I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by my quest to go plastic-free this month, so I decided to take the advice of Beth Terry, plastic-free living blogger at Fake Plastic Fish, and take it one step at a time (OK she probably said something more eloquent than that, but I can't find the post...the point is that if you try to make this kind of change overnight, you doom yourself to failure). So instead of making a general/vague "reduce plastic" my One Small Change for the month of February, I'm going to focus on one area of my home/life each month until I get to the point where I want to be with all of this (as plastic-free as Beth? we'll see...).
So for this month, I'm focusing on personal care/household care (that is, items stored in the bathroom). I started by inventorying what I have stored in each bathroom, what it is used for (if used at all) and what possible alternatives there are.
Let's peek behind the curtain:
Pretty scary huh? Here's what we found inside:
Laundry. I switched from laundry detergent to soap nuts (Laundry Tree brand is packaged plastic-free) several months ago and love them. They work as well as the "natural" detergents and clothes always smell fresh & clean (we do hang our laundry outside). I would say that little boys' socks and workin' men's shirts come out less than white, but I guess I don't care if they're dingy (and they certainly don't care). I throw some non-chlorine bleach in for good measure (cardboard box). And it is a bit of a pain to remember to have some "soap nut soak" made and on hand for when you want to wash with cold water, but really no biggie.
Large jug (plastic) white vinegar; used for cleaning toilets, as a dishwasher rinse agent and occasional laundry use. I'm sticking with the plastic because it's big, cheap and #2 (a.k.a. recyclable). Plastic reusable spray bottle vinegar & water mix (for the windows & mirrors).
Baking soda in re-used plastic container; used for scouring powder, hair washing (more on that in a minute), clearing drains. We buy it in 50-lb paper bags at the feed store for about $10 a bag.
Cardboard box borax, leftover from cloth diaper days. Should just use it up in lieu of baking soda.
Empty bottle Osmo Wash & Care, for cleaning wood floors (have since started using soap nut soak, with a splash of olive oil...don't know why I still had this bottle). Spray bottle from Seventh Generation orange care bathroom cleaner (has since been refilled with Citra Solve and water; the sprayer doesn't really work any more and I just use either water, water and vinegar, baking soda or soap nut soak for cleaning). Will find a way to use it up and recycle the bottle.
First aid supplies. Two (plastic) boxes of gauze, tape, moleskin, bandaids, ace bandages, etc. C buys most of this stuff (some of it is leftover from our Colorado Trail hike in 1996!!). I would, however, like to find an eco alternative to plastic bandaids. I do buy the fabric ones (hoping they are PVC-free) but they are still not biodegradable. But I can't see having three boys and no bandaids. Suggestions (tearing cloth into strips, Civil War style?)??
I did create a little "boo boo basket" inspired by The Handmade Home. In it are castor oil (organic in a glass bottle--I learned this summer that this was my late grandmother's cure for bumps and bruises), arnica gel (metal tube) for sore muscles, calendula cream (metal tube) for cuts and skin ouchies, aloe vera gel (for burns, in plastic bottle--should get an aloe plant), bandaids (fabric), a thermometer (mercury-free digital; plastic), and a flannel rice bag.
Miscellaneous. Instructions (paper) for what to do if you break a compact fluorescent bulb; giant (plastic) refill bottle for bubbles; homemade furniture wax (glass jar); Magic Erasers (will look up to see if these are toxic or not--only thing that cleans the mineral stains off the tub!!); plastic bottle hydrogen peroxide (C buys this for I don't know what, but it does take blood off clothes); Earth Enzymes drain opener (plastic jar) and (repurposed) toothbrush for cleaning drains; various shoe leather treatments (plastic); sunblocks (plastic); bug repellents (plastic); glow in the dark vampire teeth (plastic); rubbing alcohol (plastic--C bought this to clean off old records. This is my life!); face crayons and an empty glass soap dispenser (with plastic pump); C's electric razor that he uses like once a year. Most of these things I will either use up and not replace, or leave on the shelf until I go through this exercise again and then just dispose of them.
