Liquid soaps in their little plastic bottles may seem convenient.  They don’t dribble their suds or coagulate in a soap dish. But they have at least two huge drawbacks.  Going back to the bar can solve a couple of big problems.

Liquid soaps problem 1: their plastic containers – an estimated 577 million of them entered the environment last year.  That’s a lot of plastic, miles and miles of it – 45 thousand miles of plastic bottles, enough to go around the world 1.8 times. *  And plastic pollutes.

The author’s small stash of minimally packaged soaps.

Bar soaps, on the other hand, have minimal packaging, a simple paper wrap, a string of raffia, and sometimes – they come bare.

 Problem 2 – Ingredients

Compared to lots of plastic.

What’s in those little plastic bottles?  The ingredients can may harm you.

An April 2013 article in INC. Magazine on the iconic brand. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap quoted David Bronner saying.  There’s nothing more elegant than a properly formulated soap. It’s the most beautiful lather, great skin-feel, great after-feel. You could basically eat our soap.”  Not that we recommend that.

Natural soap and image by Carol Isler, Tygerheart Fine Soaps, Lyman, NC

“He’s trying to explain the difference between a true soap …  and the soaplike detergent products most of us use every day.…..  At its most basic, the difference is natural ingredients versus synthetic ones.  ….  most detergents are made at least in part from nonrenewable petrochemicals (because it’s cheaper that way) and include a chemical cocktail of foaming agents, preservatives, and fragrances that, by and large, have never been tested and found safe for human consumption,” author Tom Foster wrote.

Seems like there’s a lot more to liquid soaps (and some beauty bars) than suds and smell.

What’s in soaps?

Some of the things in liquid and non-natural soaps may be triclosan and triclocarban.

Two Little Blackbirds, a natural soap-maker, says – “These synthetic antimicrobial chemicals kill aquatic life after they go down your drain and into the local water supply, and have been shown to disrupt proper thyroid functioning in humans. Use of triclosan is also associated with the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, producing dangerous infections that don’t respond well to antibiotic medicine. Triclosan or its cousin, triclocarban, can be found on the ingredients labels of soaps, toothpaste, and other personal-care items.”

It not just natural soap makers that report problems with these ingredients.  According to Mintel Soap, Bath and Shower Product Report, 2012, “there have been reports that triclosan, an ingredient used in many antibacterial soaps, including liquid hand soap, is potentially dangerous to users and may not provide the efficacy that users think they are getting using an antibacterial product.”

Two Little Blackbirds notes other questionable ingredients and explains their dangers.  The cocktail of additives includes  “DEA, diethanolamine, cocamide DEA, lauramide DEA, and monoethanolamine, Fragrance, parfum, linalool, limonene.  MEA. PEG, polyethylene glycol, polyethylene, polyoxyethylene, oxynol, or words ending in the letters “eth,” such as myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth.”

Even “real” soaps differ

In addition to chemicals and preservatives, Foster wrote in INC., “Within the world of real soaps, there are other levels of purity that separate the brands. Most mass-produced soaps are made with animal fats such as tallow (beef fat) or lard (pig or mutton fat). …. Natural soaps are made with nonanimal fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, and palm oil.”

Soap makers at The Parsonage Handmade Soaps testing the temperature of the oils.

Fortunately, today, there’s a return to natural and/or local,

Soap is poured into a mold at The Parsonage Handmade Soaps.

not only in foods, but also in soaps.  It’s easy to find soaps made from goat’s milk (my favorite), olive oil, jojoba, aloe, and other natural ingredients.  Natural aromas have also proliferated – lemon, lavender, almond, patchouli, orange, rose, and the more masculine Frankincense (yes, I’ve seen it) plus scores more. Some soaps may be made with perfumes, however, so it’s best to read the labels.

Where to find good soap

Check your local health food stores, specialty stores, and even local craft markets.  You’ll discover lots of handcrafted soaps made from natural ingredients.  To get an overview of the variety, visit The Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild’s gallery of about 100 different specialty soaps.  And Real Handmade Soap is another source for finding natural soaps.

Living a good life means attention to all of life’s details – and making each activity – even what may seem like the most trivial – matter.  And when it comes to getting clean, living a good life just may mean going back to the bar.

*Author’s note: Here’s how the estimate of plastic waste was derived.  In 2011, people spent $1.9 billion dollars on liquid body wash and $788 million on liquid hand soap (Source: Mintel Soap, Bath and Shower Product Report, 2012.)

Estimating $5 each for liquid body wash and $4 each for liquid hand soap, that’s 577 million plastic containers.  Next, I estimated the plastic bottles at an average of 5 inches each, that’s 2.8 + billion inches, divided by 12 inches = 240,416,666 feet.  I divided that by 5,280 feet to come up with 45,533 miles, enough to go around the world 1.8 times.

By Bojinka Bishop

Photos on soap making courtesy of The Parsonage Handmade Soaps.

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Comment(s) on Liquid soap in plastic bottles is horrific for our environment

  1. Logan Dent says:

    Fascinating! It is a surprise to learn the hidden story of liquid soap.

  2. Kathy says:

    Tallow and lard are definitely used in Natural Soaps.
    We raise our own beef and I render the tallow from them
    which are grass fed and hormone free. Also true of the lard.
    These ingredients are as natural as you can get and added with
    other oils makes a fine, long lasting soap. Soaps from by-gone days were made with all tallow and/or lard, as they did’t have
    access to all the fine oils we enjoy today.

  3. Cindy says:

    Not only is real soap made with animal fats, that is how they started out to be made in the beginning of soap making and many of us, feel it is superior soap compared to all veggie oil soap and the customers think so too.
    My animal fats are pasture raised and organic and make a really nice gentle soap AND shampoo bars.

  4. Bojinka Bishop says:

    Yes, of course, animal fats are natural. Thanks for catching that! Buyers may just want to read the labels and choose the ingredients they prefer – animal or plant oils.

  5. Jeanette Biddle says:

    Palm oil has to be shipped by diesle powered ships that leave pollution in the form of their trash & petroleum products in the ocean. Tallow & lard can be found locally and helps to truly recycle thus saving the ocean from contamination & helping local economies.

    I used to sail with my now ex-husband on an oil tanker and saw first hand how the ships pollute.

  6. Jan Garske says:

    I appreciate the discourse.

  7. Jan Garske says:

    I appreciate the open discourse on issues. It helps me to learn even more! Thanks.

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