Bathroom sink

Beauty and the beast: plastic-free bathroom

Plastic cotton buds may be a thing of the past, but plastic waste is still a problem in the bathroom – from toothpaste tubes to shampoo bottles. Can you ditch plastic without sacrificing your beauty regimen?
By Roisin Mcloughlin    |      Published:  09 Apr 2018    |      Last updated:  30 Jun 2022    |      7 minute read

Did you know that only 9% of the plastic ever made has been recycled?

With most plastic still ending up in landfills or in the natural environment we need urgent action from individuals, businesses and governments if we're to curb the amount of plastic waste we produce.

If you're trying to reduce your own plastic waste, one place you may feel a little stumped is in the bathroom. When it comes to hygiene and beauty products, plastic packaging is often hard to avoid.

So, is it possible to reduce the amount of plastic polluting our soils and seas without sacrificing basic self care? We asked our Facebook followers to share their top tips for reducing plastic in the bathroom. 

Don’t forget to sign our petition asking for government legislation to put an end to the plastic polluting our oceans and waterways, and harming wildlife.

Bars of coloured soaps
Bars of coloured soaps
Credit: Heather Ford


Plastic-free bars in the bathroom

Showering and hand-washing are things most of us (we hope!) do multiple times each day. When it comes to what gets our bodies in a lather there’s tonnes of choice, from gels and milks to soap bars and bath bombs. 

What many of these products have in common is the plastic packing: the bottles, tubs, tubes and pots they often come in. Factor in daily use and that can add up to a heck of a lot of plastic - especially if you're part of a large family.

By far the most suggested tip from our Facebook followers was to steer clear of liquid shower gels and hand wash. Instead switch to solids, replacing these products with bars of soap. 

And because bar soap doesn’t contain as high a proportion of water as shower gels or liquid soaps, bar soap tends to last a lot longer and is more cost effective. 

But that’s not the only reason to switch to bars of soap . . .

A Swiss study found the carbon footprint of liquid soap is 25% larger than soap in bar form on a per-wash basis. Liquid soap also needs 5 times more energy to produce and can use 20 times more packaging. All of this makes liquid soap heavier and less efficient to transport from the factory to your shower.

The study did note traditional bar soaps could have more of an environmental impact on land than liquid soap. This is because they are usually made from fats and oils which come from farmed crops. However, given that most liquid soaps are made from petroleum-based chemicals, it’s still much easier to choose a natural bar soap that’s kinder to our environment.

Bars of green lemon verbena and purple lavender soap
Bars of plastic-free soap
Credit: Dimi Talen/WikimediaCommons

Here are our Facebook fans' top tips for purchasing bar soaps:

  • Choose a soap in minimal packaging (avoiding plastic). 
  • Choose a natural soap, avoiding chemical ingredients. 
  • Avoid soaps made with palm oil to limit the environmental land impact.
  • Buy from local farmers' markets or independent shops where possible to reduce transportation carbon footprint. 

Love lifestyle tips and news about nature?

Plastic-free shaving

Disposable razors may be convenient, but they come at a cost to our planet. More than 5 million people buy disposable razors annually in Britain - that’s a hefty number ending up in landfill each year. The countless bottles and plastic-lidded containers of shaving products will also be piling up in landfill. Luckily, there are eco-friendly alternatives that won’t break the bank. 

Opt for a traditional safety razor which can last for years (only the razor blades need to be recycled). They’re also known to be more hygienic, cause less skin irritation and give a closer shave. While the initial cost may be more than we’re used to paying, it will be cheaper in the long run than its throwaway relative. 

It’s dangerous to dispose of loose blades within your mixed recycling, we recommend collecting them in a container and finding a local recycling business that takes them 

For the full plastic-free shaving experience, shaving soap is the better option because it comes in bar form and doesn’t need much packaging. But if bar soap isn’t for you, choose shaving creams in recyclable metal tins or glass jars. 

Or you can go against the grain and try out a homemade recipe...  

Shaving cream recipe:

  • Melt 2/3 cup of shea butter with 2/3 cup of coconut oil. Stir in 1/4 cup of olive oil or grapeseed oil.
  • When the mixture is fully melted, add in 10-20 drops of your favourite essential oil.
  • Pour the mixture into a container. Do a final, good stir and set the mixture into the fridge to harden. Once it’s hardened, remove it from the fridge to soften a little.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the softened mixture using a mixer. Mix until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  • Apply the mixture liberally to where you want to shave. After use, store in a cool, dark place.

Lightweight shaving gel recipe:

  • Dissolve ½ teaspoon of salt in ¼ cup of warm water.
  • Add in ½ cup of liquid castile soap, ¼ cup of aloe vera gel, 2 tablespoons of vegetable glycerine, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 8 drops of tea tree essential oil. Blend and put in a container with a lid. 

Plastic-free mane-tenance: shampoos and conditioners

Like hand soaps and shower gels, single-use plastic tends to be the default packaging for most shampoos and conditioners. 

And, just like hand soap and shower gels, if you’re looking to cut plastic out of your hair care routine entirely, buying bar versions of both shampoo and conditioner is the simplest way to go.

Child with soap suds on hair
Plastic-free means everyone's happy...
Credit: thejbird/WikimediaCommons

The pros of using bar shampoo and conditioners to wash hair are pretty much the same as for your hands or the shower – no plastic (and much less packaging altogether), much longer-lasting, lower carbon footprint for transporting the product, and fewer chemical ingredients. 

