How to create less waste in a tough spot: bathrooms and laundry

By Nicole Peterson, Becca Bellamy, and Susan Plante, with help from Stephanie at Rooted Rethinkery

We’ve tackled several important areas where you can easily reduce the amount of plastic and waste you create, including to-go containers and kitchen items, as well as how to recycle what you do need to buy. This month, we’re focusing on our bathrooms, which may be one of the most challenging places. Next month, we’ll cover a few things related to technology and how to advocate for less waste in your products and workplaces.

One reason the bathroom can seem challenging is because we often have specific products or needs that make it harder to switch to low-waste alternatives. From specific skin care routines to a favorite toothpaste, shave cream, or shampoo, it may be hard to give up all of your products.

The main idea this month is that you don’t need to give up every plastic if you don’t want to – that’s why we focus on low waste rather than no waste. Each of us has pernicious plastics that we can’t get rid of, but we can still work to reduce what we can, and maybe eventually find alternatives that work. We each have plastics we can’t avoid, including contacts, facial washes, or favorite cosmetics.

Over the past year, we have been able to make some substitutions. Rather than going waste or plastic-free all in one shopping trip, we’ve made gradual changes, trying out a few things to see what might work. Every time we need to replace something in the bathroom (or house in general), we see what might work with less waste or plastic, and try it out. Here’s what we’ve tried and liked:

  • Bamboo toothbrushes
  • Bite toothpaste pellets
  • Shampoo and conditioner bars or refillable bottles
  • Washcloths or reusable pads for facial wipes
  • Safety razors instead of disposable razors or blades
  • Shaving cream bars
  • Beard balm in a tin can
  • Low-waste cosmetics
  • Sunblock in glass containers
  • Lotion in refillable bottles
  • Bulk laundry soap
  • Wool dryer balls or homemade fabric softener used with pieces of repurposed cloth
  • Hanging drying rack to reduce dryer use

Some of these changes have meant bonus luxuries, like a hot washcloth on your face at the end of the day, or additional ways to support cruelty-free or natural-ingredient-based products, since these are often plastic-free or low waste.

We’re also thinking ahead to some next steps for what we can replace soon with low-waste alternatives. For us, this includes makeup (Etsy has some great low waste and eco-friendly options), deodorant, combs, and brushes. Some of this could include homemade options for deodorants, shave cream, or other essentials – we’re looking for ideas!

It can really be a challenge to find items without plastic packaging, particularly for the bathroom, and these are also often items we can’t easily make at home. So finding a local supplier can be crucial (near NoDa, Rooted Rethinkery and Book Buyers have some great options), or try ordering online (look for low-waste packaging as well). Or, as we’ll talk about next month, ask your favorite brand to switch to low-waste packaging.

But it’s also OK to realize we live in a plastic-focused world, and there are just some things that will be hard or impossible to replace. It’s better to reduce what you can than to give up entirely. Small steps and individual actions can lead towards a less plastic-focused world.

“I think anyone who cares enough to make a swap that extends beyond plastic water bottles and grocery bags are an active part of the solution and I’ll praise baby steps all day long over shaming imperfection,” said Stephanie at Rooted Rethinkery.

Do you want to share what you’ve tried, and what’s worked (or not)? Send us an email at or join us on the Toward Zero Waste Charlotte, NC Facebook group.

And definitely join us at NoDa Greenification’s low-waste wine and snacks open house on March 28 from 6-8 p.m. at Rooted Rethinkery to check out some of the options and share tips!

Click here for our other articles on reducing and recycling waste.