After traveling and living mostly outside of urban environments for nearly 1,5 years, it was a bit of a shock to move to Amsterdam. One thing that has been most painful is the supermarket experience, with all vegetables wrapped in plastic. Then a good friend joined the Plastic Diet Challenge, one month of completely plastic-free living. If she can do that with a job, 4-year-old twins and co-running a boxing school, perhaps I could start to use sustainable alternatives, too.
Plastic Problem in Stats
A short recap of the problem, that you may already be well aware of:
- Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so most of it still exists in some form since its introduction early 20th century. It is likely it actually never disappears, it only gets broken down into tiny pieces, the so-called plastic soup.
- The 2017 United Nations Clean Seas Campaign estimated that there are 51 trillion microplastic particles in the ocean today.
- Plastic production is set to double in the next 20 years and quadruple by 2050.
- It is estimated that by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.
- A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.
- A whopping 91% of all plastic is not recycled. Plant-based plastics can often not be separated and processed as needed.
- Plastic is in many items we are often not aware of, such as synthetic clothing, microbeads in shampoo, paper coffee cups, tea bags. To name just a few.
Is There Any Good News?
Awareness is growing and action is being taken. Governments and supermarkets are starting to reduce single-use plastic packaging. EU member states agreed to ban or limit the 10 most common single-use plastics by 2025. Recently, the two largest supermarkets in Australia banned single-use plastic bags and their usage globally went down 80%! And the Ocean Cleanup project is aiming to tackle the ocean pollution issue with novel technology. They hope to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every 5 years. Collectively, we can also make a big impact by letting producers know we demand change, and of course with plastic-free purchase choices when possible.
Plastic Alternatives in Your Bathroom
In Europe, our bathroom habits are responsible for 75.000 kilos of plastic waste each year! These are the alternatives for single-use or short use items I have started to use in my bathroom.
Sadly, every plastic toothbrush ever created still exists since their invention in the 1930’s. However, it’s easy to replace your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one! You can find them online or in shops like Holland & Barrett, or Lavendula in Amsterdam. You alone can prevent 300 plastic toothbrushes from ending up in landfill in your lifetime.
Toothpaste and mouthwash tablets or powders
Clever, toothpaste and mouthwash are now offered in the form of tablets or powder by multiple brands. I have only tried Denttabs from Leven Zonder Afval, which comes in a biodegradable plastic bag, you can keep them in a glass bottle. Next I want to try the Georganics flavours and the tablets from Lush as well. Lush will take your plastic bottles back for recycling in their own Green Hub.
Rather than old school nylon floss, which may very well end up in the ocean, you can now find biodegradable alternatives. Georganics floss is made from something called bamboo charcoal fibre, created with nanotechnology and also gaining popularity in the fashion industry. Another option is floss from Ahimsa silk, ahimsa meaning ‘do no harm’. However, I did read that still this process still is not very kind to the silkworms. So your most cruelty-free option will be the bamboo charcoal version. Also, as bamboo grows (fast) it takes up a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere. I suppose you can save up to 100m of nylon dental floss per year from landfill.
Well, that’s an easy one, there are a ton of beautiful bars of soap out there with all sorts of natural and nurturing ingredients for your skin. No need for shower gels in plastic tubes and bottles. Many great options again online at Leven zonder afval, Lush, DIY soap and many other shops.
Soap can or jar
For the bathroom and for travel a soap container is very useful. If you don’t have one yet and need to fit your soap bar, you can buy an aluminium or glass one. I found mine from Savon du Midi. You can also find shampoo bars and matching glass jars from the French brand Lamazuna. There is discussion on how sustainable aluminium is, so perhaps go for glass.
Shampoo and conditioner bars
Replace your plastic shampoo bottle with a shampoo bar. Conditioners are also available as a bar. You can buy these for example at Bag-again or at Lush. You will help reduce the current shocker of a statistic that tells us that globally humans buy a million plastic bottles per minute. There are also places for refilling if you prefer the liquid version. In Amsterdam, there is a fab shop in De Pijp called DIY soap where you can refill your shampoo. They also have bars.
Well, more ear care. Bamboo cotton swabs can be found quite easily, for example from Pandoo or Lamazuna. In the Netherlands I ordered them at Een Groene Wereld. One of those things that is so easy to replace and makes so much more sense.
Reusable cotton pads
Replace your regular cotton pads in plastic packaging with reusable flanel ones, which look beautiful as well. You can make them yourself or buy them online, for example at LanaLuna or from ImseVimse. The cotton pads can be washed in a cotton bag, to prevent them from disappearing in your washing machine. My friend rinses them with warm water after usage to avoid stains.
You want to move away from cotton in general if it’s not organic, as it’s in fact ‘the dirtiest crop’ because of the high amount of pesticides used in its production. Cotton production degrades and depletes soils, and uses an immense amount of water.
So yes, unfortunately, this applies to our fashion choices as well. And tampons. And towels. And so on. Replacing your cotton pads will save pesticides and water, of course, unnecessary plastic packaging for your cotton pads.
