Towards a low(er) waste bathroom

There were a lot of reasons why I started a blog, some of which you can read about in my little introduction post here. One of those reasons was to use the knowledge that’s shared on Instagram to better educate myself about ways in which I can reduce my own environmental impact. I’ve spent that past few years in higher education learning about environmental science and policy.

I was initially focused on environmental health and toxicology (you can go bore yourself to tears with this piece I did on selenium leachate from four years ago) but realised my interests actually lay more in the realm of mitigating and adapting to climate breakdown, particularly in urban areas. That said, this means that most of my brain has focused on carbon and carbon equivalent emissions and less on consumption and waste-related activities that don’t directly emit carbon (embodied emissions is a whole other story).

That is, I’m cognizant of reducing my everyday emissions by pretty much exclusively taking public transit in London (sadly I sold my bike when I left Oxford because I live in a very hilly neighbourhood and London and was slightly overwhelmed at the thought of biking here. I’ll be revisiting that in a few months I think). I work towards less but better meat consumption by eating vegetarian or vegan Monday to Thursday. But when it comes to the items I use in my everyday life – including clothes – I’m honestly pretty ignorant about wtf I’m doing.

That ignorance is one of the things I’m hoping to rectify through this blog/Instagram. Simultaneously, I’m hoping that my own journey towards nearly zero waste can help others feel less overwhelmed by what can sometimes seem like a very daunting task, especially if the principles are not something that you grew up around (which I certainly didn’t, and that’s not a bad thing, it just means it takes a little extra time to learn and re-learn and actively make changes).

Therefore, and conveniently in time for Plastic Free July, I thought I’d do a run-down of the changes I’ve made since I started this blog in April.

1. Shampoo and conditioner bars:

Taking the plunge from shampoo bottle to bar was pretty terrifying for me. Previously I’d been using either Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle (but sadly the UK is currently lacking in TJ’s) or L’Oreal’s Sulphate Free line. My hair is very thick, I have a new-adjacent fringe that has required some learning-how-to-style, and my scalp overall is pretty oily. I’m also a very sweaty human so I shower every day, unfortunately (but keep it quick!).  I was expecting my hair to look like I hadn’t washed in a week even after using the shampoo bar, but after working out some kinks, I was pleasantly surprised!

I bought Lush’s Montalbano shampoo (£8)  as my first bar. At first, it was a bit of a rollercoaster for me in figuring out how to use it correctly. Some days my hair would feel soft and vibrant, other days it felt like I was wearing one big straw-like wig on my head. The worst days would be when I hadn’t evenly distributed the shampoo so the underside or back of my hair would still be really oily, but more in feel than in look, if that makes sense. However, I was committed to the cause, so after speaking to one of their staff members, I bought Jason and the Argan Oil in June. I also bought a conditioner bar to help with the straw-like feeling. This one also happens to be the one I feel like everyone raves about, and I’m certainly enjoying it!

That said, I think the issue was that I was being too precious with the amount I was using previously. I’d read that it’s supposed to last the length of three bottles of shampoo (it would usually take me about two months to get through a bottle before, I’d say), and I straight—up did not buy it, so I’d been doing about three strokes of the bar on my head and calling it a day. Turns out, I can and should use more to actually clean my hair properly.   Now that I’ve figure that out, I’ll be sticking with shampoo bars.

The shampoo bars are package free, but I bought metal travel tins to hold them and to take them with me when I travel. Some people rightfully noted that Lush’s conditioner bars are a different shape to their shampoo bars, which was annoying because you had to buy different tins. However, I bought the square tin which fits both interchangeably.

I’d like to quickly circle back to my earlier mention that I’d been using sulphate-free shampoo. I’ve been scared of sulphates ever since I was ten and my hairdresser told me it was like pouring wax on my hair, and that’s why my hair was a curly mess that was impossible to deal with. JVN has since reiterated this to me on Queer Eye. Lush shampoo bars have Sodium Lauryl Sulphates in them – it’s the stuff that makes the shampoo bar foam. While I’ve not noticed any adverse impacts on my hair texture since figuring out how to properly work with the shampoo bar, I did want to do a cursory scan to see what I could find about its environmental toxicity; in my brief review of Lush on the whole, it seemed that their use of SLS was a point of particular contention with some folks. While

I’m still no expert on SLS, my read is that SLS is biodegradable and, formulated properly, is nearly or complete non-toxic to aquatic life. SLS in certain forms can carry moderate aquatic toxicity, so I would maybe caution against using these bars if you’re camping and taking a river bath, but assuming that you’re showering and connected to a proper wastewater network, you should be fine. However, while SLS is plant and not petroleum-based, it’s derived from palm-oil, which is an extremely problematic crop that’s decimated indigenous crops in Southeast Asia (it’s also cultivated in Latin American and Africa, but the biggest output is in Indonesia) as old-growth forest is replaced with monocropping, and has further disrupted local communities and farming practices. Lush is completely transparent about this, but it will require me to give some thought about it next time I have to buy a new shampoo bar.

