trash talk

I warned you we’d have to talk about the bathroom trash can. Put on your gloves and gas mask, because this one is a stinky topic.
What’s in your bathroom trash can? Compostables? Recyclables? Toxic waste? Biohazards? Betcha there’s some plastic in there, too. I was going to photograph what came out of our bathroom trash, but I got a little shy and a little grossed out, so never mind. Just use your imagination, and follow along as we parse what’s plastic and what’s actually garbage.

  1. Cotton swabs, aka Q-tips. Buy the kind with a paper/cardboard stick. Those can be composted or will disintegrate in landfill, while the ones with the pretty pink, yellow, blue or white plastic stems will not. Ever. (Not in our lifetime, anyway.)
  2. Cotton balls, hair from your hair brush, and wads of tissue are compostable — unless you used something toxic like nail polish remover on the cotton ball (garbage) or if you have a cold or communicable disease (garbage). Compost piles don’t get hot enough to destroy the virus from the common cold, and we don’t want your germs in the municipal compost piles, either. Don’t flush these items, as they get stuck in the water waste system, and no one wants your germs there, either (there are plenty of germs already).
  3. Toothpaste tubes, mouthwash bottles, cardboard toilet paper tubes, shampoo bottles, makeup containers, Kleenex boxes — if it’s plastic, paper or metal, chances are that it’s recyclable. Use all that you can, and then don’t be lazy — carry the packaging down the stairs and out the back door (or wherever) to the recycling bins.
  4. The plastic strip that comes around the neck of the mouthwash, the ambient plastic wrap around makeup, plastic film-wrap that comes around various other goods you use in the bathroom: This wrap may be recyclable in your area or maybe not. I take all plastic film-type wrapping (shrink-wrap) and bag-type plastic back to the grocery stores inside a plastic bag for recycling.
  5. Feminine hygiene products: Ladies, STOP buying one-use products encased in hard plastic. The Tampax Glide products are a one-use product that then sticks around in landfill for 1,000 years. Buy tampons in the cardboard tube if you must , but plastic tampon tubes are floating in our oceans, caught in fences and waterways around the world, and languishing in landfills (if you’ve ever done a beach clean-up, you’ll change your ways, guaranteed.). There’s no need to buy these. Same goes for the uber-wrapped maxi-pads, which are wrapped, then wrapped again, and also have a plastic strip on the bottom and are made from plastic/paper. Better yet, switch to reusable cloth pads (visit Glad Rags, check around on or check out the Hillbilly Housewife for a discussion of how easy and natural — and money-saving! — these are to use, and how to avoid the scam that tampon producers are perpetrating on supposedly smart Western women.) What do you think Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jane Austen and women in the Bible used in their day? A more modern take is the Diva Cup, available at health food stores or online, or if you have a diaphragm, use that every month as a menstrual cup. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — if you’re too squeamish to talk about or handle your own menses, go back to 7th grade and start over, or get a little therapy — it’s your own body and it’s perfectly healthy and natural. Don’t be a big baby.
  6. Hair coloring products: Every one of these boxes is full of plastic. They include a pair of gloves, a new bottle to hold the colorant, etc. If you want to color your hair, buy yourself a set of supplies (for about $10) at the beauty supply store, then just get the colorant every month or so. You’ll save a ton, and you won’t need to buy a new plastic bottle and gloves every time. Those gloves are good for more than one use, anyway. If you use it only once, it’s not a Good Plastic. Really!
  7. Toilet paper and soap packaging: These come singly or in a package of several, and the large packages are coated in plastic. Consider buying individual rolls of toilet paper, which come in paper wrap, and individual soaps in paper or boxes instead of multi-packs. You can finally use those gift and travel soaps!
  8. Toothbrushes: Our dentist gives us freebies every time — and we are encouraged to replace every three months. Do any of you recycle your toothbrush? Do you find a reuse for them? They are good for cleaning grout, scrubbing jewelry or small items, and also as a paintbrush for spatter paint. They make a good doll hairbrush or brush for your pet’s delicate face. However, there are only so many extra uses for used toothbrushes, so make sure you recycle them. Then, buy a wooden one from Bass (about $6 at the Alameda Natural Grocery store, or available online) or try the ones at this online shop. The one I bought is wooden with boar bristles, made in Italy, and can be tossed into the fire (if you need kindling) or composted when done. All natural, it’s biodegradable and harmless to the planet (except for the shipping from Italy). Don’t chew on the bristles (a bad habit of mine — I will fold laundry while brushing teeth and find myself chewing the bejeebers out of my toothbrush). Make sure to let it air dry, perhaps out of the bathroom, so it lasts longer.
  9. Razors: People, stop using one-use disposable razors. Spend a little more and get a razor handle with changeable blades. Then take care of your razor. Don’t leave it in a puddle in the shower. Dry it after use. Set it on the windowsill or on your dresser in the next room to dry. You can store them head down in a jar of isopropyl alcohol and they will remain rust-free virtually forever. Water ruins razors, so keep yours dry, and then you will use fewer blades and throw away less plastic. If you are a real Eco Hero, you’ll switch to a straight razor (the Dervaes family of Pasadena recommends these) or be a real hippy and stop shaving. As for the need to buy an aerosol can of shaving cream — stop (plastic!). I bought Mr. Husband a ceramic shaving cup and natural boar bristle brush 18 months ago and he *loves* them. He will never go back to a can of foam again. And you can buy some deliciously scented shaving soap on or at a local bath and body shop like sumbody.
  10. Plastic packaging from medications: Try to switch to a different size or ask if you can get a less-packaging option. Kaiser will work with you to reduce the plastic, but my insurance, Cigna, uses a mail-order system that does not allow for less packaging. Try, then, to recycle what you can: the plastic wrappings go in my plastic-bag-return to grocery stores, and the plastic bottles get recycled. In my over-the-counter meds, I make sure to buy a large-enough bottle of Claritin so I don’t get individually wrapped tablets, but rather a bottle of loose tablets.
  11. Cough drop wrappers: Try to purchase a brand that still wraps in waxed paper (compostable), such as Ricola or some of the Luden’s varieties. I also bought vitamin C drops from CVS in a square tube-like package that are wrapped in foil, then in waxed paper within, so there’s no plastic in the package. I find the vitamin C drops work as well for cough drops or hard candy, as the need arises.
  12. Magazines and newspapers: These need to get recycled in the regular recycling bin, not just stuffed in the bathroom trash.
  13. Plastic water bottle: Yikes! How did this get through my doors? You know that 9 out of 10 of these are not ever recycled, but trashed instead? Make sure you recycle all beverage containers, in whatever way possible. I think of them as money — 5 cents in California for every can or bottle, plastic or glass, that I pick up and return. We’ve probably earned $50 this year so far in collecting cans and bottles on our walks and from various parties. Again, do a beach cleanup some day and see how many of these you retrieve (especially the caps). You’ll never buy one again.
  14. Chewed gum. Yuck. There’s nothing you can do with chewed gum but put it in the garbage. I guess the thing to do is — not chew gum.
  15. Subscription cards, mail: Yikes, random paper in the bathroom garbage cans: pull it out and recycle it in appropriate place.
  16. Dry-cleaning bag: I thought we had dealt with these earlier in the month. Pull it out, put in the bag-recycling and return to grocery store. Your dry cleaner may also accept these to recycle, and you can ask for no bag next time.
  17. Button: Pull it out and put it with the sewing stuff.
  18. Fingernail clippings: See hair, #2, above. Also — yuck. Because these are down in the bottom of the can and loose, the best thing to do next time is to catch the clippings into a tissue and then put that into the compost bin.
  19. Hairpins: Set aside for daughter to ask for when she can’t find any in her bathroom.
  20. Apple core: Compost. Who eats in the bathroom, anyway? Yeesh.
That’s what was in our bathroom can. What’s in yours, and is there a way to recycle or make less of an impact with your bathroom trash? (I’m thinking of disposable diapers and wipes, daily facial cloths, false eyelashes, toxins, old broken jewelry, a single sock?)

