Searching for the alternative to plastic-wrapped sanitary products I have once again come to the conclusion that the smarter, nature-friendly way is to make things yourself and not to rely on the big boys such as American conglomerate Procter and Gamble, who make the lion share of sanitary products, to do your thinking for you. But there are store-bought alternatives if you’re not up to such radical measures as making your own pads!
Most of today’s big brand sanitary products contain a cocktail of chemicals and synthetic fibres like rayon, aluminium, alcohols, fragrance additives and undisclosed ingredients. Tampons and many types of pads and liners are individually wrapped in plastic. Tampon applicators are largely made from plastic or plastic-lined card and are making a special appearance on beaches all over the world! I read that on average woman use 12,000 tampons in their lifetime.
One readily available and nature-friendly range of disposable sanitary products is Natracare. Their products are made from organic and natural materials and are free from chlorine and plastic. Natracare is sold in many supermarkets and health food shops. I have been using this brand for years.
Before disposable sanitary products were available to us, cloth rags or knitted pads were the order of the day. My mother remembers using these as a young girl in the post war years. Reusable pads can be bought on the internet, such as these made from organic cotton: http://www.drapersorganiccotton.co.uk. My friend Anne makes reusable pads from soft and pretty looking material. They are beautifully sewn (see picture) and work very well. Anne says there are plenty of articles and demo videos on the internet with advice on purchasing materials, sewing the pads and how to launder them.
Would it surprise you to learn that by far the most common type of razor in the developed world is the disposable plastic razor? But even the design of the modern re-useable razor and replacement blades, and their combined packaging, require a lot of plastic. In addition there is all the plastic packaging, lids and tubes of shaving foams and gels – none of it in the least recyclable. To top it off, the blades are horrendously expensive. You can see why I thought it worthwhile to find an alternative!
Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you the old fashioned and stylish way of wet shaving with a traditional metal safety razor, shaving brush and luxurious shaving soap. Totally plastic free. You could only top this by not shaving at all (it was a tempting thought…).
I contacted www.washingandshaving.co.uk who gave me good advice on the right sort of razor for me. On their website are sections for ladies and for gentlemen with information, tutorials and an online shop. I decided on a chrome plated, open comb safety razor with a short handle (£25) which I think looks very stylish. The razor blades are cheap (about 30p), recyclable and come in small cardboard boxes. It is worth making sure you buy the right type of razor and to try out different blades. My husband already uses a shaving brush with natural bristles and a wooden shaving soap dish. The brush makes a thick, rich lather which helps the razor to glide very smoothly. I was a little scared to use my old-fashioned razor at first. I remember my father using one when I was little which was a comforting thought. After a few tries (and some minor nicks) I got the hang of it and I have now used it all summer and even travelled with it abroad. I am really happy to have tackled yet another great non-plastic alternative to an everyday item in our household!
How to choose a safety razor
Kairn natural shaving products – no plastic packaging
Mutiny gift shaving kits
7 safety razors for ladies
I don’t know why I ever thought that the production of toothpaste was something complicated and best left to the professionals. Maybe it’s the fact that I had never used any toothpaste before that was not bought in a shop. Or maybe because there is something vaguely ‘medical’ about using toothpaste. Perhaps I am just scared that I’ll lose my teeth prematurely if I use the wrong stuff. Yet, when it comes to natural cures I am all for home remedies and have total faith in nature.
In any case, since the vast majority of toothpaste on the market is sold in plastic tubes with plastic lids, I started researching the obvious alternative: making my own. There are literally hundreds of recipes and advice on the internet for making tooth powders and tooth paste. After trying a couple of different recipes I now make this wonderfully refreshing toothpaste with bicarbonate of soda, china clay and essential oils such as peppermint, clove and fennel. Both, bicarbonate of soda and clay are ingredients that are used in common toothpastes found in shops. Essential oils add freshness and flavour and have all sorts of benefits for teeth and gums. I make smallish batches at a time which last our family for a few weeks and only take 2 minutes to prepare. This is my absolute favourite recipe for Kaolin Toothpaste which I use most of the time and keep in small cosmetic or Kilner spice jars. It makes about 100ml of toothpaste and keeps for about a month before loosing it’s lovely taste:
- 6 tbsp Kaolin mineral clay (quantity may vary)
- 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda, food grade
- vegetable glycerine, add slowly until desired consistency is reached
- 10-20 drops peppermint essential oil
- 10-20 drops sweet orange essential oil
Try this super-simple Peppermint Toothpaste recipe from “Make your own Cosmetics” by Neil’s Yard. Fennel or lemon essential oils can be used instead of the peppermint if you prefer:
- 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
- 1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerine (cheap from Boots the chemist, in small glass bottles)
- 3 drops of peppermint essential oil (again from Boots or health food shops)
Brushing my teeth with my own healthy and natural toothpaste and bamboo toothbrush makes me very happy in the mornings and reminds me to keep flying the flag for plastic free living throughout the day. Joy!
This was my first foray into the mysterious world of homemade cosmetics and I am so pleased with the result. For a long time I have been using Neal’s Yard Lemon and Coriander Deodorant but I decided to make my own now in order to avoid plastic packaging. Initially I am re-using the pretty blue Neal’s Yard bottle which does have a plastic top and atomiser, while I am looking for a glass and metal container. To my complete delight I found a book of recipes that includes the lemon and coriander deodorant and it didn’t look too difficult. I had to think long and hard about whether I would buy the essential oils needed for this recipe because they tend to come with plastic lids. In the end I decided that I would buy the essential oils because they last so long and can be used to make many other cosmetics and remedies. Also, making my own essential oils is a bit beyond me at the moment.
After getting all the ingredients together I sterilized the utensils and nervously set about making the recipe. It turned out to be so simple and absolutely gorgeous. I have been using it for some weeks now. Husband Pete commented that I smell nice and my co-workers have not moved their desks away from me – so I’ll put that down as a success!
Recipe from Make Your Own Cosmetics by Neal’s Yard Remedies:
90ml (6tbsp) witch hazel
10ml (2tsp) vegetable glycerine
10 drops of lemon essential oil
5 drops each of grapefruit, lime & palmarosa essential oil
2 drops each of clove, coriander & lavender essential oil
Mix the witch hazel and vegetable glycerine first and then add the essential oils. Store in a dark glass bottle, preferably with an atomiser, for up to 6 months. Organic essential oils are a little more expensive but there are cheaper alternatives. Althogether this costs a fraction of the store bought variety.
I adore this video by Brush With Bamboo – a family who converted their typical American suburban home and garden into a lush self-sufficient paradise and started a bamboo toothbrush company. I want to be adopted by this family! Their toothbrushes are entirely vegetable-based unlike the bamboo toothbrushes you typically see on Amazon or in health food shops in the UK which have Nylon bristles.
The thing about toothbrushes is that every single plastic toothbrush that has ever been made is still intact. I don’t even want to do the maths on that. I ordered two types of toothbrushes from the UK seller ecco-verde.co.uk. ‘Ecobamboo’ come with soft or hard Nylon4 bristles that are BPA free. ‘TEA Natura’ brushes are entirely made from bamboo, including the bristles. Both are packaged in plant-based material. Brilliant! You could also go for German engineering with beech wood and natural boar bristles from naturalspasupplies.co.uk which allegedly “make tooth brushing truly pleasant” (hmm…. boar bristles). There are many other types on the market to try. I have used my bamboo toothbrush for many weeks now and I really like it. I don’t know about the eco-credentials of bamboo or Nylon. I believe that Nylon takes between 30 and 40 years to break down and wood and bamboo will of course compost quite naturally.