The complete guide to your zero waste bathroom.
Modern bathrooms typically generate a lot of waste. Most products are sold as single-use items and made of several different materials, which renders them difficult to recycle and therefore just thrown in the dump. Consider simple toothbrushes for example: over one billion are thrown away every year in the United States alone. But the good news is, it’s actually quite easy to create a zero waste bathroom instead!
If it sounds daunting, please don’t be put off. You don’t have to make a lot of changes at once, and in fact I don’t recommend that you do. Using up what you already have and slowly transitioning to different habits is far more sustainable, both for the planet and for your sanity.
I’ve been transitioning our bathroom for years, and recently swapped my last item to a better alternative: a safety razor. It’s a process to find and test new items for your usual purchases, and throwing out what you have already in favour of a zero waste product creates unnecessary waste anyway!
What we’re aiming for is…
- Progress over perfection.
- No more rubbish in your landfill bin.
- Less waste needing to be recycled.
Why these aims?
- You don’t have to be perfect: I think some people get worried that about the ‘zero’ part, when any action you take to reduce waste is a very positive step forward. A zero waste journey is a continual process that’s dependent on your time and budget, and it’s ok to be imperfect.
Also, it’s often a responsibility that only one person in the house takes responsibility for (and that person is usually a woman), at least initially, and if that person aims for perfection it can quickly become stressful or too difficult to maintain.
- Landfill waste is the biggest issue, because anything sent there will simply combine with everything else and take many years to break down.
And if they’re small or lightweight plastic products, they often end up in waterways, or they eventually become microplastics, which are everywhere now: in our water, food, and even the air.
- The next step is less demand on recycling services, which use a lot of resources and don’t close the plastic cycle completely. Plastic degrades in quality when it’s recycled and it can’t be recycled infinitely like glass and some metals.
Paper products also can’t be continually recycled as the fibres get shorter each time, and as I reported in my post about The Best Reusable Bags, paper doesn’t degrade much faster than plastic in landfills, and it requires more energy for recycling than plastic does.
Finally, when there isn’t enough demand for recycled products, recycling companies won’t pay for the used materials and they may be dumped into landfill anyway.
But is it more expensive to have a zero waste bathroom?
That depends. It can be, if you’re replacing traditional personal care products with a dedicated zero-waste brand, although as they’re becoming more popular the price differences are decreasing.
If you’re buying some items in bulk and/or making more of your own items, it can work out much cheaper in the long run. And it’s not all about new products anyway: decreasing your waste can be as simple as properly dealing with the items you already have.
Is this just for privileged people?
Several zero waste bloggers have mused about whether aiming for a zero waste lifestyle is a matter of privilege, and to some degree, yes it is. Having the time to research or make products, the access to a wide range of choices, and the extra money to make bigger purchases up front (even if they work out cheaper later) are matters of privilege.
That being said, the most important thing to take away from this article is Progress Over Perfection. Any little step forward is positive, and if it’s possible for you to make a different choice, it’s a win.
If it’s not possible, that’s ok. Health and wellbeing are most important, and if you’re concerned about reducing your waste, when your health and/or circumstances allow the energy to focus on it, it will happen.
How to create your zero waste bathroom
Living a lower-waste life means that the onus is on us to reduce the amount of materials we discard, and dealing with them as best we can at their end of their usefulness. Landfill is a final option only when all other avenues have been exhausted.
Remember the R’s:
Refuse, Rethink, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Rot (compost).
Refuse to buy items wrapped in excess packaging, and small containers if they’re available in larger sizes.
Rethink your purchases each time you need to make a new one. Is there is a different product you can use that generates less waste?
Reuse containers, handles, and any product until it can’t be used any more.
Repair anything you can fix: your electric shaver might be fixable, a broken hairbrush might be able to be taped together. Try before discarding!
Recycle properly, by taking responsibility for each type of item. Remember that anything made of two or more different materials has to be taken apart (by you) or sent to a specialist service to save it from landfill.
Also, choosing products made of recycled materials is an important step as a consumer.
Rot anything you need to discard that’s made from natural materials and cannot be reused or recycled.
