January 23, 2011

7 simple ways to reduce bathroom waste

bathroom shelf

My bathroom shelf: Toothpaste, coconut oil, shea butter, oregano oil, floss and deodorant

Let’s face it: women use more products than men, and we have a recurring, generally very wasteful (but otherwise healthy) function that they don’t have. But this doesn’t mean we need to create more garbage than these low-maintenance dudes. If you live in Metro Vancouver, you’ve seen the ads, you’ve seen the news. We create a lot of garbage, and we can’t throw it on Cache Creek forever. Our rubbish has to go somewhere, so it’s time to try harder to avoid creating it in the first place. (It’s reduce, reuse, recycle, remember.) But you’re a girl, and you have needs. Now what?


1. Get an “eco positive period with the Diva Cup and a combination of smart panties and reusable cloth liners and pads. The fabrics are organic cotton and the Diva Cup merely collects your flow, so you can avoid nasty things like toxic shock syndrome and yeast infections. Other benefits? No smelly waste, no crinkly noises from plastic pads, no discomfort, and no worries about running out. Yes, it can be discreet, super fun, and still feel sexy. It will simply make your life easier, save you money and time in the long run, and reduce your footprint on the planet big time. If you’re still not convinced, read their testimonials and their tips. Lunapads is based in Vancouver. Hint: sign up for their newsletter and grab the Green Zebra coupon book to save some dough.

Rocky Mountain soap2. Happy soap! If you’re not into making your own, skip the shrinkwrap, the toxins and the plastic pumps with Rocky Mountain Soap Company‘s earth-friendly bar soap, wrapped in just a strip of paper. (Mountain Sky is another option.) They also sell a shaving* soap bar. I know you think you need foam to shave, but I dare you to try this stuff for a month and see the difference. I used to use bar soap that wasn’t even meant for shaving, then tried a foam cream in an aerosol can (what was I thinking?!). Rocky Mountain wins hands down. Their Vancouver store is on Granville & 15th, and they sell unscented soap too.

3. Toss that floss. Has it occurred to you that you brush and floss with plastic? Isn’t that kind of gross? I haven’t solved the toothbrush problem yet, but I did change what I toss every day and got myself silk floss. It’s USDA organic and biodegradable — well duh, it’s silk and beeswax. I wonder if I can compost it… It’s thick, so it takes a gentler technique but is extremely effective. “But I have tight teeth!” you say. So do I. This stuff doesn’t shred, and it’ll squeeze in there, so go for it. Radius silk floss is available at Capers and Choices and comes in recyclable packaging.

4. Simplify and make your own. I did the math yesterday and realised that not only is my single-ingredient moisturizer healthier than Burt’s Bees (theirs is decent but contains fragrance that bothers me), it’s waaaay cheaper. We buy organic coconut oil in a reusable/recyclable tub, and my inexpensive organic African Fair Trade Society shea butter comes in a reusable plastic container. (#7 isn’t recyclable in our blue bin and I’d prefer glass, but oh well.) Bonus: when I bought it at a trade show, the container wasn’t wrapped in plastic. These two options are super healthy, effective, and inexpensive. You can combine them with some melted beeswax to make lip balm, or use them on their own anywhere. You’ll realise how easy, space-saving and eco-friendly it is to have one or two products with multiple purposes. (Oh yeah, shea butter is great for de-frizzing hair too!) Coconut oil also has an SPF of about 5.

I make my own toothpaste adapted from my sister‘s recipe. Jen from the Clean Bin Project hated hers, but try this (amounts are approximate; add to taste):

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tbsp baking soda (remember it’s salty)
  • 1/4 tsp grey sea salt
  • 1+ tsp xylitol to taste (preferably from birch)


  • stevia to taste
  • mint extract (avoid if you’re on homeopathics)
  • 1 tbsp magnesium citrate (it’s good for teeth!)
  • 3 or 4 drops of oil of oregano (anti-fungal and good for gums)

Combine in a small glass jar with a lid. (Make sure it’ll fit where you normally keep your toothpaste.) Stir thoroughly. The coconut oil will return to solid at room temperature. Simply use your toothbrush to scrape out a teaspoon or so. Let the coconut oil melt in your mouth (detoxing effect too) then, if desired, swallow when you’re finished to enjoy the dietary benefits of the ingredients. Doing so also avoids mucking up your sink, reducing water usage. If your brush hardens after some time, freshen it up with hot water. Do not add glycerin or fluoride to your toothpaste.

5. Deodorant. My sister first introduced me to salt crystal deodorant in 2007, and a male friend helped me find it at Choices. It’s more effective than any product I’ve ever used, natural or otherwise. The sale won’t stain your clothes, either, so wear black all you want. It loses some defenses against “nervous sweats” but other than that, I’ll come home from a 2 hour bike ride and not stink. (Also, if you eat well like I do, you won’t stink so much. If you’re constantly detoxing from sugar, fast food and chemicals, you’ll be smellier.) I got lucky with my product; it came in a little plastic pouch on a plastic tray, whereas these days you’ll probably get stuck with a plastic container attached to it, but it will outlast conventional stick deodorants by such a long time that you’ll be reducing plenty of waste — and saving time and money. Case in point, the one I bought in 2007 should last me a decade. If you’re still using antiperspirant on a daily basis, switch now.

hankiePhoto by cafemama via Flickr

6. Get a hankie on it. Why buy and toss tissues all the time when you can make a cute statement with a handkerchief? They’re soft, never embarrass you with shredding or dust, and just look way better when you need to wipe your nose on the bus. Get yourself a few, and toss them in the wash with your regular laundry. (Make sure you’re using some eco-friendly detergent while you’re at it!) If you really want to be green and cheap, source scrap fabrics or old jammies and hem it yourself. I like organic cotton and flannel. If you really need tissues, like in your bathroom for guests, get the recycled tissue that comes in a plastic-free box. Check out this tip on hankie technique.

7. Use recycled toilet paper (Cascades is soft, and Superstore’s Green line is pretty good now) and ditch the tedious, wasteful individually-wrapped rolls. If you need to fully unwrap the jumbo packages, keep them clean in a basket or your bathroom cupboard. When you’re done each roll, recycle it. Buy in jumbo packs, watch for sales, and be smart with your consumption to save money.

Hopefully guys will find a few of these useful too. After considering whether you really need a certain product, try to find the best option available — least amount of packaging, least toxic, and even local if you can get it. You don’t have to be perfect in your attempt to look perfect, but everyone can and should take that extra step to be friendlier to the planet and ourselves. You’ll notice all of the above tips to reduce waste have personal health benefits, too.

My only remaining bathroom waste is used blades, toothbrushes (reused sometimes for cleaning unless they go to a charity for marginalized women), toothbrush packaging and occasionally other unrecyclable packaging. With that little waste, I rarely need to take out my bathroom garbage. I have a biodegradable (debatable) plastic bag lining it, but I can probably ditch that next time and combine the waste straight into the kitchen garbage, further reducing what goes out to the landfill.

This green lifestyle is pretty fun.

If you have tips or successes of your own, I would love to hear them. For more green lifestyle tips, visit David Suzuki’s Queen of Green blog.

* If anyone knows of an electric shaver that does a smooth job on legs, please tell me!