A product so easily replaced with pure, nurturing vegetable oil. It’s easy to find vegetable oils in a glass bottle. Any kinda vegetable oil you like; coconut oil, almond oil, or even olive oil, is great for removing makeup. You can choose an oil that fits your skin type. Added bonus is that the oil will nurture the sensitive skin around your eyes. For more delicate aromas choose grapeseed, almond or coconut oil. Try Holland & Barret, or DIY soap has a bunch and even does refills. Coconut oil generally comes in glass. It is to me still a top choice, as you can use it as a makeup remover, but also as a body lotion, for oil pulling, and for cooking! For these reasons, it’s a perfect travel companion.
Replace your toner with a hydrosol
A natural aromatic plant-based solution that comes in a glass bottle. One purpose of a toner is to restore the pH of your skin – the skin’s optimal pH is 5.5. Hydrosols (or hydrolats) can restore the acidity of the skin and improve the defense against harmful microbes. Hydrosols are the byproduct of essential oil production and contain many compounds beneficial for your skin. You can just apply your hydrosol with your cotton or flannel pads. Hamamelis or Witch hazel, Linden Blossom, Rose, Chamomille and Neroli are good choices and have a pH between 4-6. I can recommend Oshadhi, in the Netherlands distributed by ChicaMica. Or Farfalla hydrosols in Amsterdam at Lavendula, or those from Sjankara. Bottles of a liter come in plastic so avoid those. Hydrosols have many other uses, for example for your bath or food!
There are special soap bars made for cleaning the face, as regular soap is likely to dry out your delicate skin. You can order a lovely face bar from Herbivore Botanicals at Gathershop. It comes in a metallic container handy for traveling. (Update 27/01) I found another nice plastic-free shop, Oodles and Pinches, in Haarlem. Both online and a physical store. They sell cool stuff including gentle biological facial soap bars.
You can also use vegetable oil or a blend of multiples and apply the oil cleansing method. Good quality honey also works beautifully because of its amazing antibacterial properties and natural enzymes, and they are easy to find in glass jars. Just take half a teaspoon of honey and gently rub it on your face, leave it on for a few minutes and use warm water to remove and it will come off easily
Lush allows you to return your mascara container to the store so they can re-use it. Which is not 100% plastic-free, but a solution that definitely makes me feel good. Ingredients are of course all-natural. Since I am not a makeup girl, this is all I have for you.
Feel good toilet paper
Yep, those packs of toilet paper do come in plastic packaging. However, there is a fantastic alternative which is delivered to your doorstep plastic-free and will brighten up your toilet experience. The Good Roll is a startup that uses 100% recycled paper fibers for our toilet paper and they use 50% of profits to invest in bathroom facilities in developing countries. It’s a good value for money and it comes wrapped in happy colourful paper, so what more can you wish for! Another very similar initiative is Who Gives a Crap. I found other great options on the Zerowasteproject who mention Cradle to Cradle brand Satino Black and 100%eco which is 100% recycled and unbleached toilet paper.
I have been using a menstrual cup for multiple years, also traveling all over the world. And yes, I admit that the first month or so will be a bit of getting used to, but just persist and it will be super easy. Menstrual cups are made from 100% soft, medical-grade silicone lasting you many years. They will not only prevent the waste of say 150 tampons and their plastic wrappers per person per year, but also money. And a healthier yoni, especially if you not yet using organic cotton tampons. I have RubyCup and for each one you buy, another one is gifted to a woman without access to menstrual care products. Here is a review of several other menstrual cups.
It’s easy to buy washing powder in a cardboard box rather than a plastic bottle, from Ecover for example (Ekoplaza). If you want to go more natural I have been reading that soap nuts are a well known natural alternative to washing detergent. Avoiding chemicals and unnecessary packaging is a win-win, I found a review of the pros and cons of using this approach. You can buy the nuts whole or as powder, and with a wash bag from Berivita, for example. The Dutch brand Seepje also uses these peels of the Sapindus mukorossi fruit from the Himalayas, although only the original product comes in (almost) plastic-free packaging. I have seen mentioned soap nuts are also suitable for the dishwasher!
Catch the microfibers from synthetic clothing
Fashion is increasingly made with synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, fleece. Each time you wash these, tiny particles end up in our water streams and polluting rivers and oceans. Luckily there is the Guppy Friend wash bag which captures 99% of these microfibers. Simply remove the fibers from the bag and add them to your regular waste. In the Netherlands, you can purchase Guppyfriend at Bever. And of course opt for organic and natural fibers whenever possible (from Armed Angels, or Kuyichi for example).
What Else is There
I am still wondering how I will replace my contact lens containers and bottles. I may have to take that one up with Specsavers directly. So far there does not yet seem to be a plastic-free solution, just the advice to use contact lenses with the longest use, so avoid the dailies. Other items that I will not buy in plastic form anymore are of course hairbrush and comb for which there are beautiful wooden alternatives. And in the future, I want to look at a metal razor to replace my plastic one.
Let me know what plastic alternatives work for you!