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By Aaron Benn
A plastic free bathroom is the zero waste dream, imagine it. The simplicity.
No more empty toiletry tubes, bottles and cartons hanging around waiting to be thrown away or ‘recycled’ and a cleaner, greener planet. In our modern homes, kitchen and bathroom cleaning products are usually the areas of focus for much of the consumables that we buy. With a beauty cream or a cleaning spray for pretty much everything, it can become a bit cluttered and, as a result, the packaging soon piles up.
With the global recycling effort recently being the focus of many a documentary, most people who want to be eco friendly in 2020 know that most of our plastic waste is not recycled. Some of it is sent thousands of miles away to foreign lands, only to leech into their soil and sink into their seas. Out of sight and out of mind only works when the former is true.
I decided to investigate what exactly the lifecycle of a piece of plastic waste looks like. Plastics and polymers are produced through a manufacturing process which involves the waste from crude oil production, natural gas and chemical agents. All of those individual components must be drilled, fracked or pumped out of the ground. Single molecule ‘monomers’ combine with long chains of molecules called ‘polymers’ to make composites. These processes use huge amounts of chemicals and energy. Not very eco friendly.
The plastics, of which there are many types (which makes recycling them such a headache) are then moulded to make phone cases, milk cartons or cotton bud sticks. Once created these plastic products are shipped from the factory, filled, shipped again for sale, used and then ultimately discarded to landfill. Most plastics don’t degrade for hundreds of years. Only between 7-9% of consumer plastics are recycled in the UK, based on data from the Royal Statistical Society. Can you believe that figure, wow!
Plastic was designed to replace ivory and other sought-after precious materials which were becoming scarce in the early 20th century through hunting and poaching. It was a solution to a problem that has now itself become a problem, funny huh!
The build-up of plastic over the past 50 or so years is polluting the earth and threatening our ecosystems. Animals, birds and sea creatures are ingesting it. Interest among the public about our plastic addiction is rising partly thanks to the great work of charities like Surfers Against Sewage. They have taken a grass roots campaign to keep our beaches clean to another level, influencing the political discussion in the UK and globally. Bans on single use plastics are forthcoming across the world.
Supermarkets will really need to catch up, and this may take a while. But as consumers we can start to change our habits. It’s all too convenient to go to the supermarket for bread and milk and pick up some mass-produced big brand body lotion while you’re there. Who can blame you when you’re rushed off your feet and time is precious plus the consumer game is rigged against you! Well, we can all make some simple changes and get into better habits.
The good news is that more planet friendly stores and refill stations are opening all the time! And products made from alternative materials are becoming easier to access. Bamboo toothbrushes, unpackaged toilet rolls, natural fibre washing up sponges, the future is here!
Eco conscious brands such as Bio D, Sesi, Forest Hog and Faith in Nature are supplying small independent retailers like Bloop with their refill products. Those once-a-month purchases such as toilet cleaner, washing up liquid and shower gel can be topped up time and time again, with empty plastic bottles getting more than just one use.
If you don't have a bottle to rescue from the recycling bin, you could buy a reusable aluminium bottle or tin. Aluminium is a great alternative to plastic as it’s much sturdier and much more readily and easily recyclable when it’s no longer needed.
Personally, I love using glass refillable containers. Glass adds such a nice look to the bathroom in the place of rows of odd plastic bottles and it’s so easy to clean. Keeping old jars and planning what I need to fill has become a part of my shopping habit now.
I try to buy products from small producers and always look forward to seeing what’s new, that sense of closeness to the people who make the products I use every day is important and a blessing. Having a chat with other zero-wasters about what they’ve tried and tested is fun. Who's tried tooth tabs? There’s a real spirit which exists around plastic free communities that’s a big bonus.
Through enterprising independent stores, resourceful entrepreneurial producers and forward thinking brands, a plastic free future is getting ever closer. A lot of alternative sustainable packaging is being developed using bamboo. As it is relatively cheap, easy to cultivate and biodegradable, bamboo is a great substitute for not only for plastic but also endangered hardwoods. Deforestation is a huge problem in many areas of the world and this is because of consumer demand. Bamboo grows quite quickly and some species can be cultivated after just five years, meaning less land is needed to grow a crop and turn it over.
To top it off, bamboo also absorbs green house gases during it’s growth cycle… amazing! As a material it’s strong, durable and easy to keep clean. I love my bamboo toothbrush!
TOP BATHROOM SWAPS:
Good old fashioned soap
Plastic free dental routine
Solid or refillable hair care
Reusable face wipes
Deodorant sticks and creams