Have you noticed the amount of bottles we have these days in the shower and bathroom? This might seem trivial but we use so many products. Apart from the regular shampoo/conditioner combo there are liquid soaps, exfoliating gels and body scrubs, shower gels, body & face wash and the list goes on and on.
You only need to go to the supermarket or pharmacy and browse the personal care isle to see all the different types of product, brands, fragrances and sizes you can get.
Then I wonder, do we really need all these? Are these products really cleaning us better? well I don’t know, but something I can tell you for sure, it is not good news for the environment.
This month continuing on the plastic topic, given that we are on Plastic Free July, I decided to raise awareness about this phenomenon and share some ideas to consider.
What’s the issue?
One of the problems with these products is that they usually come in plastic containers. If you think about it, these bottles are not far from being another form of single-use items. You use them during the period of time the product lasts and that’s it, best scenario they end up in the recycling bin.
If you buy a shower gel, a liquid soap to wash your hands and a face wash, let’s say bimonthly, in a year that’s 18 plastic bottles. Even if these products last longer and you buy some of them less often, in many instances people have two bathrooms so it is double the amount, and you probably have other places around the house where you use them too (kitchen, laundry etc). Numbers easily add up without us being aware.
Another potential issue with conventional personal care products like these are the ingredients, they are full of synthetic man-made chemicals which are not good for the planet and us. They wash-down the sinks and end up in the environment where some of them won’t break down and accumulate in our ecosystems.
Also we really don’t know to what extent these ingredients are safe for our health, because we don’t use one or two personal care products, we use many of them on daily basis. So the exposure is really to a combination of all those chemicals that we’re putting in our bodies. This topic deserves a separate blog post, I’ll be writing more about it.
Some of these products have plastic on them in a form of micro-beads or micro-plastic. These tiny beads act as abrasive or exfoliating agents and they are used in several brands of facial scrubs and cleansers, shower gels even toothpastes.
These particles are too small to be filtered out, and they end up in waterways harming marine life. As they are plastic, they don’t biodegrade, so they keep polluting for years and can end up in the food chain.
Some countries have already banned micro-beads but many others, including Australia, are sitting on the fence and several personal care products still have them.
“Beat the Microbead” initiative put together a list organised by country which tells you the products that still contain micro-plastic ingredients. Great way to identify the brands and stop buying these products. Remember every time we buy, we support these practices even if we are not aware of them.
Awareness and simplification
First thing to consider is having clarity about our consumption. Going back to the question at the beginning of this post: Have you counted the number of products you have in your bathroom? Is it small number? If not, How many of these products you really need? why?
Marketing usually tricks us and makes us believe we need certain products, promising amazing results, less germs, better health, more beauty and happiness, but is that really the case? If I use a body scrub to exfoliate my skin with microbeads, am I gonna really look younger and healthier? We have to starting asking those questions and get our own answers, not what media tells us.
Based on those answers, let’s determine the products that we need and will bring us a real benefit. Simplifying our routines is a great way to reduce waste. Quality over quantity also help us make better choices for us and the planet.
Ideally we want to use products with little or no packaging, especially plastic. Some ideas to consider:
- Replace liquid soap/body wash/shower gels/face cleanser for soap bars. These days natural soaps are so easy to find. I would suggest you skip the supermarket, and start getting these products from a farmer’s market, craft fair or health shop.
- Try Shampoo and Conditioner Bars. They look like soap bars but they are actually made with certain ingredients that clean your hair and scalp.
- Replace commercial scrubs by natural products. If you need exfoliation, go to your kitchen: oats, sugar, baking soda, coffee grounds etc. A healthy alternative for our bodies and the planet. There are thousands of recipes online. Give it a go.
- Refill your products taking your own container. You can get shampoo, conditioners, liquid soaps and many other products from bulk shops. Usually bigger containers take less resources to be made than small individual ones.
If these options don’t work for you, other ideas to explore:
- Buy these products in large quantities (e.g. 5 lts instead of 500 ml) so that you reduce the amount of individual containers and generate less waste overall.
- Switch most of your products to brands low in man-made chemicals. The world “natural” these days in personal care and cleaning products is sometimes used in a very deceiving way, so start reading labels and if you can’t even read the ingredients (let’s say p-phenylenediamine or methoxycinnamate) then it is not that natural as the label states.
- Try a multipurpose product like Castile Soap (it comes in a liquid form too) which is a natural and biodegradable. You can use it as a face and body wash, hand soap, shaving soap and more. Even if it comes in plastic it will help you reduce the amount of products you need to buy.
- Try brands that are not packaged in plastic or try looking for products that are packaged in recycled plastic bottles.
- Remember to check the list of products that still use micro-beads and replace them for better options.
I know it takes time to review your products and replace the brands you already know and trust, but try one at a time. You don’t have to ditch them all at once, but commit to try. I guarantee you’ll find a variety of options better for you and the planet.
These days I have simplified a lot my routine and use way less products than before. for example:
- As a hand wash/shaving soap we use liquid castile soap which I mix with water in a foam container. I buy Castile Soap in bulk taking my own container.
- I buy shampoo and conditioner taking my own container. I haven’t found a shampoo bar that suits my hair yet but I am working on that quest.
- I use natural oils like almond/jojoba/coconut to remove make up and moisturise my skin.
- I make my own natural soaps (topic for another post) – earlier in my journey I simply used to buy them from health shops or craft markets. I also make several other personal care products like deodorant, hair spray etc.
Everyone is different, what works for me might not work for you and that’s ok. It is a matter of making a conscious effort to review your products and make some positive changes at your own pace.
“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.”- George Lichtenberg
That’s it for this week. Please let me know in the comments below if you are considering some of the options above and why? Please share this post with family and friends or in social media. Let’s spread the message for a healthier planet.
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Thanks for reading,