6 Plastic-Free Alternatives for Shampoo and Conditioner

Last week I wrote about hair washing with bicarb and vinegar, and I promised all the non-believers that I’d follow up with a post about other alternatives to plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Here it is: more ideas to wash your hair without plastic.

1. Bicarb and vinegar.

Okay okay, I know I talked about this last week, but I want to say that it’s worth considering! No, it doesn’t work on everybody’s hair, but it’s honestly worth a try. You won’t smell like fish and chips, promise.

I tend to use rye flour rather than bicarb because the pH is closer to the skin’s pH, but the principle is the same. Here’s the instructions.

Okay, moving on…

2. Shampoo and conditioner from bulk stores.

Not all bulk stores have a non-food section, but many do. Bulk stores with a focus on waste reduction (such as my local store The Source Bulk Foods) usually stock these products, and you can buy bulk shampoo, conditioner and other products in your own containers.

Health stores often stock bulk personal care products too, so if you don’t have a bulk store locally, check out any health stores close by.

3. Bar shampoo and conditioner.

Many people who take part in Plastic Free July make the switch from liquid shampoo to solid shampoo because of the reduction in packaging.

Although I’ve never used them myself, Ethique products are definitely the most popular option with my readers. This New Zealand company packages everything plastic-free.

My husband has used bar shampoo from Beauty and the Bees. They are an Australian company based in Tasmania but also with a US online store. I’m not sure if all their products contain honey (and if they do they won’t be suitable for vegans), but the one my husband used was beer and honey.

If you’re vegan, Flora and Fauna offer a range of cruelty-free shampoo soap bars.

Lush Cosmetics is another option, with stores across the world (including Australia, USA and UK). There’s also heaps of micro businesses at local markets (I’ve seen several here in Perth) and online via Etsy. Whilst I can’t recommend anything in particular (I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar, remember?!), I do love supporting local and independent businesses, and encouraging others to do so too.

4. Shampoo and conditioner in refillable bottles.

I don’t recommend purchasing shampoo and conditioner in glass (or other non-plastic containers) as a zero waste option unless they are going to be refilled. Recycling is such an energy intensive process, and there are so many other alternatives, that I truly see it as a last resort.

Rather than recycling the bottles, some companies will allow you to return your bottles for cleaning and refilling. This means you buy a product from them, and can return your empty when purchasing a new one. You don’t actually refill the container yourself, the company takes it away, cleans it, and refills on the production line.

Whilst these companies are not easy to find, they do exist. Plaine Products in the US is one example: they allow customers to return bottles for refill and reuse. I’m sure there are others – and if you know of any, please share in the comments! I also think this is something we will begin to will see more and more of.

(This isn’t to be confused with companies collecting containers back for recycling – such as Lush’s black pot recycling scheme. Recycling takes far more energy than simply washing and reusing.)

If you buy from someone who makes their own, ask if they can refill your containers. Before switching to bicarb and vinegar I purchased shampoo from a small business called Earth Products in refillable, returnable bottles that I provided. The owner didn’t sell refills as such, but was happy to refill my bottles when she made a new batch. I simply had to drop my bottles off in advance.

5. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are often touted as a a laundry detergent alternative, but recently I met a lady on a course I was running who washed her hair with soap nuts. Soap nut shampoo? I was intrigued.

Soap nuts are dried brown wooden berries, slightly sticky, that have a saponin content. I’m always keen to try new things, so I gave them a go. I followed Monique’s instructions.

Place 9-10 soap nuts in a jug and pour over 500ml of boiling water. Allow to sit overnight. Remove the soapnuts from the liquid (they can be reused several times) and store the liquid in the fridge until ready to use.

I filled 1/4 measuring cup with the liquid and used in place of shampoo. It doesn’t foam like shampoo. I finished with vinegar rinse like usual. My hair felt soft and clean. I’m at day 3 now, and my hair could do with another wash, so it doesn’t last as long as bicarb vinegar, but definitely works better than plain water (for me).

6. Shampoo and conditioner in glass.

As I mentioned above, from a zero waste perspective I recommend the other alternatives over choosing glass unless it’s going to be refilled. Of all the options, it’s the more wasteful one. There’s a huge carbon footprint associated with transporting glass, not to mention that shampoo is 70-80% water. Then the glass has to be collected and recycled.

