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Soap and Plastic Waste

February 23, 2016

A few years ago when I was researching the Freegans, a subculture of people best known for obtaining perfectly good food and other items from Dumpsters behind stores and restaurants, I was impressed by how they also emphasize environmental responsibility by reducing waste from excess packaging. One of their examples that resonated with me was soap and how corporate marketing leads us to believe that we need a separate soap for every part of our bodies and a separate cleaner for every room and object in the house.

This got me thinking of how soap really is just soap in all forms. Whether it is bar soap or liquid, it all basically does the same thing—clean—and we can drastically cut down on consumer waste (and save money) by omitting needless plastic bottles. I’ve experimented over the years, and here are some examples I’ve found that are easy to incorporate into one’s lifestyle:

Body wash and liquid hand soap: Until the excesses of the 1980s hit like a plastic tsunami, people simply used bar soap in the shower and at the bathroom sink. Bar soap, often sold in a minimal paper wrapping, was the norm. Our household has gone back to bar soap, which lather just as well as liquids and don’t have the BPA chemical from plastic bottles leeching into the product.

Shampoo: Beginning this year, my husband and I made a commitment to switch from bottled shampoo to bar shampoo after we discovered how most plastic wasn’t or will no longer be recycled ( and

Most artisan crafted bar shampoos are made with pure essential oils and other hair-healthy, natural ingredients that biodegrade; very important when considering how anything that is washed down the drain eventually ends up in our waterways. After using bar shampoo for two months, my hair looks and feels just like it had while using bottled shampoo.

Household cleaning/dish soap: Dish washing liquid can clean all sorts of things besides the dishes. I use dish soap for also cleaning the floors, tub, the toilet and sinks. The result is only one bottle and type of soap, instead of buying several different bottles of floor cleaner, bathroom cleaner, tub and tile cleaner and all-purpose cleaner. For those who want liquid soap instead of bar soap at the bathroom sink, dish washing liquid in a stylish, refillable pump dispenser can be a great alternative to always buying separate bottles of hand soap.

I occasionally use bottled hair conditioner or the special cleaner for tough jobs, but at one time my household of three people used to fill to near capacity both city-recycling carts every two weeks. Now we’re down to only one.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.



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