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9 Replies to “trash talk”

  1. –Toothbrushes, I always recycle these as ‘scrubbers and cleaners’ for many uses.

    –Cough drops, Go down to the local candy shop and purchase some ‘horehound candy’ which has been used for decades as a cough suppressant also. The candy that’s not a candy. You can often buy in bulk, No wrappers!

    –Razors. I spend the extra money for a better shave by buying non disposable razors, and even shaving a full beard, these often last me a month or more per head. Well worth the price, as disposables don’t last. You can also dip your razors in rubbing alcohol after using. This helps them last a lot longer and helps prevent rusting!

  2. yes, exactly, on the razors! If we had a candy shop that wasn’t just reselloing mass=produced plastic-wrapped stuff, I’d go there. Alas, the one we have here has bins of same old-same old. I think I’ll try to find an old fashioned candy shoppe/malt shoppe place and see what they have. (Santa Cruz, SF… Fentons?)

  3. Julia, I adore you, but no way am I ever going to use reusable rags for my period. Not unless I move to some place in the country that’s 50 miles to town. Just sayin’. Someone I know uses the cup, and says it’s the best. I’m just prayin’ for menopause.

  4. Hair dye — Henna. I don’t dye my hair anymore, but the henna from Lush comes in a block of product, in a paper bag. You use it more than once and no plastic (except for gloves unless you want coloured hands).

    Lots of good ideas here, I think we’re batting about 50% on these. Room and ideas for improvement.

  5. I only shave my legs once in a blue moon. Since I stopped shaving them, the hair grows so slow and is really light. Under my arms is maybe once a week or once every 2 weeks. I have enough razors to last 24 lifetimes at this rate. I use maybe 1 razor a year, maybe. I now have guilt about them, plastic #$%^&
    I stopped dying my hair, grey is the new blond (in my mind at least). I did try to use other things besides tampons, however, they proved to be not as reliable (for me). I am going to check out the toothbrushes mentioned at Whole Foods.
    You have no idea Joe! lol

  6. Please keep these comprehensive lists coming!
    I thought I was pretty savvy in the bathroom, but there were a couple of items there I hadn’t considered, like hair colouring products.
    Thank you.

  7. Four years ago I switched from shaving my legs to using an electric epilator, and I’ve never looked back. Yes, there is the electricity usage to consider, but epilating can be done much less often than shaving, and there is no soap, shaving cream, or plastic waste. Plus, it shortens the duration of my shower, thereby saving both water and time on a daily basis. Also, a biodegradable hair conditioner can be used instead of shaving cream or gel, and it leaves your skin nice and soft.

    Great blog. I am going to look into a boar-bristle toothbrush.

  8. Razors are harder to figure out, since the metal used to make them tends to be the cheapest, so we’re getting to slave labor issues.

    “Feather” razors in Japan used to be able to say they sourced their metal and could show this wasn’t so, but that was decades ago.
    Conditioners will do the same for razors as rubbing alcohol, and don’t strip the new “comfort” strips off as fast.

    Preserve products does a recycled plastic disposable triple blade, but with no space behind the blade, they’re hard to rinse clean.

    For cough drops, licorice root slices are easy to find in Asian herbal/pharmacies, which can be used as a drop or dropped into hot water for over ten minutes to make a syrup. Cuts the worst of a sore throat/bad cough & herbal tisunes can be added if the taste isn’t liked.

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