However, we’re not talking about zero waste, we are talking about plastic-free. I definitely purchased non-refillable products in glass at the beginning of my plastic-free journey, and sometimes these choices are important stepping stones to better ones down the track. If you’re not ready for bicarb or bar shampoo and don’t have access to bulk stores, this might be a good step.

If you do decide to look for products packaged in glass, try to find products made locally first. They will have a lower footprint. Try crafts markets and farmers markets, or investigate health stores to see if they stock locally made products.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have an eco friendly solution for washing your hair? Any other method you’d recommend? Any experiences with any of these that you’d like to share? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

(Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and businesses whose commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free solutions I believe in wholeheartedly.)

How I Wash My Hair with Bicarb and Vinegar

Most people are a more than a little intrigued when I tell them I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar. (The ones that aren’t? They either say, me too. Or they raise their eyebrows in slight alarm!)

Then of course, everyone wants to know the specifics. How does it work? How is it applied? How often do I need to wash my hair? All great questions. If this has been puzzling you, today I’m going to share some answers.

If you’re really not up for trying it yourself, I’ve also shared a post on alternative plastic-free hair shampooing options. But before you head over there, why not read this anyway – you might be pleasantly surprised!

Washing My Hair With Bicarb and Vinegar

I’ve been washing my hair with bicarb (sodium bicarbonate, also called bicarbonate of soda or bicarb soda) and vinegar since 1st June 2014. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, along with my reasons why (aside from avoiding the plastic bottles). Three years later, I’m still using it, although I often use rye flour as an alternative to bicarb (I’ll talk about this later).

Here’s a picture from the first washes back in 2014…

…and here’s one from this week.

I’m definitely a convert.

So how does it work?

How much of each (bicarb and vinegar) do you use?

I have slightly-shorter-than-shoulder-length hair, and I use between a teaspoon and a dessert spoon of bicarb per wash. This is my shampoo replacement. I use 1/8th cup of white vinegar, diluted to a cup with warm water, as my conditioner replacement.

How do you apply bicarb and vinegar to your hair?

I mix the bicarb with a small amount of water to make a watery slurry (bicarb is water soluble). I apply to my hair, rub in (you wont be able to feel it like you can regular shampoo) and then rinse off with warm water.

I pour the vinegar/water mix over my head slowly, rub in, and then rinse off as I would regular conditioner.

I towel dry my hair as normal.

What containers do you use to store them?

I don’t keep them in the shower. I keep a jar of bicarb under the sink, and a bottle of white vinegar under the sink too. After trying various bowls and cups, I now use my stainless steel measuring cups in the shower. I was never particularly worried about breakages, but it could happen. I also find it easier to pour from the measuring cups than a regular cup or bowl.

A friend of mine tried bicarb and vinegar hair-washing, and kept the diluted vinegar ready in a bottle in the shower. I don’t do this because I learned the hard way that vinegar + hot water is a much more pleasant experience than vinegar + cold water. I would only do this if I lived somewhere so hot I wanted a cold shower.

Aren’t you meant to use apple cider vinegar?

I use regular white vinegar. I know that apple cider vinegar is commonly cited as the vinegar to use, and I’ve tried it, but I prefer white vinegar. I find apple cider vinegar leaves my hair duller. Apple cider vinegar is slightly less acidic than white vinegar, but I’m diluting 1:8 times with water, and rinsing off after a minute or less.

Don’t you smell of vinegar?

Actually, no. If you’re worried about smell, white vinegar dissipates almost instantly upon rinsing. Apple cider vinegar will take a little longer. The first time I ever tried this I was paranoid that I smelled like fish and chips, but I think it was just that my hair is much closer to my nose than anyone else’s.

If you’re really worried about smell, or miss the fragrance of traditional shampoo, you can add a 1-2 drops essential oil to the vinegar before applying.

How often do you wash your hair?

I wash my hair every 3-5 days. Not so much because my hair gets greasy, but because the curls start to look straggly. If it’s only been 3 days, I might omit the bicarb step and just do the vinegar rinse.

Will my hair fall out?

There was an article going around the internet, stating that using bicarb and vinegar to wash your hair will make it fall out. I’ve written my thoughts on that here. There’s no reason why using bicarb or vinegar to wash hair would cause hair loss.

