Why Use Sustainable Travel Toiletries + How to Make the Switch
Finally! It’s time for that vacation you’ve been looking forward to all year. You’ve gone to great lengths to ensure your adventure is as eco-friendly as travel can be. You’ve chosen durable and low-impact luggage like The Pakt One or The Pakt Travel Backpack. Filled it with sustainable clothing and diligently packed all your plastic-free travel essentials to ensure you avoid disposable plastics.
Heck, you’ve even purchased some carbon offsets for your flight! But, have you thought about packing sustainable toiletries? Toiletries can create a lot of unnecessary waste, especially when traveling.
Toiletry bags are often filled with sample sizes and single-use plastic bottles meant to be used for a short time and then tossed in the trash. And when it comes to these daily essentials, it’s not just the bottles we should worry about. It’s what’s inside them. Here’s how to choose sustainable travel toiletries and why they’re a huge part of every eco-friendly packing list.
Why Switch to Sustainable Toiletries?
By now, we all know that there are way too many chemicals and way too much single-use plastic packaging being used across all industries. This is an especially big problem in the personal care industry.
So, why are these products so popular? As you probably already guessed, synthetic and chemical ingredients are cheap and easier to store. Plastic packaging is also cheap and more durable than materials like glass or cardboard.
Unfortunately, despite this knowledge, single-use plastic packaging is just as widely used today as it ever has been. And these plastics are polluting the environment, including our oceans, where they break down into microplastics that harm marine life and enter the food chain.
The problem goes even deeper with the unfathomable amount of chemicals that are used in personal care products. Many of these chemicals are not biodegradable, so they just hang around in the environment, causing additional harm to ecosystems over months and years.
Making the switch to sustainable toiletries for travel is about doing your part to reduce your carbon footprint. And it’s something we’re passionate about here at Pakt. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we’re going to walk you through the entire process!
Why Does Biodegradability Matter?
Biodegradability is one of the first things you should look for when you’re shopping for sustainable toiletries. But what is biodegradation and why does it matter? We’re glad you asked!
Biodegradation is a process by which microorganisms like bacteria and fungi break down materials into their natural elements. This includes water, CO2, and organic material (aka “biomass”).
For something to be considered biodegradable in legal terms, it has to “completely break down and return to nature” within a year after disposal. We commonly see this rule of thumb applied to solid waste products, like bags and packaging.
But it also applies to personal care products that don’t necessarily yield waste we can see. Toiletries are usually deemed biodegradable if bacteria can break them down by 90% into water, CO2, and biomass within six months, without any harmful side effects on the ecosystem.
Rural or Urban, Biodegradability is Equally Important
You probably know that you should choose biodegradable toiletries when you’re camping, but it’s equally important for other types of travel, too. Why? Well, it comes down to bubbles and less sophisticated plumbing and water treatment facilities. Let us explain.
Many soaps, shampoo, and even toothpaste use synthetic detergents and surfactants. We love them for their foamy quality and ability to cut through grease and grime. In fact, most of us equate more bubbles with being cleaner.
However, these synthetic detergents are harmful to the planet, whether they’re used in an urban area or out in the wilderness. That’s because water treatment facilities, especially those in developing countries, don’t have the ability to filter them out.
So, these suds end up seeping into local lakes and rivers, the ocean and even back into the very water we drink. That’s why choosing biodegradability and sustainable toiletries is equally important for both urban and rural travel.
How to Find Sustainable Toiletries
Clearly, biodegradability should be a key consideration when choosing sustainable toiletries for travel, but what else should you be looking for?
Choose Phosphate-Free: Phosphates are non-biodegradable detergents used in multiple industries, from personal care to agriculture. In small amounts, phosphate can be a good thing for plant and aquatic life.
But too much phosphate in the environment stimulates algae growth, which sucks up oxygen in the water and leads to oxygen-deprived dead zones in our lakes and oceans. Avoiding it in the products we purchase is a step in the right direction.
Look at the Ingredients List: Do you know what they all are? If so, it’s pretty safe to say that the product is natural and non-toxic. At a minimum, the product should be paraben-free, phosphate-free, and SLS-free.
Be Wary of Toiletries that Advertise Foaming Action: Although natural ingredients can foam to some extent, most true foaming agents are neither natural nor biodegradable.
Choose Plastic-Free Packaging: We’re a Climate Neutral brand that’s passionate about designing 100% plastic-free packaging for all of our products, so we know it can be done. Purchasing products in plastic-free packaging ensures that you’re doing your part to stop plastic pollution.
Shop B Corp Certified Brands: B Corp Certification is “a designation that a business is meeting the highest stand of verified performance, accountability and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.”
How to Create Your Sustainable Travel Toiletry Kit
When it comes to picking your sustainable travel toiletries, you’ve got good options. Think of your travel toiletry kit as a super-condensed version of your zero-waste bathroom at home.
You don’t have to give up your favorite toiletries when you travel, but skip the minis and invest in a set of reusable aluminum travel bottles. Fill them up from your full-sized bottles at home and reuse them every time you travel.
