People around the world are slowly beginning to become more aware of how we use and dispose of earth’s resources, beginning to implement practices to reduce their carbon footprints and overall impact on the environment. One of the first moves most people make when working towards more sustainable practices is to cut out plastic, more specifically, single-use and disposable plastic products and packaging.
Plastic water bottles, straws, bags, and other single-use items have seen a significant decrease in use and demand, and many people have learned to choose reusable or packaging-free options wherever possible at the grocery store or when out for lunch or coffee with a friend. Though entirely possible in many circumstances, there is one place people haven’t spent much time considering when it comes to ridding their lives of plastic: the bathroom.
Most commercial bathroom products are made from plastic or come packaged in some kind of plastic, and because almost every company does this, consumers don’t think twice. Shelves on convenience stores, drugstores, department stores, and even high-end boutiques are lined with plastic products for the bathroom, so much so that most of us don’t even realize just how much plastic we have in that one small part of our homes.
While some plastic packaging and bathroom items can be recycled, few are, and of those that do make it into the blue bin, only a small percentage will make it through the sorting process. Rather than relying on recycling to take care of your plastic waste, it is better to avoid purchasing and using plastic altogether. Here, we’re going to share the many places you’ll find plastic in your bathroom to help you begin to see just how much waste your household contributes to the landfill, and to help you find more environmentally friendly alternatives.
Plastic In the Shower
Some of us like fast, cold showers to invigorate our senses while others do their best thinking in a long, hot shower. No matter how you like to spend your time in it, most of our showers have one thing in common, and that’s a whole lot of plastic. Most shower products are made from plastic for two reasons: first, because it is inexpensive, and second, because plastic can withstand regular exposure to water without becoming damaged.
Because of this, plastic has become the material of choice for most manufacturers of bath and beauty products, leaving consumers with few choices. Here are just a few of the plastic products you probably have sitting in your shower as we speak:
Shampoo & Conditioner Bottles
HDPE, the plastic most commonly used for shampoo and conditioner bottles, is perfectly suited for life in the shower. Strong enough to withstand lots of moisture and friction while also flexible enough to be squeezed and smacked for the last dregs of shampoo, this plastic is the perfect combination of durable and yielding. Unfortunately, the durability of plastics like HDPE also makes them difficult to dispose of, and your shampoo and conditioner bottles could be piled up in a landfill for hundreds or even thousands of years after you toss them in the trash.
On average, a single person uses about 10 bottles of shampoo and 5 bottles of conditioner per year.
Whether you shave your face, legs, underarms, or anywhere else, chances are good your daily razor is made from plastic. Yes, the blades of your razor are likely stainless steel, but the rest of your trimmer is made from hard plastics and rubbers, making your razor waterproof, lightweight, and impossible to recycle. Mixed materials cannot be recycled, since recyclables must be sorted to be reused. Razors contain too many materials to be viable for re-use, meaning every disposable razor you purchase ends up in a landfill.
On average, Americans add 2 billion razors to landfills each year.
Now, if you have a natural loofah in your shower, you can skip over this one. Natural loofah is a tropical vegetable in the cucumber family which, when dried, can be used like a sponge to scrub and exfoliate. While the natural loofah came first, most people imagine pink, fluffy, plastic clouds when they hear the word. The synthetic, nylon loofah has become the more popular alternative, coming in many colors and shapes to suit personal style and preference. While some regions allow residents to recycle these scrubbing sponges, most end up wasting away in landfills.
Plastic Above the Sink
If you’re not in the shower, you’re probably standing at the bathroom sink, singing into your hairbrush in the mirror, or trying to get that pesky piece of spinach out from between your teeth. A lot happens at your sink, so it should come as no surprise to learn that many of the plastic products we’re going to cover here show up in this area of the bathroom. Here are some common plastic items you probably have above your sink right now:
Most commercial toothpaste products are packaged in plastic tubes, often made from mixed materials to create protective layers to ensure the paste remains sterile and protected. The now commonplace ‘tube’ dispenser is what most of us grew up with, and the idea of putting toothpaste on a toothbrush from some other container seems strange and foreign. Unfortunately, the classic tube of toothpaste is yet another of those items that pile up in landfills, overrunning them and taking a serious toll on the planet.
Around 900 million tubes of toothpaste are added to U.S. landfills annually.
Pairing perfectly with those 900 million tubes of toothpaste, Americans use more than 1 billion toothbrushes each year, contributing 50 million pounds of plastic waste to landfills. Not only are the handles of most commercial toothbrushes made from hard plastic and synthetic rubbers, the packaging and bristles are usually plastic as well, making toothbrushes 100% non-recyclable.
Dental floss is made from nylon, an extremely strong but flexible synthetic plastic. Nylon doesn’t fray from friction, won’t break even if you floss extra hard, and won’t break down naturally in any environment! That’s right, nylon dental floss is yet another bathroom plastic that could be poisoning the planet, but this one goes beyond just the landfills.
Marine animals and birds are commonly found entangled in bits of nylon floss, or with knots of the stuff constricting and clogging their delicate organs. Dental floss is easy to mistake for food if you are a fish, a turtle, or a gull, and with millions of feet of nylon floss dumped into the ocean annually, there are plenty of opportunities for ocean critters to tangle with floss. Preventing floss from ending up in oceans, lakes, rivers, or waterways is difficult, since floss is too lightweight to be recycled by most recycling facilities.
Deodorant is most commonly packaged in plastic sticks/tubes, designed to supply about a half an inch of deodorant at a time. Other than the solid, gel, or liquid deodorant, these products are almost entirely mixed plastics, making them largely non-recyclable. With most American adults using deodorant daily, hundreds of millions of empty deodorant containers find their way to landfills each year.
Assessing the Damage
Plastic waste is a major contributor to global pollution, and the problem has grown to a virtually unmanageable size. Consumer products in every sector are made from or packaged in plastic, and the demand for these products continues to remain relatively high, despite the devastating consequences of our disposable lifestyle. When we take a step back to look at all the items we use daily, and how many things we rely on are made from plastic, it can seem overwhelming to even begin imagining purging our lives of the material.
Let’s take a look at what plastic you might generate from just one year of using your bathroom, based on the items we listed above:
10 shampoo bottles
5 conditioner bottles
7 disposable razors
4 tubes of toothpaste
300 feet of dental floss
3 sticks of deodorant
Thankfully, there are some amazingly innovative designers and companies (including Habitat By Pela) working to create eco-friendly, plastic-free alternatives to products just like these. As general awareness of the problem of plastic pollution begins to grow, we are sure to see many more consumers becoming more conscious of how they buy. What about you? How have you changed the way you buy to help protect the planet?