NL·Waves of Change

Simple bathroom swaps to ditch single-use plastics

Bar soap is just one of the easy ways to rid your bathroom of plastic clutter.

Bar soap, coconut oil and vinegar can replace a myriad of packaged products

Bar soap: such a simple plastic-free swap you have probably already done it.

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding, and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the community discussion by joining our Facebook group.   

The bathroom. It's a place to get clean, and a place to keep clean.

But that's often accomplished through a variety of plastic packaged products that ultimately end up cluttering our environment, despite the fraction of packaging that finds another life via recycling.

One way to rid your bathroom of some of these packages is so simple, you may have already done it.

Back to basics

You've probably heard of little old bar soap, a product that's been keeping humanity clean since ancient Babylon.

Well, it still works. That's despite the plethora of liquid hand, face and body soaps on the market that often come in plastic pump containers or squeeze bottles.

"if you have a good soap, you don't need five different kinds of soap, for five different parts of your body," said Mikaela Wilson, the owner of Natura Soap Company in Corner Brook.

Mikaela Wilson pours a simple soap of coconut oil, water and lye into moulds. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

She said she had a soap simplification epiphany a few years ago, after falling prey to a sale at the Body Shop.

"I went and I bought five different products for my face … and I'm looking at this, and I'm going, do I really need a soap, and a foaming cleanser, and an exfoliant, and a toner, and the moisturizer? Or can I just use one type of thing on my face?"

Wilson now makes and sells natural soaps, which come with a strip of paper wrapped around them.

Her own bathroom contains two bars of soap — rejects from her home-based business — for her family of three.

The catch with bar soap is to find a brand that's free of plastic. Many bulk stores offer bars without much more than a price tag slapped on, and even major grocery store chains often have paper-wrapped products on their shelves.

Simplify your shampoo

Wilson also makes her own shampoo bar, a solid shampoo that looks exactly like a soap, and works exactly the same way.

"You lather it up in your hands, and you use that lather to wash your hair," she said.

The difference between that bar and her other soaps is its higher percentage of castor oil, a percentage she says is so moisturizing it eliminates the need for hair conditioner.

Shampoo and conditioner bars often come packaging-free, and are so concentrated they can last for months. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

There are solid conditioner bars on the market, and they, as well as other solid shampoo bars out there, tend to be heavy on natural oils. Those can come as a greasy shock to hair used to commercial products that often contain waxes and silicone.

"There is a growing pain involved. It's a disclaimer I say to pretty much anyone who's buying a shampoo bar for the first time," said Wilson, estimating it took her hair about a month to get used to the shampoo bar.

"I say, give it time, give it a chance. It will get worse before it gets better."

The bathroom MVP? 

Coconut oil has been hyped, perhaps undeservedly so, for its potential dietary benefits. But its versatility as a topical toiletry, and its widespread availability in bulk or glass containers, means it can replace an array of bathroom products.

Kate Crawford swears by vinegar and baking soda for her bathroom cleaning needs. (Submitted)

"You can just use it on its own. It's so wonderful on its own for so many things," said Kate Crawford, a mother of two in Sackville, N.B., who also posts tips on Instagram on how to lead a low-waste lifestyle.

She said she uses it as an makeup remover and for diaper cream, as well as for all her skin-hydrating needs.

"Basically, our whole family just uses coconut oil for moisturizing," she said.

Crawford noted the oil — solid at room temperature thanks to its saturated fat content — liquifies in the summer and can at times be too greasy. To combat that, she makes her own body butter by whipping coconut oil with arrowroot flour and vitamin E oil. The oil also pops up as a key ingredient in her DIY deodorant and lip balm.

Green cleaning

A lot of time spent in the bathroom can be absorbed by gazing in the mirror, so perhaps you could be forgiven for not noticing the various life forms sprouting in your shower or toilet. 

But trust us, they are there, and often wiped away by a plastic packaged product.

Crawford relies on just two products that she buys in bulk to take care of that: white vinegar and baking soda. The former diluted with water in a refillable spray bottle, and the latter in a Parmesan shaker.

"It's amazing to me how clean this keeps my tub, and how easy it is," she said, before quickly qualifying her statement: "Not that I'm excited to clean my bathtub. But it's just so easy."

White vinegar's high acid content kills many germs and deodorizes. Crawford uses it in her toilets, dumping full strength vinegar into the bowl and letting it sit, before shaking in baking soda and scrubbing.

The Arm's bicep is so ripped from all that toilet scrubbing. Probably. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Tough teeth talk

Dental care presents a bit of a dilemma.

Bamboo toothbrushes are becoming a popular alternative to plastic ones, but as CBC Nova Scotia uncovered, some brushes come in a plastic wrapper, and a dental hygienist found its scrubbing qualities not up to task.

Both Wilson and Crawford make their own toothpaste — Wilson sells hers in refillable aluminum tins — and say they haven't had any cavities since making the switch.

"As long as you're still brushing your teeth and flossing your teeth, like everyone suggests, it'll clean your teeth just the same," said Wilson. 

"It's a little more gritty, so if anything it will mechanically clean your teeth better."

That product isn't on the Canadian Dental Association's list of approved products, all of which currently  come in plastic containers. 

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Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is the producer and host of Atlantic Voice, a CBC Radio 1 show showcasing documentaries and storytelling from the east coast. She is based out of CBC Corner Brook.