This not only cuts down on the amount of plastic in your toiletry bag, but it’s cheaper over time, too. That being said, it’s a lot easier to make the switch to sustainable toiletries than you might think. Here are some easy swaps that can make a huge difference.
Shampoo Bars vs. Bottled Shampoo
Most of us go through shampoo pretty quickly, meaning we’re tossing a lot of plastic shampoo bottles every year. Swapping your bottled shampoo for a shampoo bar is the perfect place to start your journey into more sustainable travel toiletries.
Shampoo bars are fantastic for travel because they don’t leak, and they take up very little space. They also last up to three times longer than bottled shampoo! Look for a shampoo bar that is ethically sourced, 100% natural, palm-oil free, and cruelty-free.
If you prefer bottled shampoo, opt for a brand that meets the same criteria and packages its products in refillable, recyclable aluminum bottles.
For those who love to refresh their hair with dry shampoo in an aerosol can, consider going with a powder version instead. It’s easy to apply with a makeup brush and comes in a glass jar or tin. Since it’s powder, it doesn’t count as a liquid in your carry-on, so it’s a space saver too.
Keep in mind that you can replace your face and body wash with bars too. Many brands even make multipurpose bars that can be used on the face, hair, and body. Conditioner and lotion bars are also becoming more widely available and they’re surprisingly luxurious.
Ditch the Plastic in Your Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Have you ever considered how many plastic toothbrushes get sent to landfills every year? Switching to a bamboo toothbrush is an easy swap that can make a big difference. Take it a step further by choosing one that has plant-based,100% biodegradable bristles, too.
While you’re at it, toothpaste doesn’t have to come in a plastic tube either! Those tubes are hard to recycle, so opt for toothpaste tablets or powders that come in glass, metal, or aluminum containers.
Opt for Natural Deodorant
Conventional deodorants contain chemicals and preservatives that are harmful to the environment. Not only that, but we apply those same chemicals to our underarms every day, where they could be absorbed directly into the lymph nodes that are just under the skin.
Opt for a 100% natural deodorant that comes in reusable or recyclable packaging. Sustainable deodorants in bar form are perfect for travel. Powders and creams are also available, depending on your preference.
Let’s Talk Sunscreen
We all know how important sunscreen is for our health. But, if you haven’t already made the switch to reef-safe sunscreen, it should be at the top of your travel packing list. Opt for a sunscreen that’s free of octinoxate and oxybenzone, which have been linked to the bleaching of coral reefs.
Mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide provide excellent protection from the sun, and they’re better for the environment. Look for a product with a short ingredient list that’s natural and biodegradable. Extra points if it comes in an aluminum tube or plant-based packaging.
Go Plastic Free with Your Face Wash
Face wash bars are the easiest and most sustainable way to go plastic-free with your face wash. They come in tons of different formulas to suit every skin type and address just about any skin concern.
But there are other options if bars aren’t your thing. You can opt for an oil cleanser that comes in refillable, zero-waste packaging. Or choose a natural cleansing balm that comes in a reusable tin.
Several brands package liquid face wash in refillable glass or aluminum bottles. Most of them come with reusable pumps, but we recommend going pump free so you can avoid plastic altogether.
Sustainable Toiletry Brands to Try
Wondering where to start your search for sustainable travel toiletries? The following brands are all B Corp certified, so you know they take sustainability seriously.
If you’re looking to go super minimalistic, you can’t go wrong with Dr. Bronner’s soap bars. They can be used for everything from skin and hair to clothing and dishes. Their products are vegan cruelty-free, biodegradable, and packaged in 100% recyclable packaging.
In addition to being B Corp certified, The Body Shop is also Community Fair Trade and Forever Against Animal Testing Certified. Their goal is to become a regenerative company with net-zero emissions. They’re the biggest B Corp certified company with a female founder, which is also pretty cool!
Ethique is a New Zealand-based personal care brand sold online and at Target in the US. They’re famous for their solid haircare and skincare bars. All of their products are vegan, palm-oil-free, cruelty-free, and ethically sourced. The brand is also 100% plastic-free.
Tips for Using Sustainable Travel Toiletries Responsibly
Biodegradable and sustainable travel toiletries are not impact-free. Here are some tips for using your travel products responsibly, especially if you’re traveling in the wild.
- Follow Leave No Trace (LNT) principles whenever you use biodegradable soaps outside official plumbing systems. Most importantly, do NOT wash your dishes, laundry, or self directly in a natural water source..
- Keep in mind that biodegradable soap requires soil to properly break down. If you’re washing in the woods, make sure you are at least 200 feet away from any water source. Then dig a cathole 6” deep and dump your soapy water there, covering it when finished.
- Use sustainable travel toiletries sparingly. Most biodegradable soap (like Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash and Dr. Bronner’s) is super concentrated, so you don’t need much.
There’s no reason to stress yourself out trying to be perfect. If we all start by just doing better, it will make a huge difference. It means you’re taking a small step to reduce your impact on septic systems, drinking water, and natural waterways. It will help keep these places pristine for generations to come, and that’s something we can all get behind!