Plastic-Free July in Croydon

Plastic-free personal care

Posted by Kake on 28 July 2014

I’ve already discussed plastic-free loo rolls, and Julia has covered reusable menstrual cups, but what about other bathroom activities? Is there a way to banish all those plastic bottles and tubes?

I’ll note first off that I don’t use makeup or moisturiser, I don’t shave any parts of my body, I don’t use products on my hair (other than shampoo), I don’t have sensitive teeth, and I’m not allergic or sensitive to any perfumes or essential oils. So the advice below certainly isn’t a complete guide to a disposable-plastic-free bathroom, and my suggestions won’t suit everyone — but hopefully they’ll serve as inspiration at least.

Blackberry-scented liquid soap from Splosh (in Carex dispenser) and Dreamwash from Lush (in returnable black pot).

For hand-washing and body-washing, I use liquid soap from Splosh, which comes as refill sachets in a cardboard box that fits through the letterbox, costs £6, and makes a litre of liquid soap.[1] This works out as £1.50 per 250ml bottle (a fairly standard size), which is around 50% more than you’d pay for a supermarket own-brand, but less than the fancier brands such as Original Source. It’s intended as hand soap, but I find it also works just fine as a shower gel substitute. You’re meant to buy a special plastic dispenser from Splosh to use with it, but any empty dispenser of the right size will do — as shown above, I’m using an old one that used to contain Carex liquid soap.

I’ll be posting about Splosh at greater length soon, but one thing to note about the liquid soap in particular is that the sachets dissolve much more slowly than the sachets for their other products.[2] Despite the claim on the box that dissolution will be complete in “a minute or two”, it can actually take several hours for them to dissolve completely, and due to the nature of the dispenser you do need to wait for this to happen before you use the product, since undissolved fragments of sachet can clog up the tube.

Also shown in the photo above is a pot of Dreamwash from the Lush shop on North End. This was very expensive (nearly £10 for a 250g pot) and I didn’t get on with it at all.[3] However, I mention it as an option since everyone has different preferences. It comes in a plastic pot, but once empty this can be taken back to Lush — and they do re-use them rather than recycle them, so the only waste is the label.

Unpackaged soaps at Lush, North End, July 2014.

I much prefer liquid/gel washes to bar soap[4], but soap is of course another option. Lush sell a wide variety of unpackaged soaps, if you can tolerate the perfume, and they’re happy for you to bring your own container to transport it home in. I’ve not found it enormously easy to find plastic-free soap packaging aside from this. Dettol soap seems to be packaged in cardboard only, but many other brands have a plastic film on the inside or outside of the cardboard box.

Solid shampoo bars at Lush, North End, July 2014.

Lush also sell solid shampoo and conditioner bars, and as with their hand soaps they’re happy for you to bring your own container for these. I don’t use conditioner, but I’m pretty happy with the Jumping Juniper solid shampoo bar I bought a month or so ago. It’s hard to make a direct cost comparison with bottled shampoo, but the bar cost £5.50 and judging by how much I’ve used so far I expect it to last me around 5 months, which seems a fairly reasonable cost.

Solid deodorant bars at Lush, North End, July 2014.

Another Lush product worth mentioning is their solid deodorant bars, which use bicarbonate of soda to absorb sweat and odours. I’m using Aromaco, which has a creamy texture and is very easy to apply — just rub the bar under your arms. I keep it in an airtight container to stop it drying out. The bicarb is visible as a white powder (though this doesn’t stain clothes in the way that some deodorants can), but I don’t wear sleeveless tops so that’s not a problem for me.

I’m a fairly active person, and we’ve had a very warm July this year — but Aromaco seems to be well up to dealing with the results of my sweaty activities. I’m very happy with this product, and have no intention of giving it up once the challenge is over!

Toothy Tabs bought from Lush, North End, July 2014. The three little bits of plastic on the right-hand side are the only disposable plastic used in packaging this product. I’ve transferred them from the cardboard box to an airtight tub to keep them fresh (they need to be kept away from damp conditions or they turn into a sort of nasty sludge).