Install two small bins in your bathroom. One’s for your compost and the other’s for recycling. They don’t have to be fancy: any containers will do. Use a dedicated compostable bag to line the compost bin as it’s a bit gross to handle what ends up in there.
Quick tutorial on what can go in bins in your zero waste bathroom:
- Compost all organic matter, which includes items made from wood and bamboo, 100% latex and 100% cotton products (or cotton mixed with bamboo/cardboard), all hair, nail clippings, used tissues, compostable packaging, and corn-based toothbrushes.
Most items will take a long time to break down under home composting conditions, but they will eventually. If you have access to an industrial composting system in your region it’s best to send your bathroom compost there.
- Recycle hard plastic, glass, metal, paper and cardboard.
Each material must NOT be connected to a different material, eg. toothbrush packaging made of both cardboard and hard plastic needs to be separated first.
This gets a bit trickier for pumps, spray tops and roller applicators, which may have a metal spring or glass ball inside them. I’ll show you below how to recycle them.
Decide not to buy any new products which can’t go into these bins, including items with soft plastic (scrunchable) packaging. This doesn’t apply to prescriptions, of course.
If you have an indispensable product that comes in scrunchy plastic, please also have a soft plastics bin somewhere in your home. We have one in the kitchen for food wrappers.
Soft plastics can be disposed of in Redcycle bins in Australia, which have collection point at all major supermarkets.
Choose one of your bathroom items that’s nearly finished or at the end of its usefulness. Whether it’s your shampoo, razor blade, make-up palette or toothbrush doesn’t matter: just don’t automatically throw it away and put a new one on your shopping list.
Think about this item. Is that particular product absolutely necessary, or could you try a different brand? Is the packaging reusable? Could you refill it, or make it yourself?
Reducing your waste from this item is going to take a little extra time, which is why it’s best to start with one thing. There are several things you can do:
- Firstly, you could find a recipe to make it yourself, source the ingredients and try to make it.
This is the most time consuming option, but usually the cheapest.
- Secondly, you could find a store that has bulk products available, and take your empty container along to refill.
This is also cost effective, as refills are usually cheaper than new products. It takes a bit more time than buying new though.
- Thirdly, you could do some research to find a replacement product that’s made from a better material or has better packaging. Compostable is best for single-use items, and glass and metal are both better to reuse or recycle than plastic.
This may be more expensive than your usual product, but has the advantage of being a faster transaction than the first two options.
- And finally, you could continue to buy the same product, but commit to taking the packaging apart to recycle all of the components properly.
This is a useful thing to do, and is vital for items that come in packaging made of more than one material. However, the above options have more positive impact.
How to deal with pump tops and spray bottles (and the power of your consumer voice!)
Pump tops and spray lids have several components in them, meaning they can’t be recycled in our normal recycle bin without more effort on our part.
But first, don’t view these bottles as single-use items! Most pump-top and spray bottles are very strong and able to be reused for years. We’ve been reusing these large shampoo and conditioner bottles since 2018, and the bodywash bottle (centre) since 2019. They refill easily at our local store and show no signs of wearing out yet.
Though we do these refills, Allegra and I have found a hair wash brand (on the right) that’s much better for our hair, and the conditioner comes in a new and fairly small pump pack each time. Even with reusing the bottles, they’re adding up and I don’t want to waste them but I also don’t want to stop buying this product.
So I wrote to the company! And I was very pleased with their positive response. Many companies are conscious of their environmental footprint and are working towards better options, and contact from customers like us speeds them along.
In the meantime, I’ve committed to disassembling the pump tops we don’t need for recycling.
How to take apart a pump or spray top:
First, remove the straw-like tube, then using pilers or strong scissors, cut through the top until it breaks off. Cut again through the middle section to remove the spring.
Give them a quick rinse and then they’re ready for recycling. Because they’re quite small pieces, I add them to larger containers for metal and hard plastic recycling (separately of course). Check with your local council for their size guidelines, or simply add them to a bigger container already in your recycling bin.