The only thing I really won't be able to get away without replacing is the sunblock. I use the chemical-free mineral kind, but it still comes in a plastic tube. I do prefer covering my kids with shade, clothes and hats (and letting them get a bit of sun exposure for Vitamin D), but when you're in full sun at the beach or something, you really need sunblock. Ideas?
In the medicine cabinet I found various vitamins and supplements (rarely used), essential oils and tinctures, over-the-counter medicines, three bottles of eyeglass cleaner (free when you buy a pair of glasses), C's razor blades (again, rarely used) and one stick of moxa. The only over-the-counter meds I really feel I need to have on hand are ibuprofen (both adult and kids--Z tends to get really high fevers). I do have children's allergy liquid from when E had an encounter with a furry caterpillar and ended up with a full-body rash, and Benadryl cream because I tend to get rashes in reaction to everything (metal, synthetic fabric, etc.). (See the Fixodent--no one here has dentures, but C bought it when his temporary crown fell out; and the Itchy Feet? Lotrimin cream for diaper rash...we haven't had any diaper rash around here for a couple of years...think I should throw it away??) Oh and that frog--PVC plastic, probably has phthalates...I suffered buyers remorse as soon as I brought it home and it's lived on top of the cabinet ever since.
I used to be very interested in herbs for healing and would like to get back to that...if I grow my own they can be garden-to-compost plastic-free. We treat some things with herbs/foods/spices now: for coughs I just give them honey (I want to try to make these throat lozenges) and I used turmeric with great success on an impetigo rash on E. Do you use any natural remedies for your children?
We also have a drawer next to the sink that was full of used toothbrushes, the electric toothbrush and various heads (which no-one seems to be using anymore), dental floss samples from the dentist, more fake teeth, bags, soap, corks, broken goggles, old lip balm and two sticks Tom's of Maine deodorant (these are C's...I'll tell you about my deodorant in a moment).
This is what I tossed, recycled or put in stasis until I can figure out what to do with them (I'm determined to find a way to recycle toothbrushes!!)
And this is the cabinet after I was done. Better, no? Plastic free? No.
Above the upstairs bathroom sink, we find more over-the-counter meds, lots of little plastic bottles of homeopathic tablets (that we rarely use, though C swears by the pulsatilla--which I bought in a futile attempt to roust a certain presenting twin out of his breech position--for post-nasal drip), toothbrushes (the kind you get free from the dentist--all plastic of course) and toothpaste (Tom's of Maine, aluminum tube with plastic cap), various oils creams, cleansers and rubs (anything bought recently is in glass--mostly Burt's Bees), Gentle-Floss (plastic-packaging-free dental floss). Oh, and my (very plastic) night guard that's supposed to keep me from grinding my teeth away. Yup. I sleep with a mouth full of plastic.
In a drawer were a bunch of ponytail holders, bobby pins, bandaids, lotion samples, more old toothbrushes, Lansinoh (from the breastfeeding days), tooth whitener (tossed that right in the trash--what possessed me to buy it? Did I even read the ingredients? What is all that stuff?), and a ton of those stupid one-use flossers the dentist gives my kids for free.
Under the sink we find giant plastic jug apple cider vinegar (for hair washing...I promise I'll get to that in a minute) and a giant plastic jug of Dr. Bronner's soap (this is what I wash the twins--hair and body--with...we've had that bottle for a couple of years now and it will probably last us at least a couple years more) and toilet brush (plastic) in a yogurt tub (plastic) and a barf bowl (plastic--from a hospital stay when someone was born). Also an inflatable bath pillow (plastic--PVC, the worst kind--and possible punctured) and a repurposed toothbrush for cleaning the drain). And TP--I'll tell you about that in a minute.
