Almost two months into this challenge, I’m still trying to find many suitable replacements for items I love and use daily that come in plastic.
One of the areas of my apartment where a plethora of plastic lives is in my bathroom. Shampoo bottles, toothpaste tubes, lotion containers are all typically in plastic, and for good reason. Plastic is easy to transport and nicely holds in liquid materials. I’ve really been appreciating this while traveling this spring. Turns out that tin isn’t as handy as plastic at preventing spills in your suitcase.
But while I’ve struggled to replace certain items, such as toothpaste, that come in plastic, I have also managed to find some great replacements for plastics in my bathroom. Here are some alternatives I’ve found that have really been working for me:
Since tissue is so often packaged in groups (say four packs), it usually comes in plastic. At Walgreens, I’ve found this brand called “ology” that sells tissue by the roll in a paper sleeve. The sleeve is made of bamboo instead of tree pulp, so it claims to be non-harmful to forests, and after doing a bit of research, I’m not finding any negatives about this producer. So, for the time being, I’m going to continue buying these rolls. They can be a little comical to carry (I’ve done some unexpected juggling on my way to the check out line), but they usually cost about $1/roll, so I’m not seeing much of a price difference between these and the tissue packed in groups.
I have my lovely friend Lyndsay Gilman to thank for tipping me off to this stuff. It’s called “Rosebud Salve,” and it’s sold at Merz Apothecary in Chicago (and I think other like stores). It is truly delightful. I can give this salve my highest praise because, last month, when visiting Lyndsay in Indiana, I was having a terrible time with dry lips. I don’t know what was going on, but my lips felt like papier-mâché, they were so darn chapped. So Lyndsay suggested I try this balm, and it immediately helped. The product itself I love, but it also comes in a tin container, which doubled my excitement. It is expensive (about $6), but I usually only use it once a day, so I think the single container may last me several months. Thank you, Lyndsay!
Shampoo & conditioner.
When I stopped at Merz to pick up the Rosebud lip balm, I asked about shampoos and conditioners not in plastic. The staff person recommended this bar shampoo, J.R. Liggett’s, which she said she uses (it was about $7/bar and is advertised to last about the same amount of time as a 24-oz. bottle of shampoo). I have actually not yet tried it (more on that in a moment), but the Merz lady said she loves this shampoo. Several friends have also suggested that I visit a Lush store to get hair products, and the green conditioner in the picture above is from there. I have yet to use this conditioner, too, but from the rave reviews I’ve heard, it feels promising.
The reason I have yet to use the pictured shampoo and conditioner is that I’ve been really slowly going through my current bottles of hair products. A month or two before Earth Day, I bought a shampoo/conditioner set from the French store L’Occitane. They were super expensive. I think it cost around $30 for the smallest container of shampoo, but both the shampoo and conditioner have lasted me a long time. Perhaps this is because they are a higher end product and more concentrated, or perhaps this is because I’m trying to ration my use, but I’m still not yet halfway through these containers.
Through this plastic challenge, I’ve realized that this is one significant way to limit plastic use: to do a little rationing. I don’t think I really considered how much shampoo I previously used to pour into my hand, but it was a generous handful. Now, with the thought of having to keep all my plastic, I use about half of that amount, and it seems to work just as well.
While I have found some successes, I’ve had a little trouble with the following replacements:
I bought this bar of lotion from Lush, and I’ve been using it on a daily basis. Basically it’s an oily “massage” bar that you rub into your hands and then onto your legs, arms, etc. It’s great in theory (and actually very easy to transport), but it’s not very easy to spread and it was kind of pricey ($11 a bar). I find my hands slick with oil after trying to apply it, and my husband thinks I smell a little like Play-Doh. I find, though, that if my skin is still damp after the shower, I can rub it on a little better. I’m planning soon to try coconut oil, which several people have also suggested works well for lots of bath substitutes.
I’m very willing to experiment with lotions and lip balms, but I’m not as willing to turn my face into a test tube. For years I’ve used Cetaphil to wash and moisturize my face, and it works well for me. My last year in college I struggled with acne, and Cetaphil was a huge help. I’m nervous about trying a new product that could mean pimples or dry skin.
I decided to try the bar form of Cetaphil for washing my face, and so far, it’s working well, but it still comes in lots of plastic. Both the bar itself as well as the box surrounding it are sealed in plastic film. On the whole, this is less plastic than the giant tub of Cetaphil I used to buy, but it’s still plastic. The bar is also not very easy to pack for travel in a tin (which likes to pop open or leak suds). I also have yet to figure out how to replace Cetaphil face lotion. As with the face cleanser, the lotion works so well for me, and it has sunscreen in it. I don’t want to give up a product that is actually reducing my chance for skin cancer.
Overall, it’s actually been fun to seek alternatives to the products I’ve always used. There have been some frustrations, but finding these few replacements has already helped make a sizable difference in the amount of plastic I use, and I discovered my all-time favorite lip balm in the process!
Hi Meredith! I’m currently doing a zero waste June challenge where I’m trying to not produce any waste for the month of June. This means no plastic, no packaging that can’t be recycle, etc. This challenge was inspired by the up and coming zero waste movement and your year of dumping plastic! I wrote a blog post on it if you’re interested. As far as toothpaste goes, I make it myself. All you need is coconut oil, baking soda, and essential oil. A plastic packaging free, chemical free, natural alternative to traditional toothpaste. Tastes a little salty from the baking soda but it totally works. So happy that you’re committed to going plastic free! Keep on inspiring others.
Nina, wow! I’m so impressed by your decision to go waste free for a month! How inspiring! I look forward to reading your posts, too, and learning from you! Thank you for the really helpful suggestion about toothpaste! I’ll give that a try! 🙂 really appreciate your feedback!
Hi Sweetie! I am amazed at your creativity in finding replacements for plastic, and I’m so glad you introduced me to Merz Apothecary when we were shopping last week! I also love your tenacity in sticking with your commitment to “dump plastic,” which reminds me of one of my favorite poems by William Wordsworth: “The World is Too Much With Us.”
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
My heart is with you as you continue your noble crusade to “Dump Plastic”!
Mom–this is such a beautiful poem. I’ve read it before, but never completely “read” it (I’ve never dedicated thought to each line’s meaning). This really communicates a deeper message to me now, after this year of trying to connect back with the “sea that bares her bosom to the moon.” Thank you for sharing.