After 3+ years, I still have a full head of hair.

You mentioned rye flour. How does that work?

Instead of using bicarb, I’ve also used rye flour to wash my hair. Bicarb is a salt, and is mined from the ground. Rye flour is ground from rye, a plant. Sustainable speaking, rye is probably the more eco-friendly option. It also leaves my hair much shinier than bicarb. Plus, as it’s not water soluble, it mixes with water to form a paste which is much easier to apply to your hair.

On the down side, if you aren’t careful you can end up with huge flakes of rye flour that look like brown dandruff. Believe me, discovering chunks of flour falling out of your hair as you ruffle it is quite alarming.

To reduce this, you can sieve the flour before you use it (a tea strainer will likely have the finest mesh). Also, post washing, be sure to towel dry your hair really well. And never ever apply to dry hair, or you will end up with a flour crust on your scalp!

Anything else?

If you’re switching from regular shampoo, your hair will take some time to adjust. Regular shampoo tends to strip oil from the scalp, so the skin compensates by making more oil. Some people find when they first use this that they have oily hair for a few days, or even a few weeks. Push through!

Ultimately though, this isn’t for everybody. It works particularly well on people with curly hair. If you’ve tried for a few months and you still don’t like it, maybe it’s not for you. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other options.

If you haven’t tried it, I definitely recommend you give it a go! There’s something very satisfying about personal care products that come from the pantry and with single ingredients.

Can I tempt you?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried the bicarb and vinegar method? Do you love it? Did you hate it? Are you tempted to give it a go? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Buy Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese without Plastic

When it comes to dietary staples, some things are very easy to find without plastic or single-use packaging, and others, not so much. Fresh fruit and vegetables? Easy. Fresh bread? Ditto. Milk, cheese and yoghurt? Not so much.

One of the most common questions I receive during Plastic Free July is “where do I find milk (or cheese, or yoghurt) without plastic?” I faced this struggle at the beginning of my own plastic-free journey back in 2012.

(Today I choose a plant-based diet, as do many zero wasters. That, however, is a conversation for another day. Not everybody is ready – or interested – to cut out dairy products from their diet, and I respect that. I have no interest in trying to persuade anyone otherwise. The question is – can these products be sourced without plastic? And the answer is yes.)

If you’re looking to find milk, cheese or yoghurt without plastic, here are my solutions.

Buying Milk Without Plastic

You’re unlikely to find milk in bulk or milk in glass at the supermarket. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t available in your area.

The first places to look would be independent grocery stores, farm shops and health food shops. If you don’t see anything, ask the question – they may not stock any themselves but they may know where does stock it. Alternatively, they may know which brands are plastic-free – and if you know who makes it, it will be far easier to track it down.

In Perth, there are four different brands which sell milk in glass: Sunnydale, Grumpy Farmer, Over the Moon Organics and Bannister Downs. They can be found at IGA stores and independent grocers like the Boatshed and Farmer Jacks. No one store sells all four brands, so you have to do your homework and check out all the stores.

Secondly, try Farmers Markets and farm gates. Some farmers sell milk directly to customers and use a refill system, dispensing with single use bottles altogether. This is fairly common in New Zealand.

Thirdly, you could look for hobby farmers and people who keep their own milking animals. I live in a city, and I have friends (who live in the city also) who keep goats, and other friends who keep a milking cow. I know that might be a step too far for many, but if you really want a solution, don’t rule this option out. These things are more discoverable by word of mouth, but social media is a good place to start.

Something I did was supplement my dairy milk with nut milk. I realised that it was much easier to find cashews or almonds in bulk than it was to find dairy milk in glass, so I began to use nut milk with cereal and in baking. Making your own nut milk is really simple, and you can find instructions for making DIY cashew milk and almond milk here.

Buying Yoghurt without Plastic

If you can find milk in glass, there’s every chance that you will also be able to find yoghurt and cream in glass too. I have seen yoghurt for sale in glass and also in ceramic pots in supermarkets. However, I’d recommend looking in independent grocers, health food stores and farm shops for more options.

