It’s ironic that bathrooms usually have such small wastebaskets, because after the kitchen, I’m guessing they must be the room in the house that produces the most waste. Then again, maybe a tiny trashcan is a good reminder to try to minimize trash …
But that’s no easy feat considering all the consumables contained in this compact space: Medications and first aid items; toilet paper; shower gear; skin-care products; toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss; cosmetics, and the list goes on. I’ve gotten good about making sure that the cardboard TP roll and empty shampoo bottles make it into the recycle bin in the kitchen, but I know there’s more I can do to be more sustainable in the bathroom.
In the coming month, I’m hoping to see if I can keep my little trashcan from overflowing, and conserve resources to boot. Here’s how you can, too:
1. Switch to bar shampoo and soap
I’m not sure when our society became so reliant on liquid soaps. When I was a kid, bars of Ivory were the staple in the tub and beside the sink. There was only the paper wrapper to dispose of, and they seemed to last forever — a minimalist’s dream come true! I’m happy to see a resurgence of bar soaps (even the cleaning goods cult favorite Method has a line of them), and now manufacturers have even developed shampoo in bar form. Cosmetics company Lush claims their shampoo bars are the equivalent of two to three bottles of shampoo. Plus, if you buy them at a Lush shop, they are free of packaging!
2. Buy natural floss
Dental floss is usually made of synthetic fiber: Nylon or Teflon, with a petroleum-based wax coating. Because of what it’s made of, floss can’t be recycled, and it won’t biodegrade in compost or in a landfill. An eco-friendlier option is a product such as WooBamboo biodegradable floss, which comes in a plant-based-plastic package. My kids have an easier time flossing with dental piks; fortunately, the Goodfloss flossers can be composted.
3. Recycle cosmetics and other toiletries
While shampoo and liquid soap bottles can be rinsed out and usually recycled in the curbside bin (they’re usually made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is resin identification code #2), makeup compacts, upscale face-lotion bottles, and other cosmetics might be a little more challenging to recycle. Many cosmetics companies do their own take-back programs for empty compacts and makeup tubes. For the rest, Terracycle has a mail-in program (you have to pay, so you might want to try to share the cost with some similarly environmental-minded friends).
4. Safely dispose of expired or unnecessary medications
It’s never a good idea to keep medication around after you no longer need it, especially if you have children who could get into it. But flushing it down the toilet or throwing it in the trash could contaminate waterways and harm wildlife. A better option is to check with your local pharmacy to see if they have a take-back program, or to search the American Medicine Chest Challenge website for a participating location near you.
5. Repurpose pill bottles
When you responsibly dispose of that old medication, save those empty pill bottles. They can be repurposed in lots of cute and clever ways, from a hiding spot for a spare key, to a magnetic mini planter for cuttings.
6. Catch water while it’s warming
The water takes forever to warm up in one of my bathroom sinks, so I’ve taken to putting a pitcher on the counter there. While I’m trying to get the water warm enough to wash my face, I’ll catch the flowing water with the pitcher, and use that water to fill my bedside glass, rinse my mouth after brushing, and even water my houseplants.
7. Use a natural luffa instead of a plastic scrubby
Did you know you can grow your own exfoliating sponge? Luffas are in the gourd family and grow easily in a garden. If you lack a green thumb — or the required climatic conditions — you can also purchase them at a cosmetics store or online. They don’t last quite as long as their plastic counterparts, but fortunately luffas can be composted when they are worn out — unlike plastic scrubbies, which will go to the landfill.
8. Reduce your household’s use of toilet paper
When you have a cat that loves unfurling a roll of toilet paper into a shredded heap, or a kid who always takes more than necessary, it’s amazing how many rolls of TP your family can plow through. I should know — I have both the offending cat and kids. A $5 product can slow the movement of the toilet paper holder to make the user more conscious of how many squares they’re pulling off. Even cheaper: Squish a new roll until the cardboard center flattens slightly to slow down the rolling motion, or wrap a rubber band a few times around the end of the roll holder to provide some friction. The average person uses about 9 squares per trip to the toilet, according to the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia (yes, such a thing exists!); encourage your household to try to use as few squares as possible to do their business.
Hopefully these small changes in the W.C. will help my family — and yours! — conserve resources and be more responsible with how we deal with our household waste!