Less Waste 101: An Eco-Friendly Bathroom - Intentionally Sustainable

Less Waste 101: An Eco-Friendly Bathroom

By Jane Harkness


Wondering if a reusable bathroom is realistic? 

 If you find that the little trash can in your bathroom tends to fill up quickly, you’re not alone. The average person tosses out lots of disposable bathroom products on a weekly basis. Perhaps you floss every morning and night, or maybe you switch to a new disposable razor each week. Cosmetics packaging, makeup wipes, old toothbrushes—inevitably, they all end up in the trash. Yes, even when Aunt Flo is in town, the bin fills up with make up wipes, applicators, wrappers and more. 

When it comes to bathroom waste, many of us feel like we have no choice but to send disposable products straight to the landfill when we’re done with them. After all, trying to find reusable alternatives to these products might seem unhygienic, and it’s hard to overlook the convenience factor. But as more people aim to live more sustainable lifestyles, they’re not just looking for “greener” purchases. They want products that will last for a lifetime—or at the very least, a few years.

Relying on reusable bathroom products may seem unrealistic, but the reality is that our heavy on disposable products is actually a relatively new development. Why did disposable bathroom products become so popular in the first place? And how can we shift away from them to more eco-friendly options? Let’s look at the history of disposable products, why our current “throwaway culture” developed, and how we can make our bathroom routines sustainable again!


The History of Disposables

For generations, the idea of using something once and then simply tossing it away was unthinkable. We grew our  own food, many sewed their own clothes, items brought could last a lifetime and if something did break it was repaired not dumped.  This wasn’t about Being frugal or thrifty, and being sustainable wasn’t just a trend, living in synchronicity was the lifestyle of  choice, it was the  general way to get by.

With the invention of the first synthetic plastic in 1907, things began to change. Within decades, consumers could buy plastic razors, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and more. Companies began selling cosmetics and other personal care products in cheap, plastic packaging.

There were also new menstrual hygiene products entering the market. Women used to use cloth rags during their periods. The first disposable pads hit the market in the late 1800s, and although they weren’t widely used right away, they started becoming more popular in the 1920s. A few decades later, tampons became the more convenient and preferable choice for many women.

Disposable bathroom products seemed more hygienic and more convenient. Over time, the price of these disposable products we were buying was lowered and it became clear that for the most part, disposables were all the rage.  Sadly we didn't realise the quality of the products was dropping just as quickly as the prices, leaving durable, long-lasting products growing less and less appealing to corporations and consumers alike. 

Throwaway Culture

As more and more companies began manufacturing disposable products, we shifted from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. Rather than making their own goods, people were purchasing products made in factories. The average working class person could afford a higher standard of living than in decades past, and relying on these disposable conveniences became a kind of status symbol.

This was more profitable for businesses. After all, what would bring in more products: a consumer buying a product once, or replacing it several times over the course of the year? Furthermore, women entering the workplace meant that they had more money to spend. Brands emphasized the ease of using disposable products once and then tossing them, rather than cleaning and maintaining them, which was appealing as households were getting busier and busier.

It’s easy to see why people preferred disposables to reusables, and why many of us still create so much trash today. Unfortunately, our turn towards disposables had far-reaching, negative consequences for the planet.


Trashing the Planet

How did the advent of throwaway culture affect the environment? Landfills piled up with trash, bodies of water became polluted, and areas that were once pristine accumulated litter. Campaigns to encourage people to recycle and properly dispose of their trash helped, but didn’t completely solve the problem.

Bathroom disposables continue to be major contributors to our waste problem, and the statistics are shocking. Billions of disposable plastic razors, shampoo bottles, and toothbrushes are thrown away every year, and many of these products are impossible to recycle. The average woman uses 11,000 disposable menstrual products in her lifetime, and 10 billion plastic tampon applicators end up in landfills each month.

And while disposable products were seen as more hygienic, they also pose health risks. Plastics leach toxins into the products we use, which find their way into our bodies. The most common are phthalates, Bisphenol-A, and polyvinyl chloride, which are linked to hormone disruption, cancer, and infertility. And some disposables can be harmful in the short-term, too: for example, tampons can leave cotton behind and carry a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which can be fatal.


Changing Attitudes

Although environmental activists and concerned citizens alike have been raising awareness of plastic pollution and encouraging reduced consumption for decades, the general public is now starting to push for change, too.

Initiatives like Plastic Free July, Zero Waste Week, and “No Spend” challenges help people curb their consumption. The zero waste movement is small, but growing, and activists like Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson educate people on easy ways to reduce their waste. In time, perhaps we’ll learn to live a little more like our grandparents did and slowly move away from throwaway culture.


Be the Change

Wondering how you can begin to reduce your own bathroom waste? Don’t stress - it’s much easier than you might think. Now that brands are responding to the increased demand for reusable products, there are plenty of alternatives on the market.

There are a few areas where most of us could cut back on our bathroom waste. If you’re taking your first steps down the path of eco-friendly living, you might want to begin by swapping out some of these common bathroom disposables for reusable options!

  • Dental Waste: Between floss, plastic toothpaste tubes and brushes, and mouthwash bottles, sticking with a good dental hygiene routine can result in substantial waste. Consider trying a bamboo toothbrush or making some DIY mouthwash with baking soda, coconut oil or warm water and some peppermint drops. Floss picks may look a little scary as a substitute for regular floss, but they get the job done!
  • Period Products: Today, women don’t just have to choose between disposable pads or tampons. There are comfortable, washable pads, special period underwear, several varieties of menstrual cups, and even sea sponges to handle your flow. Depending on your budget and lifestyle, there are bound to be reusable menstrual products that work for you.
  • Shaving: Tired of trashing your plastic razors? Switching to a safety razor can take a little getting used to, but it is worth it with blades from as little as $1 each, they work just as well—and like most sustainable options they  are much better for your wallet and for the planet. Safety razors are made to last so that little bit of investment  up front, will save you money for years to come.
  • Skin and Haircare: Shampoo and conditioner bars in recyclable packaging can help you avoid throwing out more plastic bottles. DIY solutions can work, too: for example, an apple cider vinegar rinse can replace conditioner. Ditch disposable makeup wipes and try washable makeup remover pads instead.
  • Travel-Sized Products: There’s no need to buy new mini-shampoos every time you hit the road. Pick up a few empty containers, fill them with your products before you go, and reuse them the next time you pack your bags.



The History and Future of Plastics

A short history of modern menstrual products

‘Throwaway Living’: When Tossing Out Everything Was All the Rage

2 Billion Tossed Per Year: What’s the Most Wasteful Bathroom Product?

How your toothbrush became a part of the plastic crisis

How the 1970s Created Recycling as We Know It

How to Avoid Toxic Chemicals in Plastics


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