Zero waste bathroom swaps
The company Patch is widely available online and in stores now, making zero waste band aids from bamboo. They work as well as regular bandages and are fully compostable once removed.
Cotton buds / cotton swabs
Traditional cotton buds have a plastic stem, and this has been easily replaced by bamboo handles in recent years. They’re available in organic and health food stores, online and in some supermarkets, and work just as well as their non-compostable counterparts.
Cotton buds with cardboard stems are also plastic free and compostable. And another alternative is reusable ear cleaners!
Dental floss and piksters
Most floss is made from nylon, which is plastic and can’t be recycled or composted. But this product has also had a makeover and is now also made from several natural products.
Zero waste bathroom swaps include products like The Eco Floss which is made from corn PLA and waxed with a vegan wax. It’s best composted by industrial composting facilities (your green bin, if you have one) rather than home composting. It comes in a glass jar for which refills are available to buy. Their packing is also cardboard so it’s a 100% plastic-free purchase!
Another option are Piksters, which are reusable cleaners for in between teeth. They’re now available with a bamboo handle instead of plastic. Removing the wire end with pliers is necessary before composting the handle and corn-based cover, and recycling the cardboard packet.
Remember to reuse your old toothbrushes for cleaning tasks before you dispose of them!
You’ve probably heard of bamboo toothbrushes already and for good reason: all except the bristles are compostable.
Once you’re finished with them, remove the bristles with pliers (or simply break off the head if you can’t) and throw the handle in the compost. It’s so much better than plastic; even though the bristles can’t be recycled or composted, they are a very small component.
Other compostable toothbrushes
If you dislike wooden products in your mouth (like my husband, who can’t stand wooden spoons or toothbrushes), try a corn-starch based one. They feel like plastic but are also compostable once the bristles are removed.
There are several brands who make corn-based toothbrushes for kids, which might be easier to convert them to if they’re used to prettier toothbrushes than the bamboo ones.
If you prefer an electric toothbrush, ensure you have a set-up that only requires you to replace the toothbrush head each time. Seek a Terracycle drop-off point to dispose of them instead of throwing them out. If there isn’t one near you, please consider signing up for a collection hub for your area: it’s free! And it can be done as a fundraiser for your school or community group.
Traditional toothpaste tubes can only be recycled through the same Terracycle program. They must be clean and dry, with no residue left inside them.
Tooth powder and toothpaste tablets
You can remove this waste stream completely by trying alternative products like toothpaste powder or toothpaste tablets, which come in hard plastic or glass jars with metal lids. They’re also great for travelling with, as they aren’t a liquid which you can only carry a restricted amount of.
I really like these toothpaste tablets and they’re suitable for kids, too. There are also specific tablets for children available, which taste more like the standard toothpaste for kids.
Another option is to purchase toothpaste in a metal tube, which is usually recyclable in general recycling collections. I’ve tried the brand Weleda and like them.
Finally, for completely zero waste toothpaste, making it yourself is a great alternative and isn’t as time-consuming as you might think. It’s also usually quite cost-effective and you can easily tailor the flavour and texture to your liking. Here are DIY toothpaste tips and recipes from a dentist.
And here’s a video of my daughter and I making some. (Add more xylitol to this recipe: you’ll see why!)
Zero waste mouthwash
Glass bottles and alternative mouthwashes
I recommend switching to a mouthwash brand that comes in a glass bottle. If they’re unavailable or too expensive for you, try to get the largest plastic bottle you can, as larger containers create less waste overall.
Reuse the bottles wherever possible, and recycle them when they’re of no use. I haven’t ever seen bulk refills for mouthwash. I’ve just discovered that you can buy mouthwash tablets though!
DIY mouthwash and oil pulling
Yes, you can make your own! Herbalist Kylie Wiser has a mouthwash recipe that’s gentler than most traditional products.
Or try oil-pulling — which is simply swishing coconut oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes each morning. It reportedly has several of the same benefits as mouthwash, and if you buy your coconut oil in bulk, it’s a completely zero waste option.