For many beauty enthusiasts, the lower chemical content of shampoo bars is an additional benefit, as most shampoo bars are "sulphate-free". 

Sulphates/sulfates (Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or Ammonium Laureth Sulfate on your shampoo bottle) are among the most widely used ingredients in shampoo products. They're what make your shampoo and shower gel "lather" and foam.

They are "primary surfactants" which basically means they contain molecules that attract both water and oil, which makes them very efficient at separating dirt and oil from your hair and allowing water to wash them away.

In fact, sulphates are sometimes so efficient at cleaning away dirt and oil from your hair and skin, that they end up stripping away natural oils needed to keep them healthy. They can also aggravate the skin, particularly in those with dry skin conditions such as eczema.  

Here are some of our favourite shampoo bars:

  • Wild Sage, Rosemary and Lavender shampoo bar is vegan, handmade from British cold-pressed rapeseed oil and comes wrapped in recycled paper.
  • Funky Soap Shop, shampoo and conditioner bars. All soaps are handmade from 100% natural ingredients, with a wide range including shampoo bars to address specific hair concerns and conditioner bars to complete your hair care routine. All plastic-free.
Girl having her hair shampooed at hairdressers sink
Woman getting her hair washed at a hairdresser's sink
Credit: Brentron2000/CC0-Wikimedia Commons

Some people might find the switch from bottle to bar too tough on their tresses. You might miss the lather of a liquid shampoo, or lack the variety of hair-type specific treatments in bar form.

Have no fear, our Instagram followers had some great advice on how to reduce single-use plastic in your haircare regime without sacrificing your barnet.

Buying in bulk and recycled plastics

Bulk buying is a great way to ease into reducing your plastic consumption. Not only does it cut the total amount of plastic you consume, it also reduces the carbon footprint of shipping the products.

Even better if you can bulk buy from brands that use recycled plastic.

Fortunately it seems the beauty industry is finally waking up to the environmental impact of its packaging. Many salon brands are now pledging to use only recycled materials in their packaging.

Here are our top suggestions for buying bulk and recycled plastic:

  • Faith in Nature is an award-winning organic, vegan beauty company that uses 100% PET recycled plastic for all its packaging. You can buy both shampoo and conditioners in huge 5-litre bottles which will last you (almost) a lifetime.
  • Our partner Neal's Yard is another brand that promises to use 100% recycled plastic in its packaging, sourced wherever possible from within the UK to reduce transportation miles. Shampoo and conditioner are sold in larger sizes.
  • If you're into luxury hair care, salon brand Aveda was the first beauty company to use 100% recycled plastics. You can also buy shampoo and conditioner in salon-sized bottles.

Love lifestyle tips and news about nature?

Plastic-free loo roll

Finding recycled toilet paper that also doesn’t come in plastic packaging can be tricky. Many supermarkets produce recycled or "eco" toilet paper, but despite the green credentials of the actual product, the irony is that they inevitably come wrapped in single-use plastic. 

Make sure you check the packaging in-store to see if recycled (recyclable) or biodegradable packaging is on offer.

A roll of toilet paper in a holder on a bathroom wall
Can you find plastic-free toilet rolls?
Credit: Emdot/Creative Commons 2.0

If you’re struggling to find a recycled plastic alternative for your loo roll wrapping in your local supermarket, here’s another instance where buying in bulk (or the largest size available in the supermarket) can help reduce plastic waste.

But if you’re keen to go completely plastic-free in this department, there are a number of online options. Just make sure you read the fine print, as plastic-free doesn't automatically mean it's good for the planet.

  • Who Gives A Crap products are made from 100% recycled materials and come in plastic-free packaging. The company donates 50% of profits to help build toilets for people lacking sanitation, but their products are shipped from China so there are climate impacts to consider.
  • Greencane toilet paper is made from recycled bamboo and sugar cane and also guarantees completely plastic-free packaging and product.
  • Finally, Ecoleaf toilet paper is made from 100% recycled paper, the packaging is compostable and the product is made in the UK.

Plastic-less toothbrushes and toothpaste

Keeping those pearly-whites shining can be a nightmare for the plastic-avoider. Our twice-daily habit (particularly if we use a disposable toothbrush) could be sending thousands of tonnes of single-use plastic to landfill each year.

In fact it’s estimated that in the US alone over a billion toothbrushes, representing over 50 million pounds (22 million kg) of plastic waste, are discarded and end up in landfill each year. 

Bamboo toothbrushes in a glass jar
Bamboo toothbrushes in a glass jar
Credit: istock

Luckily there are quite a few options to cut down on toothbrush-related plastic waste.

Try a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush. The market for bamboo products has exploded in recent years and there are now quite a few bamboo toothbrushes to choose from, although you’d be hard pressed to find one in your local supermarket aisles. 

One exception is the Humble Brush, which you can find stocked in Waitrose and Whole Foods as well as Boots and Superdrug (and many more). The handle is made from 100% biodegradable bamboo, although the bristles are nylon and will need to be removed before composting. 

If you’re looking to go completely plastic-free you could try the bamboo brush from German company Life Without Plastic. It's made from sustainable Moso bamboo, and the bristles are made from boar hair. This means that, although they’re not suitable for vegans, they can be completely composted after use. 

Finally if neither of these options work for you, a conventional toothbrush or electric toothbrush with replaceable head (rather than throwing away the whole thing) will reduce single-use plastic consumption. The Source toothbrush is made from recycled materials and claims to reduce "93% of waste from standard brushing". 

Check out lots more tips and products for going plastic-free in the bathroom on our Pinterest board.