Want to reduce your use of single-use plastics in the bathroom? We suggest five key actions, and lots of easy ideas for going plastic-free!
See foot of article for details of the products pictured above
Look around any bathroom, and you'll doubtless see dozens of plastic bottles, tubs and accessories – many of which can't be recycled.
With , we need to act now to prevent the mountain of plastic waste getting any bigger.
Although plastic is a convenient way to hold our lotions and potions, there are other ways we can keep ourselves clean and well-groomed – without harming wildlife or the environment.
Here are a few simple suggestions.
Bring on the bars
Handwash, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bubble bath… how many of our everyday bathroom items come encased in plastic?
Liquid soap from plastic pump dispensers and liquid shower gels in plastic bottles should be the first things to go. Good old-fashioned bars of soap can wash hands, face and body. They last longer than liquids – and there are many natural bars that come in eco-friendly, recyclable packaging.
are handmade in Tobermory, are presented in card boxes that can be recycled, and come in a wonderful range of lovely scents – try cinnamon and citrus or lavender and mint. Or try the large, great value natural bars made by – presented in simple packaging that won't harm the planet.
The next replacement to make is shampoo. There are now plenty of solid shampoo bars on the market, and most are inexpensive and long-lasting – as well as leak-free, so great for travel. Finding a bar that suits you can take some time. If you have sensitive skin or an itchy, flaky scalp, bars from theare highly recommended: try Oatmilk and Argan, or Aloe Vera and Neem oil. They also make a fragrance-free solid conditioner especially formulated for sensitive scalps.
Getting used to solid shampoo can take some time – but stick with it. Many liquid shampoos leave a build-up of chemical residues on the hair, and strip the hair of its natural oils. To counter this, the scalp reacts by secreting excess oil. It takes a while for your scalp to stop doing this when you switch to a natural shampoo – so your hair may not feel at its best for a week or too.
But once your hair has adjusted to the lack of chemicals it should settle down – in fact you may find that you don't need to wash your hair as frequently as you used to. Allow up to two weeks for your hair to adjust – your scalp will thank you!
Showers are more environmentally friendly than a bath – but some days you just need a hot soak in a bathtub full of bubbles. The good news is that there are lots of eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bottles of bubble bath.
There are lots of small, local producers across the UK making bath bombs out of natural ingredients – check out local craft and farmers' markets to see what you can find (and remember to take a reusable bag or container to transport them home). The gift departments in garden centres are another good place to look – our local has a good selection of inexpensive, unpackaged bath bombs (pictured above left).
For an opulent bath, try a Lush Bubble Bar. Their (pictured above right) is made with Sicilian mandarin, bergamot and tangerine essential oils and has a gorgeous, mood-lifting fragrance. Each bar lasts for ages, as you only need a small chunk to produce a bathload of foamy bubbles (although Lush's advice is to use a quarter of the bar per bath, we found we needed nowhere near that amount – a little goes a long way). And whether you buy in store or online, they're not wrapped in plastic.
If you don't care about bubbles, but do want to relax with a soothing scent, try adding essential oils to a bath. Many essential oils can irritate the skin, so take care – it's best to stir them into a little olive oil or coconut oil first, or add a few drops to a cup of Epsom salts. Skin-friendly oils include lavender, geranium and chamomile – all are calming and will help promote a restful night's sleep.
Buy better bottles
Can't live without liquids? Some bottles are better than others. offers handwash and liquid shampoo in recyclable, aluminium bottles that can be refilled – and you get a discount if you send your empty bottle back to them for refilling.
You can also buy Funky Soap Shop moisturisers and body creams in refillable aluminium tubs. Try their Olive and Moringa cream – a rich moisturiser that's great for dry skin and also excellent value.
Although 's bottles are made of plastic, these are a more eco-friendly choice than many others. Since 2011, the company have used 100 per cent recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate in all their 400ml bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and foam bath. The bottles can then be recycled after use. The contents are natural too and free from artificial colours, fragrances and parabens.
Faith in Nature offers in independent shops across the UK, where customers can refill their bottles.
uses recyclable glass bottles, made from 85 per cent recycled glass, for many of its all-natural products – including Sage Deodorant, Pine Bath Milk, Aknedoron Cleansing Lotion (a great quick fix for problem skin) and its range of wonderfully scented body oils.
