Everyday Ethical: How to have a waste-free personal hygiene routine [Ep. 010]

Apr 16, 2019

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Today, in a very unsexy episode, I’m talking about personal hygiene routines and how to make them more eco-friendly. I cover everything from brushing our teeth to using deodorant without the plastic and the needless waste!

Podcast graphic: Eco-Friendly Personal hygiene with bamboo toothbrush


Keys links from this episode

My Instagram 

Water Pik (AD – Affiliate link)

Bamboo floss 

Toothpaste recipe 

Lush Toothy Tabs 

Mouthwash recipe 

Natural deodorant recipe 

Full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to everyday ethical, a podcast about all of the small ways that we can be more sustainable, without the pressure to be perfect.

I’m your host Bethany Austin and I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to cruelty-free cleaning.

Today’s episode isn’t a very sexy one, I have to be honest, but it is an important one. In it I’m going to chat about personal hygiene products – not to be confused with feminine hygiene products! – and how we can make our hygiene routines more eco-friendly. I’m talking clean teeth, fresh pits and germ-free hands without a tonne of plastic waste and without the damage to the planet.

I know that most of these actions like brushing your teeth and popping deodorant on feel small, when you’re doing it for years and years, you can start to imagine just how much waste you’re creating. But don’t worry, I’m going to give you a more eco-friendly alternative to every single thing that you use in your hygiene routine.

So, let’s dive in.

[Intro music]

Like, I said, this isn’t going to be a very sexy episode. I would love to tell you that I’m going to be talking about ethical lingerie or how to make your cocktails more eco-freindly but, no, we’re going to be talking about bad breath and armpits. Brilliant.

Hahah the reason I want to do this episode, despite its unsexy-ness, is because I feel like it exemplifies the “it all adds up” mentality that I have when it come sto creating waste. It’s easy to pass of small items as not mattering, but when you start to think about the fact that every single toothbrush you’ve ever owned is still on this earth and will be loooong after you’re gone, it can be pretty scary. Mate, I don’t want my toothbrush to out live me thank you very much!

As always, I’ll take the beginning of this episode as a chance to chat about my own experiences with this area of eco-friendly living.

The truth is, the environmental impact of my personal hygiene products just wasn’t something I thought about for most of my life. The plastic in things like toothbrushes and deodorant is just normal, right? And if there’s one thing that’s hard to break, it’s a routine. So for most of us, myself included, our personal hygiene routines are taught to us as kids and teenagers and then we just stick with what we know. For me that meant even down to brands of toothpaste and deodorant.

I was one loyal consumer!

And, to be honest, sustainable changes in my personal hygiene routine have only happened relatively recently. I had to go through all of the “holy shit” type revelations and make the big changes, before I became more aware of how my smaller actions were also negatively impacting the planet. However, I’m happy to say that I now have a much more planet-friendly routine, with less plastic, less waste in general and nothing that is testing on animals.

So, that’s where I’m out, now let’s get into the nitty gritty. I’m going to outline each area that might be a part of your personal hygiene practices, chat about how sustainable the conventional products used are and then offer you a butt tonne of eco alternatives.

By the end of this, you are going to have the medicine cabinet of an eco-warrior haha.  

First things first, let’s talk about dental hygiene. After all, nobody wants smell breath. And definitely not me, I’m such a stickler for looking after my teeth – I’ve never had a filling and that is probably my proudest achievement. Yes, even over getting a first class degree.

Obviously one of the main things to think about is your toothbrush. You’ve probably heard all about this one on Pinterest because it seems to be one of those sustainable changes that everybody is shouting about at the moment. So, yes, you should definitely switch out your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one if you can. It is a really sustainable material: It grows really quickly and doesn’t require a load of water either. But the most important thing is that it degrades. Unlike plastic, it won’t sit around in landfill for years and years. But it will still get the teeth-brushing job done, in exactly the same way, so it doesn’t require any massive habit shifts to be able to adopt using it. I think that’s probably why it’s such a popular one.

Bamboo toothbrushes are becoming a lot more easy to find and I’ve even seen them in normal supermarkets (although, disappointingly, wrapped in plastic), but I also have the ones I used linked in the shop section of my blog. So I’ll leave a link to that in the show description, and a direct affiliate link to the brushes in the show notes, too.

If you have a toothbrush, you need toothpaste and, unfortunately, the majority of toothpaste tubes aren’t recyclable because they’re made of mixed materials. One possible alternative is to make your own toothpaste. Usually this means mixing ingredients like baking soda, coconut oil and food-grade peppermint oil together and using it as you would any other toothpaste. I mean, you know the deal with that right?

Or, you could go for the slightly easier but also more eco option of solid toothpaste tabs. You might be able to get them in a special zero waste shop, or Lush also sell them too. They’re called “Toothy tabs” Whilst they do come in a plastic bottle in Lush, you can return that back to store to be reused, or they are also recyclable. So, certainly a step up from toothpaste tubes!