If you can’t find it, you might like to know that yoghurt is actually very easy to make yourself. All you need is milk and a yoghurt starter culture (which actually is just a tablespoon of live yoghurt). A thermometer is useful, but it’s possible to manage without. You definitely do NOT need any fancy gadgetry, such as a yoghurt maker. A glass jar wrapped in a tea towel will be fine. Here’s my DIY tutorial for how to make your own yoghurt. Homemade yoghurt will typically last 3-4 weeks in the fridge.

If you can’t find yoghurt in glass, consider buying the biggest tub rather than the individual pots and portioning it up yourself. That will create less waste overall. If you like flavoured yoghurt, you can make it yourself by blending a little sugar and fruit with plain yoghurt.

Buying Cheese without Plastic

Cheese is the easiest of the three dairy products to find without plastic. Most supermarkets will have a deli section, but if not, look for local independent stores, farmers markets, specialist cheese shops and other grocers.

Some  deli counters will have paper to wrap cheese, so you can ask for no plastic. Many will let you bring your own containers.

Some types of cheese are sold in brine (mozarella, feta) or by weight without packaging (ricotta, cream cheese). These are the easiest types of cheese to buy without packaging, simply by bringing your own containers. Smile, act confident and tell the person behind the counter than you’d like to use your own containers as you are avoiding single-use plastic.

Often, your success hinges on the way you do it. Acting like you do it all the time boosts the confidence of the person behind the counter to accept your request. Also, stating what you’d like to do rather than asking adds another degree of conviction. “I’d like to” is much more convincing than “is it okay to..?” If they say no, act surprised, but if they are truly insistent, don’t push. Almost everyone will say that’s fine.

It’s worth mentioning why (no single-use plastic) because staff won’t necessarily realise why, and will wrap your lovely container in gladwrap for “protection” – or pop it in a bag!

Many types of cheese are bought in large wheels or blocks, and will be pre-cut and wrapped by the store to save time. If you can only see pre-wrapped cheese behind the counter, ask whether you can have a piece cut fresh from the block, or whether you can leave your containers there for when the next batch is cut.

Some pre-packaged cheese can be found wrapped in wax rather than plastic. Most of these waxes are made from paraffin (which is sourced from petroleum). Studies have shown that paraffin wax can be broken down in the presence of Rhodococcus sp so if you do buy these cheeses, try composting the wax.

If you’re still having no luck, consider buying the biggest block of packaged cheese you can find (it will mean less packaging overall). Cheese freezes really well, so you can, freeze what you don’t need straightaway.

Bagged grated cheese is all packaging and very little product, so avoid these products and grate your own from the block when you get home. (A food processor with a grater attachment is very useful if you use a lot of cheese. If you’re less fussy, whizzing it through the food processor will also work.) The same is true for cheese slices – it will take less than 30 seconds to slice a block and save lots of packaging, as well as money.

Something else to consider is making your own. Ricotta, mozzarella and halloumi are all incredibly simple to make using milk, and your cheese will be ready in 1 – 3 hours. Labne, a soft cheese made from yoghurt, is also super easy to make. If you’re not confident to make your own, look into cheese workshops in your area.

Still Stuck?

If you feel like you’ve exhausted all these options and you still don’t have a solution, don’t stress. Look at choosing products with the least amount of packaging overall, and ensure that whatever packaging you do choose is recyclable in your local area.

Remember, there are so many ways to reduce our waste in all areas of our life. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are just three things that we consume. There are plenty of other things to work on!

Don’t let not finding these items without plastic be a reason to give up altogether. Much better to focus on the 97 other things that we can change than stress about the 3 that we can’t.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is this something you struggle with, or not? What solutions have you found? Have you had a go at DIY and how have you found it? Do you have any DIY tips to share? Anything else to add? Tell all in the comments below!

Why You Can’t Fail at Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July started last Saturday, and enthusiasm for the challenge is everywhere! Yet a week or so into the challenge, we all start to see the cracks. We leave our reusables at home. We can’t find an alternative for that thing we really need. We forget to refuse a plastic straw. We return home triumphantly with cardboard packaged items, only to discover that the cardboard outer contains a sneaky plastic inner.

These things happen, and we think we’ve failed.

Even worse, we think we’ve failed…and we think there’s no point continuing.

Well I’m here to tell you, that isn’t true! There’s no such thing as “failing” with Plastic Free July. There’s every reason to keep going.

Here’s why you can’t fail at Plastic Free July.