Finally, instead of toothpaste in a plastic tube, I’ve been using Toothy Tabs, again from Lush. These are moulded tablets that you break up by nibbling between your front teeth; they then start foaming when you start brushing. I’m not a huge fan of the flavours I’ve tried so far (Dirty, Ultrablast, and Breath of God), but unlike Westy Writes, a fellow PFJ-er, I don’t find them actively disgusting.

However, I find the foam doesn’t last long enough for me to brush my teeth as long as I’d like to, and as pointed out by my friend Janet, another PFJ-er, the fact that they don’t contain fluoride may be a concern given the NHS recommendations that “children and adults should brush their teeth using toothpaste that contains fluoride”.

In terms of cost, they’re £2–3.50 (depending on flavour) for 40 tabs, which works out as 5–8.75p per brushing session — up to 10 times more expensive than using toothpaste from a tube.[5] For another way of judging the cost, note that if brushing your teeth twice a day, one packet of Toothy Tabs will last one person 20 days, two people 10 days, and a family of four only 5 days.

Toothy Tabs display at Lush, North End, July 2014.

Speaking of tooth-brushing, as I noted in my article on plastics I’m not cutting out, I decided not to give up my plastic toothbrush for the Plastic-Free July challenge because I expect to get over 100 uses from it before I discard it. My intrepid co-blogger Julia has since discovered that Preserve recycled/recyclable toothbrushes are available in London at Whole Foods. Julia found them at the Kensington High Street branch, but according to an email from a Whole Foods staff member, they’re also stocked at the Clapham Junction branch, which is rather more convenient to Croydon. This sounds like a great improvement over regular non-recycled (and hard-to-recycle[6]) toothbrushes!

Useful links

If you can’t wait to hear more about Splosh, check out Janet’s article for a good summary (and a discount code to give you £5 off your first order).

Westy Writes has an article on the search for plastic-free makeup — read the comments too!

Polythene Pam has written over two dozen articles on different aspects of plastic-free personal care.

Footnotes and references

  1. Splosh products aren’t completely plastic-free, since the sachets come in a (recyclable) plastic tray with a plastic film on top and the cardboard box is secured with two sturdy plastic strips. However, Splosh have mentioned on Twitter that they’re using the minimum possible amount of plastic and they’re looking into ways of reducing this still further.
  2. I think the reason the Splosh liquid soap sachets dissolve so slowly is that you’re using two sachets in 250ml water, as opposed to e.g. one sachet in 500ml water as for their kitchen cleaner — so there’s less water for the sachets to react with.
  3. The main ingredient in Dreamwash is calamine powder, which gives it a lot of friction when you rub it on damp skin, and I found that quite annoying. Also, I have baths rather than showers, and Dreamwash is designed more for showers — it dissolves in water very quickly, so trying to transport a handful of it underwater to wash the submerged parts of your body doesn’t really work.
  4. The main reason I prefer liquid/gel washes to bar soap is that I find it annoying to have to manage the tendency of soap to drain away into a wasteful sludge. I know there are various ways available to deal with this — soap dishes with spikes on the bottom, etc — but I find those annoying too. I’ve decided to spend my annoyance capacity for this on switching from bottled shampoo to bar shampoo, rather than on switching from liquid soap to bar soap.
  5. I did a little experiment before starting Plastic-Free July, and determined that I use at most 1g of toothpaste each time I brush my teeth. By my measurements, 1 tsp (5ml) toothpaste weighs about 8g, which corresponds to 160g toothpaste in a 100ml tube. When I compared an empty toothpaste tube to a full one of the same brand, the difference was around 125g, which seems fairly consistent allowing for measurement inaccuracies and the fact that you can never really get all the toothpaste out of the tube. Hence assuming I use 1g per brushing session, a 100ml tube of toothpaste (which I can buy for £1) gives me at least 125 brushing sessions at a cost of at most 0.8p per session, making the Toothy Tabs at least 6.25–10.94 times more expensive.
  6. According to Croydon Council’s Community Recycling Officer (via email, July 2014), toothbrushes are not acceptable in Croydon’s doorstep plastics collection, though it’s OK to put them in the mixed plastics bin if you happen to be going to a recycling centre.

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