Eco audit: the bathroom

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“The littlest room in the house” is an apt expression in our home

Sometimes it’s easy to get swept up in the big picture of wanting a lovely eco, pared-down life, and feel a bit overwhelmed with the task at hand. When there’s just too much of everything, it often ends up with nothing getting done.

To that end, I’m taking on a room-by-room approach to my house, seeing what’s been ‘greenified’ as much as possible, what could be better, and what needs a complete rethink. I’m starting with the bathroom because it’s a room with a lot of potentially disposable items, and with the expertise of the lovely zero waste community I’m sure that some of the easier wins here will help me with some of the trickier rooms.

Our bathroom is on the small side of what estate agents would call ‘compact’. In the picture of our bathroom at the top of this article, the toilet is behind the wall on the left. Essentially, if you want more than one person in the bathroom at once, one person has to stand either in the bath or on the toilet. It’s friendly. So where items can be minimised or multipurposed, all the better.

So, let’s begin! The bathroom ‘furniture’ is:

  • A toilet with dual flush
  • A small sink with mixer hot/cold tap
  • A single bathroom cabinet
  • Bath with over-bath shower

In addition, it has:

  • A couple of plants
  • Teeth-cleaning products
  • Hair and body wash products
  • Toilet paper
  • Toilet cleaning products
  • A few candles and a couple of pictures

The toilet

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All bathrooms need a picture of some bees!

So, the toilet. The loo. Or apparently a popular name in 17th century England, the ‘House of Office’. Our toilet was newly installed before we moved in and uses a minimum amount of water for either a half or full flush, and the cistern isn’t leaking water. So, a pretty good start.

Whilst a compost toilet would no doubt be the greenest option, the work needed would be too significant for us. A more realistic long term option for us may be to have a greywater system installed, where water from the shower can be diverted to flush the loo. One for the ‘one day in the distant future’ list though.

A couple of tips:

You can check if your toilet is leaking by putting some dye in the cistern and waiting to see if it ends up in the bowl. A step-by-step guide is here. It’s definitely worth doing as you could be unknowingly wasting litres of water with a leaky cistern.

If your toilet is an older model and seems to use half a swimming pool each flush, you could consider installing a Hippo. “A WHAT?!” you ask? It’s actually a little bag you place in the cistern to divert water, where it can displace up to 3 litres per flush. In many ways, it’s a more advanced version of the classic water-saving-in-the-cistern device, a brick. You can find more information at www.hippo-the-watersaver.co.uk. You may be able to get one for free through your water company, which you can check at Save Water Save Money by entering in your postcode.

The toilet-related products:

We have a bog-standard (excuse the terrible pun) plastic toilet brush, which we’ve had for years, but it’s still in good condition. When it falls apart, there are brushes available, like this one from Boobalou, that are made of wood and biodegradable plant bristles which will be a better choice.

Product-wise, we use Splosh toilet cleaner. What’s good about Splosh products is that the first product arrives in a regular plastic bottle, but after that you order disolvable sachets of refills about the size of a teabag. Each sachet is mixed with water to refill the bottle, saving bottles and transportation energy. Whilst I find this a really good alternative to a conventional product, the sachets do still come in a small amount of recyclable plastic and a cardboard box. I ordered two refill packs at once, which is 8 bottles and so is lasting ages. Splosh say that at the current price, this is £1.24 a bottle.

Once my stash has been exhausted, I think a cheaper and greener alternative will be this option from DIY Natural, which involves refilling a spray bottle with white vinegar and a shaker of baking soda. As I already use these products for other cleaning, it will mean one less plastic bottle taking up space.

Finally in this section, toilet paper. This is one disposable product I’m not going without! For years I used the supermarket standard recycled stuff, and accepted that the plastic wrapping was just one of those unavoidable single-use plastics. However, it turns out there is an alternative, and it has the most gloriously ridiculous name ever – I present toilet paper by Who Gives A Crap?!

The paper is made from bamboo, comes wrapped in paper and in a (reusable) cardboard box, and happiest of all, the company say on their website that they donate half of their profits to “non-profit organisations working to improve access to hygiene, water and basic sanitation in developing countries”.

Another option is Ecoleaf toilet paper, which comes in compostable wrap. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has food waste collections, these bags make a great substitute for the shop-bought caddy liners.

The sink

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The troublesome tap

Much like the rest of the bathroom, the sink is tiny, which at least means it’s impossible to waste litres of water filling it up. Annoyingly, the tap has other ideas and gushes out water at a very enthusiastic rate. I can’t work out how any of the water-saving devices on the market could be fitted to it, but I have booked an appointment with Anglian Water to come advise me on saving water, so hopefully they will have some ideas.

Sink-related products

A few things where I’m not so good here, and it’s an area I’ve struggled with over a number of years. Starting with the good news, I’ve replaced hand wash in single-use plastic with an unwrapped bar of soap, which sits on a cut off section of silicon kitchen sink liner.

Now downhill. My previously-documented fear of dentists means I am wedded to my electric toothbrush. However, I have begun to alternate it with a compostable bamboo toothbrush so that it lasts twice as long. I also don’t want to give up toothpaste with fluoride, so have settled for a halfway option of Kingfisher Natural Toothpaste, which is vegan, cruelty-free and recommended by Ethical Consumer. I have a Terracycle Zero Waste Box, which means both the electric toothbrush heads and toothpaste tubes can at least go for recycling rather than landfill, but it’s not a perfect solution as it’s still using the dreaded single-use plastic.

I haven’t been able to find an eco dental tape option in the UK, so have resorted to flossing every other day rather than every day, so I use half as much. However, dental floss is still one the last few things I’m struggling to keep out of landfill. All suggestions welcome!