Deoderant and perfume
Zero waste deodorant
Crystal sticks like mine (centre) last for 12 months or more, which create very little plastic waste and now even come in compostable cork packaging! And deodorants can also be found in glass containers with metal lids, and sticks in cardboard packaging, too.
More traditional deodorant containers can be recycled: aerosol cans and roll-on applicators must be completely empty, and pump sprays should have the lid taken apart.
To reduce dependence on deodorants, you can try an armpit detox like the one we use.
Zero waste perfume
Perfume is such an easy thing to replace if you have essential oils at home. That’s all I use, usually just straight on my skin.
You can also make your own blends if you want to get more creative: choose from solid perfume bars, sprays, splashes or body oils.
Most perfume bottles are recyclable once you take the spray top apart, and of course they’re great to refill. Have a go at creating your own scent! And remember to snip the plastic ring from essential oil bottles before recycling them.
Zero waste shampoo and conditioner
These are some of the most widely available products to refill, and it works out cheaper than supermarket brands. As I mentioned earlier, your current bottles will last a long time and can be refilled over and over again.
Another option is to try shampoo and conditioner bars. These are a fully zero waste swap and they’re a great alternative to liquids, at home and especially for travelling.
Not using shampoo!
Did you know that many people can go without shampoo and conditioner? Marine Biologist Camilla explains all in this post about her year of going shampoo free. So easy!
Zero waste brushes and combs
When you need to replace a comb or brush, seek one made of bamboo. These brushes also contain natural rubber which is compostable, so the entire brush is able to be composted after many years of use!
Bamboo products can get mouldy in the shower, so for maximum use, ensure you shake off excess water or store them somewhere dry. I’ve learned this the hard way!
Stainless steel combs are also a great choice for your zero waste bathroom, and they’ll last for many years, if not forever.
Hairspray and gels
For hair gels and hairsprays, try to find them in containers made of glass or recycled plastic, and buy larger sizes wherever possible. And you can also DIY some products! Why not try with your empty bottles to put it in? Here’s a recipe to make your own hairspray or try one of these 3 natural hair gel recipes.
Disposable razors and shaver heads
These products can only be recycled via Terracycle as they contain plastic, metal and often rubber and moisturisers, too. It’s not recommended to try and take them apart yourself. Please seek a Terracycle point for your all of your disposable razors, as they’re also quite a big polluter.
If you don’t want to try a safety razor, these are made of recycled plastic which is a better option than brands that reply on virgin plastic.
A safety razor was the last thing in my bathroom that I had to convert to a zero waste alternative. I deliberately left it until last because I’ve been using a Gillette razor with a replaceable head for many years; holding onto the handle and only replacing the cartridge every three or four months.
I’m also clumsy and cut myself while shaving under my arm quite badly when I was a teenager, so I’ve been a bit scared to try a sharper razor!
But the time came this year to be brave when Net Zero Co sent me a beautiful rose-gold and bamboo safety razor to try. Once my last Gillette cartridge was used up I started practicing, and am happy to report that the safety razor isn’t scary at all.
It’s lovely to shave with actually, and as with most reusable items, it reminds me to be really present and live life at a slower pace.
With safety razors, you don’t need to apply pressure as you shave like a disposable. They’re weighted to apply the right amount of pressure for you, so all you need to do is concentrate on angling it at 30°– 45° and taking it slow. No more rushed shaves in the shower sorry! And when you’re shaving bony areas like shins and knees, shave WITH the hair growth, not against it.
It’s also recommended to take it apart and dry it after each use, so it can be a lifetime product. Again it takes a little more time, but I like it because it’s the opposite of rushed consumer mindset. “Buying it once” and caring for items so they last forever is a major part of living a low-impact lifestyle.
I can use the razor blades several times before changing them, but Anthony can only once with his tough beard. They’re double-sided, so will easily be able to shave through a whole face full of long stubble!
With a packet of 100 blades, we won’t need to buy any shaving gear for a very long time. Once used, keep the blades safety stored in a metal container until it’s full, and seal the container fully. Then they can all be recycled at once and people are kept safe.