1. Plastic Free July is about creating awareness.

If you’re anything like me, before you first realised that plastic is everywhere you probably didn’t notice it much at all. Plastic Free July was my wake-up call.

I’d never actually looked around me to see what plastic I was using, where it was going, or what all the litter I’d see in the streets or on the beaches was actually made of.

Plastic Free July is about changing habits. The first step in changing habits is realising that there’s a problem, and realising that there’s a better way. Plastic Free July does both of those things. It creates awareness, and that leads to changing habits.

Nobody can fail at “being more aware”. We might not be able to act on this awareness straightaway, but awareness is the first step to making change.

By being more aware, we’re starting the journey.

2. Plastic Free July is about changing habits – and changing habits takes time.

After creating awareness comes changing habits.

If you were going to learn the guitar, would you expect to master it after picking it up once? No. If you’re planning to lose weight, do you expect to have reached your target after eating one salad? No.

Plastic free July is no different!

A few weeks ago, our lack of success wouldn’t have even been on our radar. We might not have have thought twice about the plastic straw, or the plastic bag, or the plastic packaging. The fact that we are now means that we’re making progress.

Yes, change can feel uncomfortable and that is part of progress, too.

All these things will help us do better and make better choices next time!

3. Plastic Free July is not about all-or-nothing.

Plastic Free July is about attempting to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July. ‘Attempting’ is the important bit! How can we fail at attempting, unless we give up?

There’s no “must”, it is simply about trying new things, exploring alternatives and changing habits.

Can’t find milk in glass? Or you can’t think of a practical way to pick up dog poo without plastic? Or the local council insists that we put our landfill waste in a plastic bag in the bin?  Each of these are just one obstacle, but there are plenty of other places where we consume plastic that are very easy to make a switch.

Don’t focus on the stuff you can’t change. Pick some of the other things that you can change, instead.

4. Plastic Free July is a journey, not a destination.

There are no awards at the end of Plastic Free July for who got there fastest. Of course, the less plastic we use, the better for the planet (especially single-use plastic). But change takes time, and honestly, if you’re completely new to plastic-free living and reducing waste, it takes longer than 31 days.

If you’re completely new to plastic-free living, you’ll likely have a lot of ingrained habits to rethink, and a lot of changes to make.

When I went plastic-free back in 2012, I honestly think it took me 18 months to reduce all my plastic. Some things I didn’t even need to tackle for the first year. For example, I had so many plastic-packaged products in my bathroom that it took me about 18 months to use them all up.

Time isn’t important. What was important for me was the journey –  all the things I learned, the missteps, the trials and errors and changes that I adopted to where I am now.

I have no doubts that some people can (and will) get there faster. Others will take much longer. Plastic Free July is about starting the journey (and hopefully continuing it) – not finishing it in 31 days.

5. There’s no such thing as failing.

What is failing, anyway? I looked it up, and I found this definition. “Failure is the neglect or omission of expected or required action.” What does that mean? It means giving up!

If you neglect to try, then you fail. Keep on trying and there is no way to fail.

Which means the only way to fail is to give up, and go back to your old ways.

That is not the same as not being able to do everything. It is not the same as deciding that some things are too hard, for now. It is not the same as slipping up, or forgetting.

Failing is not the same as having expectations of ourselves which come up slightly short against reality.

Success is never a straight line!

Plastic Free July is a challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge! On the flipside, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if there wasn’t a little bit of difficulty. It wouldn’t feel like such an achievement if it wasn’t without trial.

So yes, Plastic Free July is a challenge, but oh so worth it. Success always tastes a little bit sweeter when we’ve had to work for it.

If you think you’ve failed at Plastic Free July, take it from me, you haven’t. We’re only a few days in! There’s plenty more time to look for alternatives, build on our experiences, refuse unnecessary plastic and do better.

No “get out of jail cards” or permission slips to give up from me! We’re all here to support each other, help with conundrums, and cheer along from the sidelines.

Believe me, you got this!

Okay, confession time – who here has been feeling like they’ve failed? Is there anything particular you’re struggling with? Please share and we may be able to help! On the other hand, who feels like they are “winning”?! What tips do you have to share? Any advice from seasoned veterans doing Plastic July for the second, third (or fourth or fifth) time? What would you say to newbies? Any other thought to add? Please share below!