However, honestly, I haven’t made this switch yet only because I’m not sure where I stand on the whole fluoride debate. Making your own toothpaste means that it won’t contain fluoride, and the Lush “Toothy tabs” don’t contain fluoride either. But I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to incorporate that into your oral hygiene routine.

Research it yourself because I am NOT a dentist.

One thing that I am a bit more comfortable making my own of though for the sake of saving waste is mouthwash. As long as I’ve given my teeth a proper good brush, I’m happy to have a DIY mouthwash for afterwards. There are a load of recipes online to choose from and I’ll link some in the show notes, but most again use food-grade antibacterial essential oils, baking soda and water. Super simple to make and a great way to reduce how much plastic you’re buying on a weekly basis!

Now let’s talk about floss. As you may know, dental floss is usually waxed nylon inside of a plastic box. That means that floss itself and its packaging is not biodegradable. So, whilst it might be small, you can begin to imagine how much waste it creates if you’re using it twice a day, every day for your whole life. Good for you on the dental health front, but it’s certainly not so good for the environment. In fact, it’s often these types of smaller plastics that cause the most havoc. They break down more quickly, sure, but into microplastics which enter our water systems and therefore get into the food chains of fish. Plus, smaller bits of plastic are more likely to be eaten by animals, potentially killing them.

If you do use floss, then you might want to consider switching to a more eco-friendly option that doesn’t contain any disposable plastic. Recently, there’s been a rise in availability of natural fibre dental floss. For example, the company Atlas and Ortus who have gifted me some of their products in the past sell a bamboo floss which is waxed with candelilla wax. It comes in a glass container with a metal lid which, can either be reused or recycled. Unlike plastic, glass can be recycled an infinite number of time. And of course, bamboo biodegrades naturally, meaning you don’t have to worry about little synthetic strips hanging around for years to come.

So, yeah, that’s a great low waste option.

Or, alternatively, you might want to opt for something like a waterpik. They’re also called things like oral irrigators, dental water jets or water flosser. Basically, what a waterpik is is a little device that you fill with water, and then you  point it between your teeth and it sprays between them to get rid of any food that might be stuck in there. It basically just a more high tech way to  floss to be honest! But on the waste side of things, it also means you create way less plastic waste, since waterpiks can be used for years. I mean, it’s not perfect, it’s definitely still going to create waste in the end, but if you look after it and make it last it will be an improvement.

They’re not ridiculously expensive either. You can get them on Amazon for £25 ish. If you can afford that initial investment then it probably evens out in terms of money eventually, or you might even save yourself a few quid. I’ll leave an affiliate link to one in the show notes.

Anyway, enough about bloody teeth. Now let’s talk about armpits instead.

Obviously another huge part of personal hygiene is, ya know, making sure you don’t smell. Whilst part of that means just showering, which I covered in episode 8 on reducing your waste in the bath and shower, deodorant is also important too. But you guys know that. You’re not pre-pubescent.

Anywaaaay, a lot of conventional deodorants aren’t great for the environment due to the plastic packaging, usually with roll-ons. And whilst most aerosoles no longer utilise CFCs which was one of the things that contributed to the degradation of the ozone layer, the packaging still isn’t ideal. Although aerosol cans can actually usually be recycled, in case you didn’t know! However, as I always bang on about, recycling for me is a bare minimum, not an end-goal! So, if you do want to take it one step further then you might want to get a deodorant with biodegradable packing. I know that sounds super weird and you probably didn’t even know it existed, but the company Earth Conscious, for example, have a deodorant stick that is made of paper. That means that it breaks down, along with the all-natural ingredients. I’ve used Earth Conscious deodorants in the, though I had one in a tin, and it worked really well! I’ll link my favourite in the show notes. 10p from the sale of them also goes to the Marine Conservation Society, so the company really are doing amazing things.

Just a side note, in case you didn’t know, deodorant and antiperspirants are different things. Naturally deodorants will stop you smelling (well, if they’re good), but they will not stop you sweating!

Alternatively, if you want to be a total eco-warrior, you could make your own natural deodorant. Funnily enough, it contains a lot of the same ingredients as that homemade toothpaste I mentioned: Coconut oil, baking soda, essential oils, but with added arrowroot and shea butter. Again, I’ll like the recipe in the show notes if you’re interested. Obviously one great benefit of that is that you can tailor the scent to your personal taste. So, for example, I love lavender oil in my deodorants so would add that into the mix.

Total armpit freedom, people!

Now seems like a good time to talk about toilet paper! I’m sure it’s something that most of us don’t consider, but there’s actually a lot of waste and potentially damaging things to consider when it comes to loo roll. From the paper itself and how many trees were cut down to make it, to the unnecessary cardboard tubes in the middle, the fact that they’re wrapped in plastic and whether paper is bleached and could therefore contribute in any way to damaging marine life. It’s a lot a right?