And that comes in a 500ml recyclable bottle made from recycled plastic. This can be decanted into smol's small, lightweight aluminium bottle for taking out and about – cutting down on the millions of plastic sanitiser bottles that aren't recycled, and end up in landfill or our oceans.
Brush with bamboo
Next time you need a new hairbrush or toothbrush, ditch the plastic and switch to bamboo.
Dentists recommend you change your toothbrush every three to four months – so for a family of four, that's 16 pieces of plastic going to landfill every year.
We tried out bamboo toothbrushes from and found that they clean teeth just as effectively as a plastic toothbrush. The smooth bamboo handle feels nice in the hand too – and the bristles are made from BPA-free biodegradable nylon. So when the toothbrush needs changing it can be composted or recycled.
Toilet paper from the supermarket usually comes in plastic bags. The amusingly named loo roll producer sends paper-wrapped toilet rolls direct to your door in cardboard boxes of 24 or 48 rolls. They're made with 100 per cent recycled paper with no inks, dyes or scents.
50 per cent of Who Gives A Crap's profits are donated to charity to provide toilets to those in need. Some 2.3 billion people (roughly 40% of the world's population) don't have access to a toilet, leading to hundreds of thousands of childhood deaths caused by poor water and sanitation. The toilets funded by Who Gives A Crap provide dignity, health and an improved quality of life to people across the developing world.
Each year more than 45 billion sanitary pads are disposed of – and many of these contain plastics that don't break down for hundreds of years. But there are many reusable options on the market, from to cloth pads.
produces beautiful reusable cloth pads, made from soft and absorbent materials in pretty designs and colours. With two popper settings to secure the pads firmly, they're machine washable and air dry quickly.
And for every three pads purchased, Earthwise Girls donate a reusable pad to a child in need via . Statistics show that in every village in Africa there are dozens of girls who have dropped out of school because they have no access to sanitary products during menstruation. And millions of other girls in the developing world miss up 20 per cent of their education due to lack of access to menstrual products – this disruption to their education limits their chances of good employment, making them more likely to become dependent on someone else for survival.
If you don't want to make the move to reusables, try pads and tampons, which are made from organic cotton and contain only natural materials. They are biodegradable – and contain no plastic.
Left to right, top row: Our Tiny Bees Fir Needle, Pine and Cedarwood soap; Funky Soap Olive and Moringa Deep Conditioning Cream; Weleda Sage Deodorant; Save Some Green Charcoal Tooth Floss; Save Some Green Bamboo Toothbrush; Faith in Nature Lavender and Geranium Shampoo.
Bottom row: Pai Organic Muslin Cloths; Funky Soap Argan and Oatmilk Shampoo bar; Earthwise Girls reusable menstrual pads; Natracare tampons; Blue Diamond Mini Bath Bombs; Isle of Mull Soap Co Cinnamon and Citrus soap.
Our tested products are displayed on a - a great choice for a plastic-free bathroom as it's made only from sustainable, natural fibres.
Save Some Green also makes plastic-free, biodegradable tooth floss. Made from either silk, or a vegan charcoal version, the floss is infused with peppermint essential oil to keep teeth super clean, and breath fresh.
Or try a from Australian company . These brushes feature an innovative design with a detachable brush head – so only the small top section needs replacing. Do this every few months, keeping the bamboo handle to reuse again and again.
The Other Straw is a small social enterprise that donates 50 percent of profits to support projects that protect the world's oceans and marine life.
Buds, wipes, paper and pads
Many supermarket cotton buds are now made with paper – but the trouble is that most are still sold in plastic bags or boxes.
are made using soft cotton and bamboo, which break down when disposed of. And unlike many other buds, they're packaged in a box made of recycled cardboard.
Single-use wet wipes may contain plastics or other non-biodegradable materials, and could take 100 years or more to break down in landfill. When flushed, they also clog sewers and end up polluting riverbanks.
In the UK, there are plans to ban plastic-containing single use wipes, such as face wipes and baby wipes. But even wipes labeled as plastic-free or biodegradable can take a long time to break down.
Instead of using a single-use, disposable wipe, try using a flannel or muslin cloth. These are great for sloughing away dead skin cells – meaning you can also avoid buying plastic tubes of liquid exfoliator. For example, brighten the complexion by gently removing dead skin and can be used with soap and water to remove make-up and everyday dirt and grime. These are a much more economic option than packs of wipes too – a five-pack of Pai cloths costs just £12, and they should last for years.
Little Green Space: article updated June 2021
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