I have been using conventional plastic-packaged mouthwash and am working my way through a bulk amount, but this is the one dental product I feel like I may be able to make more green. Kathryn, who blogs over at the wonderful Second-Hand Tales, was kind enough to share her recipe of boiled (then cooled) water, mixed with baking soda and peppermint essence, so I will definitely try this when the plastic bottles run out!

Finishing the sink on a happier note, these washable face pads in place of cotton wool were one of the first eco swaps I made, and I absolutely love them. I use them with a glass bottle of oil (almond or avocado) to remove makeup at the end of the day. Each 500ml bottle lasts around a year, but I have recently heard of a company called Vom Fass who apparently do oil refills so that will be will be worth checking out in future.

The bath/shower

We almost never use the bath taps, so the fact that these are as enthusiastic as the sink tap will be overlooked. I have replaced the shower head with a fancy water-saving one by Mira which was reduced to £9.99 because of damaged packaging. However, like a number of other products, you may be able to get one for free via Save Water Save Money (I know that Thames Water customers can, as we had one when we lived in London). I am terrible at spending too long in the shower though, so a shower timer would probably be a good idea.

I have replaced liquid shampoo and soap with bars, which come loose or in paper. Soap is without doubt one of the easiest swaps I have made, partly because I have found Nesti Dante soaps, which smell amazing and are super gentle on skin. I have been using Lush shampoo bars up until now, but am tempted to try the Funky Soap Shop, as they do bars without Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. So nice to have an actual choice!

I have struggled with finding a good conditioner, as the oils I’ve tried and the solid ones from Lush really haven’t worked for me. I have compromised with this extra rich conditioner from Jason, as it comes in a large bottle and is very concentrated, meaning a bottle lasts over half a year.

I have a Preserve razor for when I can be bothered with hair removal. It’s made from recycled yoghurt pots. Although I think a safety razor would be a better option as the blades are fully recyclable, I get through 2-3 replacement heads a year, so don’t feel I can justify chucking the whole razor away for that amount. If it breaks I’ll replace it with a safety razor though.

And finally…

To clean the bathroom, I am currently using a You refill, which is a little plastic pot that  you mix with water in a spray bottle. It smells a bit like marzipan, which isn’t to my taste, but it cleans fine. I’m tempted to try the bicarb and vinegar method as per the toilet once it runs out. A heavy-duty washable sponge has been in use for several years and shows no sign of wearing out yet.

Summing up: areas of improvement

Longer term, I definitely think a greywater system for the bathroom will be worth looking into, but that is many years away and for a future bathroom renovation. Shorter term, upgrades to the ‘hardware’ will be looking into something to slow the water flow from the sink taps, and perhaps a shower timer to stop me wasting time faffing about.

Although I don’t think I’m prepared to give up the electric toothbrush completely, I’m definitely going to try substituting the mouthwash, and the search for an environmental dental floss continues.

I will also definitely look into what oils I can refill, and hopefully find something that works well with my skin, which will save a bottle of glass from the recycling each year (every little helps!).

Finally, the search for a conditioner that doesn’t turn my hair into straw and doesn’t create plastic waste continues…

So, all in all, I feel like I have made some significant changes, and I’m really happy that the only things aren’t organically washed away, recycled or composted, are dental floss and toilet paper. Realistically, these are likely to remain. However, replacing shop-bought cleaning products with bicarb (in cardboard packets) and vinegar (in glass bottles) will hopefully save money as well as space formally occupied by the plastic bottles.

Once again, I now turn to you, the lovely eco people of the internet! What are your tips, suggestions, recommendations for making your bathroom squeaky clean and green? Please do get in touch and let me know!

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7 thoughts on “Eco audit: the bathroom

  1. Vinegar and bicarbonate soda are my trusted cleaning friends too and they work beautifully everywhere. I should have discovered their power much earlier than I did, instead of buying all those different detergents which didn’t always even work that well. I have started using soap bars too although I still have a (refillable) liquid soap for the times my hands are particularly dirty and I want to keep the bar for ‘general hand wash’.

    Although I’m still using a normal shampoo, I have replaced shower gel with a soap bar and i now make my own super cheap and super easy deodorant: the best make-you-own tip I’ve ever received! As my boiler is in the kitchen, it takes a little while for the shower water to heat up so I’m saving the cool/tepid water for flushing the toilet. Hubby and I also try to have back-to-back showers so that the water doesn’t need to be heated twice. I know these are small things and I could do more but I’m still happy about everything I’ve achieved so far. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you’re doing amazing! I went to see a talk by Bea Johnson (queen of ZW) the other day and she said her only regret was not finding out about this lifestyle sooner. I couldn’t agree with both of you more!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting post (and thank you for mentioning my mouthwash recipe!). You have chosen so many low-waste/zero-waste options in your bathroom I am in awe! I struggle with a family of five using one bathroom (one of whom is a 15 year old girl). Switching to bars of soap was a good move for us (although the younger two like to mush it up in their hands!). We also use the You refills, although I couldn’t find them last time in Waitrose. However we have a long way to go and I wonder if the bathroom is one of the most challenging places to go zero waste?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello!

      I think the bathroom is one of the most interesting places to start, if simply because it’s got to be the area that attracts the most disposables.

      I think it’s probably easier when you’re a family of two adults, as I have less worries about glass, or experimenting with new things on my skin. Saying that, my partner still uses conventional shampoo and shower gel, so I’m focusing on what I have done (although lots of it IS shared – will see how he feels about the cleaning product proposal!).

      Like

  3. You are so organised! I think the systematic room-by-room approach would probably work better for me too. But that’s in the future… at the moment my bathroom still has only two walls so this level of organisation is a distant dream 🙂

    Like

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