These can also be quite a low-impact option, especially if you’re using green energy and/or rechargeable batteries. But consider that if the razor breaks, there are many parts made of different materials that need to be separated for full recycling, or you may be able to take it to an electronic goods drop point. As always, buy a quality item and look after it well to ensure the purchase and materials last for many years.
Shaving cream and aftershave
Like shampoo bars, shaving soap bars are also available as a zero waste alternative to shaving cream, in storage tins with refills available, or packaged in cardboard. This pre-electric shave lotion comes in a glass jar, and aftershave is available in glass bottles, solid bars or aftershave oils.
Your traditional shaving cream aerosol can can be recycled once it’s completely empty, so please don’t send it to landfill.
Zero waste waxing
If you’re like me and choose to wax at home, there are some great low-waste and zero-waste options.
I use and love this kit by Moom. The jar’s made of glass and the wax is organic and food grade, so no toxins for you as well. The wax strips are washable and reusable, and the jar can be reused once empty, too. You can also buy more wax to refill the kit, or more strips separately if necessary.
And it works really well! It’s a sugar and lemon juice base, which you heat up yourself and apply like normal wax.
You can also try “Sugaring” at home with recipes like this from 1 Million Women. Sugaring has many advantages: it doesn’t need to be heated first, fabric strips aren’t required, and it only uses two ingredients that are easy to find in bulk.
Zero waste foundation, powders, sticks and cremes
Make up containers are usually difficult to recycle or use again, but there are some excellent zero waste makeup alternatives available now. I love the brand Elate because all of their packaging is bamboo or glass, and they sell refills for eyeshadow, blush, concealer and highlighters in seed-infused paper packaging! You can refill any of their different sized pallets and plant the wrapper in the garden.
Their lipstick, eyeliner and mascara containers have to be taken apart before disposal, separating the outer bamboo from inner hard plastic. Eco Minerals is another refillable brand, and Neek also package their lipstick in bamboo, or you can try some recipes to make your own cosmetics!
I still also use another brand of mineral foundation because it has an SPF that I need, which comes in a hard plastic container. So, I get the largest container of it I can and recycle it appropriately.
Zero waste makeup remover
Though cotton wool balls and cotton pads are technically compostable, they’re sold in soft plastic packaging and they aren’t really a sustainable product: cotton is a huge water guzzler, it’s usually grown with chemicals, and these products can be mixed with synthetic fibres to hold their shape. There are also some compostable wipes on the market but they have the same issues.
The most popular solution is washable makeup remover pads (AKA reusable facial rounds) which you simply pop in the washing machine after each use. You can easily make them yourself or buy several different options, including charcoal-backed ones, pattered fabric, crotched scrubs and hemp variants. They work well simply with water, even for removing mascara.
A simple and free solution to use at home is coconut oil and a flannel or old cloth. Coconut oil is great for removing make-up and it leaves your skin feeling soft and moisturised.
Make up brushes
When you need some new make up tools, choosing recycled products or natural handles minimises eventual waste. Mine have bamboo and recycled aluminium handles. When they’re no longer usable, remove the bristles like we did with toothbrushes, and separate the bamboo for composting and the metal for recycling.
If you’ve been following me for awhile, you’ll know I use and love menstrual underwear. I’m a big fan of Modibodi underwear and swimwear and find them easy and very comfortable, and love that they’re completely zero waste.
Menstrual cups and washable pads are other waste free options. Cups are a smaller initial cost than the pads or underwear, and most are made from silicone which is not often recyclable or compostable. But it’s also non toxic and won’t create microplastics, so it’s not too bad to send to landfill. Menstrual cups made from rubber latex are compostable at the end of their life, and cups made from TPA plastic are recyclable in some areas.
I personally didn’t find washable pads very comfortable, and there’s even another zero waste option you can try if you’re interested: sea sponges! I’ve detailed all of the options in this post:
Zero waste moisturiser, lip balm and hydrating oils
Choose products that come in glass if you can. Oils with droppers can be taken apart or reused, and larger plastic bottles create less waste than smaller ones.
We recently had a go at making moisturiser and lip balm with beeswax, and used old containers to put them into. They worked really well, better than I expected actually!