2. Metal razor

Up until Christmas, I’d been using your standard Venus razor with the disposable heads. Then, I did a super bougie thing and put this Oui Shave razor on my Christmas list (thanks, Mom). The metal razor itself is not the bougie bit – although I definitely feel cooler using it – it’s the fact that there was no need for me to get a rose gold razor that costs $75, but sometimes you just want to #treatyourself (or rather, have your mom treat you. Again, thanks, Mom!) There are plenty of options out there that are significantly cheaper, like this Muehle one, or this Parker one or literally any other thing that comes up when you google ‘Double Edge Safety Razor.’

Also, this is incredibly hypocritical for me to say because I got the bougie rose gold razor clearly marketed toward women, but I personally think all safety razors can be non-gendered, and it’s purely a marketing ploy if they market more expensive ones to women. A ploy which I knowingly fell for! Although I guess I didn’t really fall for it if I knew what was happening. With a metal razor, you get the double benefits of not having to buy new razor heads all the time and throwing out a bunch of plastic, women and femmes can also avoid the pink tax on razors because fuck that shit.

3. Soap bars

I love the feeling of Original Source Mint and Tea Tree Tingle body soap. I have possibly never felt cleaner than using that product. However, I go through it like I’m going through a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream. Thus, I decided to make the switch to bar soap. In typical me fashion, I went for the bougiest bar soap – Dr Bronner’s All-One Hemp Peppermint Pure Castille Bar Soap. I discovered Dr Bronner’s because I got their soap during our staff White Elephant when I was working at my university’s climbing wall a few years ago. It was one of those things where I was like “If I’m the type of person who has this soap, I will obviously be a cooler and better climber/outdoors-person/human.” Strange how seemingly innocuous items gain some kind of status recognition in different circles of people.  However, I’ve recently bought BECO organic bar soap from Boots because I finally used up all my bottled hand soap and I like that they provide jobs for those with visual impairments or are differently-abled. And it also smells awesome.

4. Bamboo tooth brush

I probably used to change out my toothbrushes about three times a year, which equals a lot of plastic in not a lot of time. I invested in this Bamboogaloo five-pack in April and have only used 1.5 since then. The bamboo itself is compostable, the only catch is you have to pull out the bristles with tweezers as those are not

5. Applicator-less tampons

I have a lot of feelings about sustainability and menstrual health. Mainly, I get pretty pissed off when women yell at other women about their choice of period product. I would loooooooooove to be able to use a menstrual cup, but I’ve tried a bunch of times, and it’s just not my thing. I also just haven’t taken the plunge on an underwear like Thinx – not because I don’t think they’d probably work – but mainly because I just don’t want to spend that money on period-proof underwear at this time (I know, it’ll pay for itself in the long run, but I’m not always a rational consumer, so sue me). I fundamentally feel (and my feeling is supported by fact) that there are much bigger fish to fry in the world of sustainability than making women feel like there’s just one other thing that we’re not doing right. Heaven forbid our periods are not sustainable! I mean, seriously, let’s maybe try to first go after fossil fuel companies and the shareholders who make massive profits from environmental degradation instead of berating women who don’t want to use a motherf*cking moon cup. Okay, my rant is now over. Onward.

I can’t say that applicator-less tampons are my favourite thing in the world, but I can deal with them, even if they’re frankly not as comfortable as the wonderful glide of a Tampax sport. (Or rather, the insertion bit is not as comfortable, but then again putting most foreign objects up your hoo-ha is probably going to be a bit uncomfortable). However, I’ve only been using them for a short while, and the brand I got wraps each of the individual tampons in a little sheet of plastic, which seems to defeat the purpose a bit. On my next go around, I’ll do a bit of forward planning so I don’t just end up with the only brand that Tesco has.  This is another part of working towards a more sustainable lifestyle that I need to improve – forward planning.

In Conclusion

My plastic-free life is very minimal compared to lots of other people both on and off this platform, but I’m proud of the steps I’ve taken in the past three months. I’m doing what I can within my budget, and with the time I have, and the knowledge that I’m slowly accruing in the field of zero waste. I’ll continue to work on cutting down my bathroom plastic (see from the photo that I still have quite a ways to go), and would like to start finding refillable makeup as a next big step. Then it’ll be onto the kitchen – but currently I don’t have the need to buy anything new, so I’ll be waiting for a while on that one.

But moral of this story, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not a bad person if you aren’t completely zero waste or if you use a plastic tampon. If you have the means, try to make small changes and be somewhat more cognizant, but also try to direct your time towards supporting efforts to cut emissions or protect biodiversity.

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