Luckily, more and more eco brands are cropping up and I know that some supermarkets, Tesco included, offer more environmentally-conscious versions of their own brand loo roll which is made of recycled materials.

Unfortunately though, these are still wrapped in plastic and it’s that annoying type of plastic that can only be recycled in recycling centres or with plastic bags in large supermarkets. On top of that, eco toilet paper is usually a lot more expensive. And sometimes times a lot less soft if you get unlucky with the brand you choose.

So far, the best option that I’ve found and one that I will be investing in soon, is getting toilet paper from the company Who Gives A Crap. Firstly, fucking incredible name. And, secondly, they are doing so much good stuff. Their most budget-freindly rolls are 100% recycled, contain no plastic and, like all of their products, 50% of the products goes to building toilets in developing communities! What’s not to love? I also did the math and the paper only works out a tiny bit more expensive than the non-eco brand I’m currently using, as long as you buy in bulk and therefore don’t have to pay for the shipping cost. I think I’ll probably get some and split them with my Mum so that we can save money but not have to use a tonne of storage space!

I’ll definitely keep you updated on my Instagram stories when I do finally take the plunge and go for it.

Just a side note: I know that that initial investment to buy in bulk just isn’t possible to for everyone, even if it does work out cheaper in the end. So, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t afford to make the switch to eco loo-roll. I mean, honestly, we have bigger problems and also it’s not your fault, you are a part of a linear economy where the aim is to get you to buy and then throw away as much shit as possible!

Another one of those personal hygiene essentials that there are plenty of eco-alternatives for is cotton buds.

Have you guys seen that picture of the teeny tiny seahorse holding onto a cotton bud? It was in the plastic pollution edition of National Geographic and it honestly makes me so sad every time I see it. It’s heartbreaking to think about how much rubbish we’re putting into the ocean. So, after I saw that, I vowed I would never buy a conventional cotton bud again. Instead, I’ve been buying bamboo ones. Since they don’t contain any plastic, they are usually compostable and are definitely biodegradable.

And, in the same sort of vein, if you use disposable cotton rounds or cotton wool pads, you might want to consider switching them out for reusable ones instead. I use them in my skincare routine everyday, then just pop them in the wash and resue them again and again. Honestly, they are way better than the disposable ones. Plus, they last years, apparently over 1,000 washes. Can you imagine how much waste you’ll save if you just make that super simple switch?

I’ll link the ones that I use in the show notes for ya, along with the cotton buds that I’ve switched to.

Finally, it would be wrong to talk about hygiene and not touch upon soap! Basically you have two options in terms of reducing your waste with hand soap. Either, you can buy a bar, preferably one wrapped in cardboard, not plastic, or you can buy large quantities of liquid soap and decant it out. Either way, you’ll cut down on the packaging you’re buying. However, it might also be worth thinking about going down the mor natural soap route to make sure that all of the actual ingredients are biodegradable too. So, for example, I think liquid castile soap is a great option as it’s vegetable-based, plus it’s easy to buy in a huge bottle instead of more wasteful individual sized ones.

So, that’s everything I’m going to touch upon today. I’m not going to talk about showering or shaving (not that shaving has anything to do with hygiene in reality), as I already spoke about both of those in episode 8. Plus, I have a whole episode, number 2, on sustainable sanitary products as well, if you want to find out about that side of things.  

Before I go, let’s set some goals in the eco personal hygiene department so that, if you want to, you can make this area of your life that little bit more ethical, as soon as you’ve finished listening. Here are some goal ideas.

  1. You could simply get yourself a bamboo toothbrush. Finally make the switch, my friend!
  2. You could get yourself dental floss made of natural fibres or even invest in a waterpik, if you’re feeling super fancy.
  3. Maybe it’s time to make the switch to an eco-friendly deodorant.
  4. Could you invest in reusable cotton rounds or biodegradable cotton buds this month?
  5. Finally, you can test out recycled toilet paper from your local supermarket or from Who Gives A Crap and see what you think!

If you do decide to aim for any of those goals, or you’ve created your own, I would love to hear it! Please either slide into my DMs on Instagram or tag me in on an Insta story @bethanypaigeaustin (again it’ll be linked in the show notes) and use the hashtag #everydayethical too. I LOVE being inspired by the changes you all make – it motivates me to keep creating this content and keep making changes in my own life, too.

I really hope that you’ve learnt something new in this episode and that it’s made you stop and think about an area of your everyday life in a different light. If it did, please leave me a review on iTunes, it is the single best way to support me at the moment, besides actually sending me wads of cash. It means that more people are likely to click on this podcast and join in with our Everyday Ethical community. Talking of which, please do share this episode with your friends and family if you think they’d enjoy hear me talking about armpits and loo roll.

I’ll speak to you guys next week!


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