Inspire, Don’t Require

Because virtually all of the zero-waste books I’ve read are written by people who have no kids, with a handful by people who have one or two kids. When I started getting serious about reducing our family’s waste, things were a little more complicated than that. I had to take into account one very busy husband and three kids who have a lot of schoolwork each day. Not to mention that two of my kids are not fans of change (one of my girls complained we had changed a room too much when we repainted a beige room off-white). Thankfully my husband has been pretty easy to get on board, and since the two of us make the shopping decisions, we can decide what gets brought into the house. But everything isn’t so easy. When we switched from paper towels to cloth rags, not all of my kids were on board, and it took them a while to get used to it. Thankfully, I ran across a great piece of advice in a zero-waste forum: “Inspire, don’t require.”

What does that look like? Well, when I said I wanted our family to drop paper towels in favor of cloth, I didn’t outlaw paper towels. I made sure there were plenty of dish rags that were easy to grab. If one of the kids spilled something, I would gently remind them we had cloths to clean up with. When I was cleaning up while the kids were around, I would say things like, “I’m so glad I don’t have to waste paper towels every time I wipe down these counters.” We still had paper towels, but I moved the roll to increasingly inconvenient places every time I found them out on the counter. (Right now, if you want to use our paper towels, you’ll need a stepstool and a long reach. They are on top of the refrigerator, behind the containers of oats and bags of cereal.)

The process has gone pretty smoothly, but I started to worry when I wanted to cut single-use items and plastic containers from the bathrooms. That’s getting a little bit personal! My first step was an easy one; instead of buying individual bottles of liquid soap in the bathroom, we switched to buying large bottles of soap to refill the bottles we already have. While we’re still buying plastic, the ratio of product to packaging is much lower with bulk buying. We make sure to check the bottle’s bottom to make sure it is either type 1 or type 2 plastic, which can be recycled in our area before we buy it.

My first step was selecting a few shampoo bars. I read a lot of reviews and settled on these because they were highly rated but not so expensive. To start with, I didn’t remove the liquid shampoo bottles. I just put a shampoo bar in the shower and pointed out to the whole family that they were there and that I wanted them to try them and tell me how they worked. Happily, there were no complaints. If I had simply removed the shampoo bars and told everyone there was no option, the chances of them pushing back on the idea would be much higher.

After not too long, I realized that the bar got a little mushy around the edges from being in the shower, so I bought this little caddy (plastic, I know, but I was worried about rust stains from a metal item). The caddy works great for mostly keeping the bar dry; try standing it on one end so water can drain out. The early reviews were good and the first three bars I bought lasted about five months, so the switch was more or less invisible to my budget.

The first bars we tried worked particularly well for my husband and son, as well as my older daughter, who has wavy hair cut to chin length. It’s as simple as using a bar of soap. I started by lathering the bar in my hands but found I got more control of how much I needed if I wiped the bar on my head and used my other hand to feel how much shampoo was being applied. (There can be a lot of waste with liquid shampoo, so avoiding that is an extra plus.) With my girls, I made it a point to compliment their hair, which definitely looked better than it had with the shampoo they were using previously.

For my middle daughter and I, who have stick-straight, and baby-fine hair, I noticed these bars weighted our hair down, leaving us looking like we needed a shower much sooner than we would after washing with liquid shampoo. There are a lot of recommendations to use a rinse of one part apple cider vinegar to two parts water a few times a week to avoid buildup. I’ve tried, but I don’t care for the smell, and it makes for another container in an already crowded shower.

HiBar shampoo and conditioner bars. (Image courtesy of HiBar.

I looked around quite a bit and settled on shampoo and conditioner bars from HiBar. We’re using the Moisture and Grow formulas and are so happy with how they work. I can tend toward having oily scalp, but that hasn’t been an issue since we switched back in February. My younger daughter’s hair looks incredible. It doesn’t get weighted down even though it’s very long and overdue for a haircut by several months. I also notice that the Moisture formula really brings out her highlights.

I particularly love their shape. The slanted top makes applying the shampoo easier than the square bar. I also appreciate the fact that they don’t get slimy in water. Yes, they leave a little bit of residue, but not much. And I feel good about supporting a small and fairly local (for the United States) company.

There are a lot of shampoo bars out there, so look around! I am currently trying out a tester kit of Ethique’s shampoo bars, with one daughter using their anti-frizz formula and the other daughter using one for oily hair. Search around on Amazon, or, if you’re trying to avoid that retail behemoth, look at Etsy. You’ll find every kind of shampoo bar you can imagine. [Update: We also purchased the Ethique shampoo bars in Frizz Wrangler and St. Clements, for frizzy and oily hair, respectively.]

Two weeks ago, the bottle of shampoo that has been in the shower since we started using bars finally ran out. I simply put it in the recycling and didn’t replace it. No one has asked about it, and everyone’s hair still looks great!

Ethique tester bars.

There has been an added bonus. I had never noticed how “shouty” all the products in the shower were. So many packages that double as advertising, yelling, “Buy me.” We’re now down to just a bottle of lotion and a bottle of face wash in the shower, and it’s a bit like being in a spa, calm and relaxing rather than a shelf full of products doubling as advertisements for themselves. I love it so much that I’m already looking at lotion bars to replace the bottle of lotion. Between Amazon and Etsy, the choices are overwhelming. I’d also like to transition my girls to using a safety razor, where only the blade gets replaced. (I started using one last month and haven’t nicked myself since the first time I tried it.)

It’s up to all of us to cut the single-use plastic in our homes and at our workplaces. Some 83 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since 1950, half of that since 2004. It’s estimated that only 9 percent has been recycled, 12 percent incinerated for energy, and 79 percent is in a landfill or littering our environment. Cutting plastic packaging is the easiest way to have a big impact; plastic packaging accounts for about 42 percent of non-fiber (aka, non-material) plastic production in 2015.

The motto of “inspire; don’t require” is a good reminder for me how much more successful modeling behavior is for chinuch than lecturing or reminding. With this mantra in mind, I’ve been working more on stopping to say my brachos clearly and loudly. I had stopped doing this because I figured they were old enough to remember on their own, but I can already see the impact.

Until next time, 


PS: If you are looking for baby shampoo bars, check out etsy. There are lots of options. I did order a pine tar shampoo to try out for scalp issues, but it smelled terrible. After a few months of consistently using HiBar products, I also find I don’t need it.

Click here to see the full list of changes I’ve blogged about, and their impact.

Amazon bag ban carbon emissions celery Chanuka Chanukah Chanukka Chanukkah COVID disinfect donuts doughnuts elul energy food waste frum Hannukah Hanukka Hanukkah jewish lag b'omer landfill lashon hara laundry line dry low-waste mishloach manos mishloach manot orthodox passover pesach plastic purim recycle recycling reduce retail therapy reusable reuse shopping single-use teshuva washcloth water zero-waste

* Note: I may receive a small commission if you buy items I recommend by clicking on the link.

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