Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, Observatory Director
My long-term goal is to remove plastic from my house. Plastic is bad for birds, ecosystems, and us. I know that; I’m guessing you do too. But plastic is so easy. You can walk into the store and pick up a plastic bottle of X liquid and be done.
Replacing that plastic is more challenging. It often means ordering a specialty item online or paying more money. For many items, there is not a viable alternative. The effort is worth it, and once you know how to make it easy, it becomes second nature.
I am always looking at the benefits and barriers to completing pro-environmental actions, both at home and at work. After examining my own, I needed a reasonable goal and a convenient way to acquire the reduced plastic options. The bathroom seemed like a feasible goal, being a small room with reasonably priced and available plastic alternatives.
We had been refilling a plastic hand soap dispenser from a giant bottle. This uses less plastic than replacing the soap dispenser each time, but still uses plastic bottles to transport the soap.
We ended up recycling our last refill bottle and replacing it with Blueland* hand soap. Blueland hand soap is a tablet of soap concentrate to which you add water and use as foaming soap (see image). Using tablets (not liquid) means they aren’t shipping extra weight, reducing the carbon footprint as well. They get bonus points for compostable wrappers and plastic-free packaging. While I was at it, I also upgraded my cleaning products to reduce single-use plastic and weight transported by using tablet-based household cleaners. Blueland products come in a variety of scents as well as unscented.
Next up was the shower. When I started, I had the typical shower filled with plastic bottles- shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash… This was where I decided I needed an easier method than finding each replacement on a different website. I tried Grove Collaborative to group my purchases and make my life easier. I could transform my shower with on one website.
Grove is nice because all purchases are plastic-neutral, and they pledge to be 100% plastic free by 2025. While I am skeptical of company environmental pledges, they seem well on their way. Grove offsets their direct emissions (only the company’s emissions, not suppliers) and pledge to be net zero (including their suppliers) by 2030. Plus, like Blueland, they are a “B corp”. These are good things to be on the lookout for.
Most of these plastic replacements were easy, exchange a plastic bottle with a bar - bar shampoo, bar conditioner, bar soap. If you aren’t ready to go the bar route for everything, there is a growing number of aluminum bottled products. Aluminum is a lot better than plastic because it does get recycled (most plastic doesn’t) and doesn’t pollute the same way that plastics do. I’ve replaced items as they were emptied, and as of this writing, I only have two plastic bottles left in my shower- face wash and dog shampoo.
One hidden source of plastic can be synthetic fibers in fabric that contribute to micro-plastic pollution when washed. We had some polyester blend towels and a polyester shower curtain. After looking for years for a good-looking plastic-free shower curtain that matched the bathroom, I found an organic cotton shower curtain. The old one is living in my sewing basket for the next good use of the fabric.
Our towels were embarrassing. They had long, good lives- some over 20 years. I tried to patch and re-edge them, and then I broke down and stalked online sales until I found organic cotton towels at a steep discount and purchased enough for both bathrooms. Using Google shopping really helped me find sales and compare prices on different sites.
I take satisfaction in repurposing items that cannot be repaired. Fortunately, we started fostering rabbits and guinea pigs. The old towels kept them off the hard basement floor, absorbed accidents, and provided hiding places, giving the towels a second life.
What have you changed to reduce the plastic in your home? What new ways do you want to try? Share your ideas on social media! We always love to hear from you.
*All products listed here are ones that I have used with success, but there are many others. Think of this as a detailed Google review, not an expert opinion.
This article does not constitute an endorsement by the Observatory of any products or companies.