In a 2016 blog post for Insteading, Seth Kolloen matter-of-factly asserts, “If you care about the environment, buy bar soap.” He goes on to explain findings of research conducted by Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Engineering on three categories of cleaners: laundry detergent, body soap, and surface cleaners.
“There isn’t much difference in the environmental impact of powdered vs. liquid laundry detergent, or bathroom cleaner vs. kitchen cleaner. But they did find one clear winner: bar soap.”
Kolloen does a really nice job summarizing the study’s findings about liquid vs. bar soap:
Let me restate this: “Scientists found that liquid soap has 10x the carbon footprint of bar soap.”
From a packaging point of view, bar soaps that are packaged in easily recyclable paper or cardboard are abundantly available, and we can also look for and make the choice to buy bar soaps that aren’t packaged with any kind of plastic film outer wrapping.
Better yet, if we have the resources, we can buy attractive and healthful homemade soaps at places like farmers markets, craft fairs, and specialty shops. Many of these not only look really nice in the bathroom, but also come with little-to-no packaging and are frequently made with all-natural ingredients and fewer chemicals.
What about cleanliness and healthfulness? Some folks may lean toward liquid soap for those reasons, and the Center for Disease Control offers some support for that, according to an article in Discover Magazine online. But before deciding that liquid soap is the only way to go because of this, make sure to consider this key note in the same article:
“…just rinsing the bar reduces bacteria on it. And there’s nothing wrong with using it at home, where presumably fewer people (and their germs) will touch it.”
And, in fact, the CDC’s own handwashing public information poster states no preference for liquid over bar soap, beyond the fact that liquid is “easier and cleaner to share with others” in a public environment.
In our private homes, there’s no compelling reason — beyond convenience and perhaps aesthetic preferences — to continue with liquid soap when bar soap is better for the environment.
Yes, we can refill liquid soap dispensers. We can even buy glass soap dispensers for that purpose. But think about it. Unless we are actually carting that container to a store to refill from a bulk supply, we’ve got to buy the refill soap…and it comes in a plastic container. We may be buying fewer plastic containers by buying liquid soap and refilling our containers, but with bar soap we could bring our body-soap related plastic consumption down to zero with ease and minimum sacrifice.
There are, of course, many other ways to reduce the number of plastic bottles in our bathrooms, including bar shampoo and bar conditioner. That’s another post for another time. For now, let’s just start with this one easy change.
[header photo | Dan Smedley]