessary, in my opinion, for any brand to wrap their toilet rolls individually, even in paper. Some companies do. I also don’t have space in my home to have 48 rolls delivered all at once, even if it would save packaging. I settle for a middle ground, like these respectable and all-natural rolls from Cheeky Panda, for my own zero-waste bathroom.

Buy from companies offering recycled and chemical-free paper toilet rolls. They should be free from harmful chemicals, such as chlorine bleach, which are used to produce standard toilet paper.

Or you can make your toilet-time even more conscientious, and switch from tissue paper to… yes, bamboo! It grows more quickly than trees, yielding up to 20 times more timber. And like better toilet tissue paper, it’s also made without harmful chemicals.

In summary, once you start shopping around for plastic-free toilet roll packaging, you’ll notice there’s a big overlap with brands which offer a better quality of toilet roll material anyway. So you can be kind to the planet and your bum at the same time.

Big zero-waste thumbs up in some tropical foliage
Big zero-waste thumbs up in some tropical foliage
#winning (Image by Katya Austin from Unsplash)

Where to start?

Please don’t throw away products you already have in your bathroom. After all, they’ve already been made, and getting rid of perfectly functional things is even worse for the environment.

However, when a product in your bathroom does run out, consider replacing it with a zero-waste alternative.

Related Info: If you’d like more info on how plastic is harming the environment, visit the National Geographic’s dedicated site area on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic?.

Originally published at

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Caroline Bunting-Palmer

Written by

Age of Awareness
Caroline Bunting-Palmer

Written by

Celebrates and encourages the small ethical changes we can all make. 🌿 Freelance blogger and copywriter at ✍

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