Zero waste shampoo (or conditioner)

Zero waste shampoo doesn’t mean that there is no waste at all, but any waste is minimal and can be recycled. Zero waste shampoo tends to come in two forms – a bar that can be wrapped in paper or a bottle made from recycled plastic that is refillable. 

Zero waste shampoo 101

There is more to zero waste shampoo than the packaging, but plastic packaging is big news. An estimated 140 billion units of packaging are produced by the beauty & toiletry industry each year (Inside Packaging). And lots of those products are not even used, left on the shelf or binned as unsuitable within weeks. 

That waste goes to landfill as many of the bottles are not recyclable. Only 9% of plastic waste gets recycled. Around 12% is incinerated. An estimated 79% of the 6,300 million metric tons of plastic waste that has been produced so far goes to landfill or ends up in the natural environment (Science). Microbeads of plastic travel down our drains, through our waterways and out to sea. 

All good reasons to buy zero waste shampoo. Especially if you are environmentally conscious.

There are other issues with shampoo production, including:

  • Toxic chemicals
  • Animal testing
  • Unsustainable ingredients
  • Harmful to the environment
  • Fair trade and corporate social responsibility

What to look for in a zero waste shampoo

Here are a few ideas for what to look for in your zero waste shampoo. Natural ingredients are not only kind to your hair but they can also be kind to the planet at the same time. Sustainably sourced ingredients include fairly traded shea butter, aloe vera, etc. 

If you buy your shampoo from a B-corp, you have a good idea that the company you are dealing with meets a certain standard. B corporations make a legal commitment to be accountable, transparent and have to demonstrate social and environmental performance (B Corporation). 

Look for the Leaping Bunny logo from Cruelty Free International. It is one of the best recognised certifications for products that have not been tested on animals. You can rest assured, as they require ongoing monitoring of suppliers and manufacturers to continue using the logo. 

Look for the Beauty without Bunnies logo from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Certification is available in two types; animal test-free is for companies that verify that they, and their suppliers, do not and will not in the future test on animals and animal test-free and vegan for companies that don’t test on animals and use no animal-derived ingredients. 

What to avoid in zero waste shampoos

The obvious thing to avoid in zero waste shampoos is excess or unsustainable packaging. Making plastic shampoo bottles that cannot be recycled is bad for the environment. There are alternatives. Shampoo packaging is available in a wide variety of sustainable materials like glass and paper. 

Shampoos can be supplied in refillable plastic bottles and some manufacturers and retailers will recycle packaging. Alternatively, shampoo can be bought in large bulk containers and decanted into refillable bottles. This is better than smaller individual bottles that end up in waste. 

Solid shampoo bars don’t need plastic packaging at all. They can be wrapped in paper which is compostable and completely biodegradable, so that nothing is left once the shampoo has been used. This is one of the reasons for the rise in demand for shampoo bars. 

Avoid unsustainable ingredients. Natural ingredients aren’t always good for the environment. Some natural ingredients are harmful to the environment because they are grown commercially and that requires clearing native forests for them. Examples of this are palm oil. Manufacturers use palm oil in 70% of cosmetic products (Inside Packaging). 

Palm oil has gained a bad reputation with wildlife conservationists. Originally grown natively in Africa, 85% of it is now produced in Malaysia and Indonesia (WWF). Deforestation to allow for the farming of oil palm trees has led to loss of habitat for endangered species like the orangutan. The loss of indigenous forests also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Avoid ingredients that are toxic, either for people or to the environment once released into it. An example of this is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). SLS is a surfactant. Put simply, surfactants help mix oils into water by decreasing the surface tension of the water and then keep the mix stable. The lather in shampoos is caused by surfactants. 

The trouble with sodium lauryl sulfate is that it can  irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. It can also be harmful to aquatic life if it enters the environment (WHO/ILO – pdf).

Where to buy zero waste shampoo

You can buy zero waste shampoo online or in your local zero waste store. Zero waste stores are becoming more common. In the UK there are over a hundred and more are opening every day. In the USA they are not as common, so you might not find one that is close enough to you to make it worthwhile. 

Zero waste or packaging free or refill shops allow you to refill your own containers with grocery store products. They also stock zero waste brands that are packaged in biodegradable or refillable packaging. If you are lucky enough to live near a zero waste store, you can buy almost everything that you can in a standard grocery store, from peanut butter in dispensers to frozen berries. Shopping locally will have a lower carbon footprint than shopping online. Perfect for fans of green living.

Zero waste shampoo brands sell through the major online outlets like Amazon, eBay and retail chains like Target in the US or Boots in the UK. 

Zero waste shampoo brands

Plaine Products in the US provide carbon neutral shipping of products. Once you have used the shampoo simply rinse out the bottle and return it with the return label. 

Lush was founded on the basis of anti-animal cruelty and now sells vegetarian and cruelty free shampoo bars from stores across the world. 

If it is shampoo bars that you prefer, Ethique is available from Amazon or online in Mintasy, Tip to Toe, Heali Kiwi, Frizz Wrangler, Pinkalicious and Bar Minimum.

Kind2 are a UK brand who have their own online store. They make a hydrating one, sensitive one, restoring one, fragrance free, mint and citrus versions.

Zero Bar is available in a variety of oils, moringa, jojoba, argan, and desert melon as well as the charcoal version shown here.

Rhyme & Reason sell vegan and cruelty free shampoos made from natural ingredients in 100% recycled bottles. Order Quench & Curl, Volume & Boost, Repair & Restore, Colour Protect, and Nourish & Gloss. We love that they clearly outline their ingredients.

Going zero waste for your shampoo and conditioner no longer need be inconvenient or nasty. They are available from stores near you or for purchase online. 

Look at the ingredients list for the products and choose natural, sustainable ingredients. Make sure that products have not been tested on animals by looking for certifications. Choose vegan, if that is your preference. 

Choose a good brand with sustainability credentials and a strong environmental & social governance ethos. Look for fair trade and eco-friendly products. 

Most importantly, the best zero waste shampoo products will be packaged in sustainable, compostable or recyclable materials with clear information about how to return, recycle or reuse the packaging.