The Beginners Guide to Shopping Sustainably – Cleaning Up Your Bathroom Habits

Welcome to our second instalment explaining how each of us can feel a little more environmental hero by easily shopping sustainably. This is not about giving up items that make life easy, but about reconsidering which brands you buy. While your bathroom habits seem to have little to do with ocean plastic and more to do with how good (or bad) you smell, these routines are actually pretty influential as we consume a whole range of environmentally damaging products all housed neatly in plastic, while the flush of our toilets can send its contents out to sea. It seems our rubber ducks really are the only creature benefitting from our cleaning rituals.

We start our days bleary eyed brushing our teeth in the mirror, thinking more about our outrageous bed hair than our toothbrushes. But did you know that bamboo toothbrushes are not only good for the environment? Bamboo is naturally antimicrobial, containing properties that kill any bacteria which penetrate its surface and therefore provide us with cleaner mouths as well as cleaner oceans. Bamboo also grows quickly and requires no fertilisers or pesticides, making this material one of our sustainability stars. At the end of life, they naturally degrade, although if you’re aiming for total zero waste, be aware that some brands make the bristles out of nylon which are not biodegradable. If you want to reuse your toothbrush, they can come in handy as plant markers in the garden or simply as cleaning tools for those awkward shower corners.

Moving into the shower, almost all our whole collection of sweet-smelling bottles is made of plastic or at least arrives on our doorsteps in unrecyclable packaging. Zero waste shops and some pharmacies now provide large dispensers where you can refill your old bottles of shampoo, conditioner and handwash. In fact, refilling your old bottles when you next pop into town could save you up to a third compared to buying one brand new. If, unfortunately, you don’t live near one of these stores, popular high street brand Lush operates in nearly 50 countries and is always increasing their range of ‘naked’ products. Here you can find deep indigo coloured shampoo bars which come free from plastic wrapping and are equivalent to 3 normal bottles of shampoo. And for your next sophisticated night out, they provide vegan lipsticks delivered in wax packaging, with refillable lipstick cases available for purchase and made solely from recycled plastic. It really is only getting easier to scout out plastic alternatives as small eco-minded businesses rocket.

The switches don’t stop there with cleaning products increasingly available in more sustainable forms, if you ever get around to doing the cleaning that is. Ecover has been encouraging customers for 30 years to reuse their containers, with their refill stations a permanent feature in health food shops. From them, you can purchase a clear plastic 15 litre refill carton which means that not only do get to relax at the weekend by avoiding constant shopping, but once your bottle’s life is over, you can easily recycle it on your doorstep. In 2017, 50% of these bottles were made from plastic collected from Rio de Janeiro’s waterways, from canals to Copacabana’s shore, where music and passion are apparently no longer the only fashion.

There are many more small changes you can make and all they take is an extra few moments of consideration and product searching. If you are living in a country that has not yet banned microbeads, you can read the labels on face scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes to ensure they are not one of the ingredients. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in many shower products and once you wash yourself free of soap suds, they spiral their way down the drain and into our oceans as these tiny particles escape filtration at water treatment plants. Many call these beads an unnecessary design flaw as nature provides all the exfoliants we need in the form of brown sugar, seeds and ground oats. You can also spend a few extra seconds in the toiletry aisle to locate the paper cotton buds, coconut scrubbers, liquid make up remover over wipes, soap bars instead of handwash and razors with replaceable blades to avoid throwing away an entire razor every few weeks.

If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, the internet contains many recipes for both beauty scrubs and house cleaning products where all the ingredients can be found hidden at the back of your kitchen cupboards amongst the out of date health food you never quite got round to eating. For example, toilet cleaner can be made from just baking soda, white vinegar, tea tree oil and lavender oil while window cleaner can be concocted from white vinegar, corn-starch and warm water. If this still sounds a step too far for now, you can simply hunt for the washing powder stored in cardboard boxes as opposed to plastic tubs to increase your recycling load.

While for now you may have to venture a little further than the supermarket to find some of these products, a gander down the high street will support your local economy, small businesses and the environment. It may feel like we are acting alone sometimes but these products are already set to steal prime spots on our supermarket shelves, with the first plastic free aisle opening in Amsterdam last year and London recently revealing their first version with the pace of the plastic purge already surpassing the action against any other environmental pollutant. Being truly plastic free seems like a full time job, and often it is, so for this lifestyle to be convenient and affordable, we need to continue pressurising governments and local councils to strengthen the rules which ultimately control what packaging is, and isn’t, allowed into our trolleys.

Our next blog will give you a quick insight into how you can transform your wardrobe to be a little kinder to the environment (but still as stylish) as we round up our beginner guide to sustainability.

By Neve McCracken-Heywood

Rory Sinclair