Face masks and toner
Witch Hazel makes a great toner and can be used in many DIY recipes, so it’s a handy one to have in your zero waste bathroom. And clay face masks work well and don’t require any plastic packaging: just a lovely reusable and recyclable jar.
Soap, loofahs, bath salts & bath bombs
Zero waste soap
Bar soap always has the potential to be a zero waste purchase, but unfortunately many come wrapped in soft plastic! Choosing a bar that comes unwrapped or only packaged in cardboard is an easy and great start. Try to get some locally-made ones if you can, or have a go yourself.
Refilling liquid soap is another easy and widely available option, and like shampoo, it’s also very cost-effective.
Loofahs and compostable body scrubs
Don’t fall for the plastic scrub gloves and ‘fluffy’ shower exfoliators! Proper loofahs are a plant-based product and are fully compostable at the end of their life.
I use this coconut-fibre version and it’s excellent for dead skin and keeps ingrown hairs away. Plus, as it uses up waste product from coconuts, it’s a very eco friendly solution!
You can also make exfoliating scrubs very easily yourself, based on sugar, salt or even used coffee grounds!
Zero waste bath salts & bath bombs
Bath salts are the easiest thing to make at home of them all! All you need is a large container of Epsom Salts (we buy it in bulk here) and some essential oils.
Check out this detailed post for everything you need to know about making bath bombs at home.
And finally, the smallest room in the house! Yes, our toilets habits can also be less wasteful!!
Zero waste toilet paper
It usually comes wrapped in soft plastic, but you can find brands wrapped in paper instead. Though it’s harder to get thanks to COVID, we’ve been using Who Gives A Crap for years and it’s an excellent product made from recycled paper or bamboo. When there isn’t a shortage worldwide you can buy it in large boxes. No plastic packaging included!
And there are so many things you can do with toilet rolls, including using them for raising seeds for your garden.
Other options include washable toilet wipes or “family cloth“, which has grown in popularity this year. I must admit this didn’t appeal to me before COVID! But since the shortages Allegra and I have been using old flannels for our pee, and it’s cut down on the amount of toilet paper we use by a significant amount. (We are not inspired enough to use them for all of our toileting needs though!) You can buy Unpaper Rolls, make your own reusable cloth toilet paper or just use old fabric like we do.
And Hand Bidets (or as my son calls them, “butt canons”!) are another great option. They’re so popular in many parts of the world, and for good reason: you come out very clean and fresh but don’t need toilet paper.
Zero waste toilet spray
I haven’t bought toilet spray in almost ten years, because it’s another one that’s so quick, easy and effective to make. Got an empty spray bottle? Got tea tree essential oil or another purifying one, like lemon or lavender? Add 10-20 drops in the bottle, fill it with water and you’re done! You can also add a bit of Witch Hazel if you have it, but it’s still effective without it.
Zero waste toilet cleaners
Most toilet brushes are made of plastic, or at least have plastic bristles, and they’re not always recyclable (especially if they’re made of several different materials: who’s going to separate those!)
When you need to replace your toilet brush, choose one made of natural materials and use it with the stand you already have. Coconut fibre like this one is naturally anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, too, and it’s strong and long-lasting. To dispose, leave it in your home compost until the bristles have decomposed, then recycle the remaining wire.
Or if you need a stand for your brush as well, this Beechwood Brush and Stand is a sustainable splurge, while this Paper Pottery Stand is also ethical and much cheaper. And of course, you could use also repurpose any jar or container that’s big enough in your home, and have a free and zero waste toilet brush holder!
Cleansing powders and liquids
Choose the largest container of these you can find, or products like this in a glass jar. If you like the liquid cleansers with special spouts, keep the empty bottle and refill it from you local bulk foods store or from a large bottle.
So there you have it! This post ended up much longer than I thought it would! I think we’re pretty minimal in the bathroom but we still use many products in there!
This is why it’s so important to keep moving towards reducing waste in the bathroom and other parts of life: there are so many things we use without really even realising it.
I hope this has given you lots of ideas and inspiration for change! Have I missed anything you use? Let me know and I’ll add it in.