What To Do With Bathroom Plastics

By Virginia Sole-Smith, Planet Green

I decided that Step One of my Plastic Detox Program would be to find out what I have. It’s both worse and a bit better than I thought.

The bad news: Virtually every product in my bathroom (save the hand soap and one moisturizer in glass bottles — and even they come with plastic tops, but let’s not split hairs, okay?) is in a plastic bottle or tube. And I have a LOT of products.

The good news: A lot of these plastic containers are made from the safer types of plastic.

(Not sure what type of plastic you’re dealing with? Flip the item over and check the number in the little recycling symbol on the bottom. Then read on.)

Here’s the breakdown in my bathroom:

#1 Plastic
What Is It? PETE. Polyethylene terephthalate ethylene, used for soft drink, juice, water, detergent, cleaner and peanut butter containers
What’s Wrong With It? #1 plastics are designed to be disposable, meaning they create more waste. If you try to reuse them, they can break down on you. The good news is, they are usually recyclable.
Where Is It? Facewash, eye makeup remover, and body scrub.
Goal: Recycle these when they’re used up and look for reusable containers when I replace them.

#2 Plastic
What Is It? HDPE: High density polyethylene, used in opaque plastic milk and water jugs, bleach, detergent and shampoo bottles, and some plastic bags.
What’s Wrong With it? Not so much in terms of health — this is one of the “safe” plastics (along with #1, #4 and #5). But it’s still made from petroleum products and ends up in landfills, so like all plastic, is not ideal from an environmental standpoint.
Where Is It? Facewash (yes I use two different kinds), shower gel, shampoo, several kinds of hair gel and hairspray.
Goal: Look for more sustainable options as I use up these items (can I find them sold in glass containers? Can I make them myself?) and try to pare down the number of products I’m using to reduce waste. But if I do buy a plastic bathroom item, it should be #1, 2, 4, or 5.

Next: #3, 5 and 7 plastics

#3 Plastic
What Is It? PVC or V: Polyvinyl chloride, used for cling wrap, plastic squeeze bottles, cooking oil and peanut butter containers, and detergent and window cleaner bottles.
What’s Wrong With It? Just about everything. So much, in fact, that I’m referring you to IATP‘s Smart Plastics Guide:

PVC—THE POISON PLASTIC: Polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl or PVC, poses risks to the environment and human health. PVC is the least recyclable plastic.
• Vinyl chloride workers face an elevated risk of liver cancer.
• Vinyl chloride manufacturing creates air and water pollution near the factories, often located in low-income neighborhoods.
• PVC needs additives and stabilizers to make it usable. Lead is often added for strength, while plasticizers are added for flexibility. These toxic additives contribute to further pollution and human exposure.
• Dioxin in air emissions from PVC manufacturing and disposal, or from incineration of PVC products, settles on grasslands and accumulates in meat and dairy products, and ultimately, in human tissue.
• Dioxin is a known carcinogen. Low-level exposures are associated with decreased birth weight, learning and behavioral problems in children, suppressed immune function and hormone disruption.

Where Is It? A bottle of toner and a clay face mask, which comes in a tube.
Goal: Follow Annie Leonard’s advice to pack these up and mail them back to the manufacturer with a letter explaining why I want them to stop selling, making, and advocating for this junk.

#5 Plastic
What Is It? PP: Polypropylene, used in most Rubbermaid, deli soup, syrup and yogurt containers, straws and other clouded plastic containers, including baby bottles.
What’s Wrong With It? Like #2, this type of plastic seems to be okay from a health perspective (though, as with all plastic, I’d be leery of microwaving it in case chemicals leach out during the heating process). But this thicker type of plastic is usually not recyclable and will take centuries to break down in a landfill.
Where Is It? Two big tubs of moisturizer and body lotion, a stick of deodorant, a tub of conditioner and a tub of face mask.
Goal: Figure out ways to reuse these containers when they’re empty, since I can’t recycle them. If I can punch a few holes in the bottom, they’re all about the right size for re-potting seedlings.

#7 Plastic
What Is It? This is a catch-all category for plastics that don’t fit into the #1-6 categories. It includes polycarbonate (usually, but not always, labeled #7-PC), bio-based plastics, co-polyester, acrylic, polyamide and plastic mixtures like styrene-acrylo-nitrile resin (SAN). Number 7 plastics are used for a variety of products like baby bottles and “sippy” cups, baby food jars, 5-gallon water bottles, “sport” water bottles, plastic dinnerware and clear plastic cutlery.
What’s Wrong With It? For one thing, it’s hard to know what type of plastic you’re even dealing with, since so many fall under the Number 7 Umbrella. For another, the list includes polycarbonate, which is the type of plastic found to leach Bisphenol-A, a known endocrine disruptor.
Where Is It? A tube of sunscreen, a tube of self-tanner, an exfoliating scrub, some acne medicine, and a pump container of an SPF face cream.
Goal: I’m really not into BPA in my body lotion, or unknown mystery plastics — though it’s worth noting that a lot of “compostable” and bio-based plastics get this number, too — so I’m going to avoid these in the future unless the manufacturer makes the type of plastic very clear. Not sure what to do with the containers I’ve got, though — tubes don’t lend themselves well to reuse or recycling. Which is another good reason to avoid them in the future!

So, what kinds of plastic are in your bathroom cabinet? Have you found any great non-plastic personal care products or DIY versions? While I don’t want to waste perfectly good (and nearly full) facewash, acne medicine, masks or scrubs, I am almost out of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, deodorant, and moisturizer, so I’ll be hunting up non-plastic replacements for these guys over the weekend. If you have a favorite source to share, do tell!

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Jo S.
Jo S2 years ago

Thank you Samantha.

Jo Recovering
Jo S2 years ago

Thank you.

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin4 years ago

thanks for sharing

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Samantha, for Sharing this!

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

Very useful, thank you for sharing.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

thanks but confusing!

maria t.
maria t5 years ago

Terracycle has a program for all personal care items to be repurposed, even hairspray cans.

Nimue Pendragon

Every bathroom product I buy comes in recyclable plastic, so I recycle them every other week (we put out our recycle bins every fortnight)

Kimberlee W.
Kimberlee W5 years ago

I've found that if I buy my products in their largest state, that I can just keep refilling the smaller containers I keep in my shower.

A gallon of conditioner and one of shampoo lasts my husband and I over a year and I've been re-using the same containers now for about 15 years.

That, and I've discovered that, not just me, but most folks use Far more product than they need to get the job done. Just by cutting that back, I can make my facewash last over 6 months. I don't need the 3 squirts I've always used out of habit; I can get by with one.

Deborah D.
Deborah D5 years ago

If you want to 'meet' a person who has made it her mission to make her own cleaning, personal care and edible equivalents to Big Pharm, Cosmetic and Food products I recommend that you visit The Cancer Assassin.

She has a Facebook presence and a blog by that name.
She is in remission (recovery) from a very advanced bile duct cancer, her blog began shortly after her diagnosis.