And now the moment you've been waiting for--the shower area, where you will note another vinegar bottle, a repurposed container of baking soda and a small bottle for mixing. C practices "no-poo," that is, he washes his hair with a baking soda and water solution and conditions it with apple cider vinegar and water. I also use the baking soda mixture to wash M's hair. It seems to work great for both of them, but I found it too drying for my hair, and I thought my hair was falling out by the handful last fall. It could have been my diet, a vitamin deficiency, hormonal changes or old age, but I decided to go back to shampoo (which you can barely see in the window sill because it is back-lit--next to my plastic bottle of Aveda Be Curly). So I need help! Anyone have a good non-plastic, non-commercial hair wash that is not drying? Or a recommendation on how to use no-poo in a non-drying, non-hair-falling out way? (I should mention that C has longer hair than me, and he does not experience the 'Barbie doll" hair effect that I did). For shower soap (not pictured) we use Kirk's castile, which comes wrapped in paper, and I inspected that paper as closely as I could, and it does not appear to be plastic-coated. For hand soap, I buy bars of natural, completely package-free soap from the health food store.
There's one other cabinet in the bathroom which I neglected to photograph (thank goodness, you say), that is filled with all manner of foot lotions and cocoa butter creams and bubble baths and a whole box of travel-sized products and bottles (which I confess I didn't even open). Most of this stuff came as gifts, and I just need to either use it up or toss it out (anyone up for a spa day?) Also inside are cotton balls and swabs. I buy the organic kind, but they come packaged in plastic.
Now for a brief detour to the bedroom, here is my dresser (please excuse the dust). Note the plastic bottles of lotion, which, when used up will be replaced by lotion bar that my parents gave me for my birthday. It comes in a tin container and seems to be mostly cocoa butter. When it's all used up, I think I'll try to make my own. See the little jar? That's my homemade deodorant, which works GREAT (for me that is...C tried it for a while and let's just say it's NOT "strong enough for a man"). Also a plastic tube of eucalyptus rub and one of lip balm. When those are used up, they'll be replaced by non-plastic (homemade) options.
OK, so what, if anything did we learn from all this and where does it get us?
Here are my takeaway messages:
--Stop buying random vitamins/homeopathic cures/over the counter drugs for every little ailment.
--Just say "no thank you" to free stuff (I already hand back the vinyl bag and the floss sample they hand out at the dentist. Should I also say "no" to the toothbrushes and buy the Preserve kind instead? I did put the flossing sticks on the counter for the boys to use up--then I'll teach them to use real floss and tell the hygenist no thank you, we'd prefer using our own floss).
--Find an alternative shampoo option that works for me and an alternative deodorant that works for C.
--Write a letter to Organic Essentials encouraging them to use non-plastic packaging for their cotton balls and q-tips.
And, finally, I have made one change already--I ordered a subscription...for toilet paper! That's right. I ordered a case of 48 rolls of Seventh Generation TP (the kind that comes wrapped in paper) through Amazon and by scheduling regular delivery (a.k.a. a subscription), I saved 15%. I've been wanting to do this for a long time (even the recycled stuff at the grocery store comes in plastic, and to buy individual rolls of the Seventh Generation at the health food store costs almost twice as much). Our first case came today...can't imagine what the delivery person thought of our bathroom needs!
One last note (I know I said finally in the last paragraph)...did you note the absense of the more, er, delicate items a lady might store in her powder room? I'm talkin' feminine hygiene? The reason there is none in either of the bathrooms, is that I store my products in the bedroom...in my dresser, where I put them when they come out of the laundry. OK so I'm not ready for "the family cloth" to replace my toilet paper, but I have been using the "lady cloth" for two or three years now and...zero complaints. I have two brands, and the one I'm only going to recommend my preferred brand, Luna Pads (the other is too bulky for comfort), though there are lots of crafty types who sell them on Etsy these days, so don't be deterred from trying their offerings (and they appear a lot more affordable. I will say the Luna Pads are crazy expensive (I spent around $60 for my starter kit of about four pads--ouch--and maybe around $30 for six additional in the not-as-good brand--but seriously, how much would I have spent on disposable ones in the last two years--and the next however many these things last?? Totally worth the sticker shock).
Phew! Next month we'll proceed to the kitchen, which should narrow the discussion of bodily functions considerably.
Updated: Here's the link to the post on Fake Plastic Fish that describes Beth Terry's journey into going plastic-free and why it's important to go slowly.