Small decisions such as whether to use liquid or bar soap can have a big impact on your environmental footprint. Bar soap is more environmentally friendly than body wash, due to both its ingredients and the way in which it's sold, say Annette Koehler and Caroline Wildbolz, authors of a 2009 study published in "Environmental Science and Technology." As an extra incentive, bar soap also tends to be less expensive than body wash. By paying more attention to what you use in the shower, you can be green while you get clean. (References 3 and 5)
Look for soaps in minimal packaging. Avoid unnecessary plastic overwraps and extra layers. One reason that bar soap is greener than body wash is the packaging. Many bar soaps are available in biodegradable cardboard boxes, but body wash comes in plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are recyclable in theory, but many municipalities only accept certain types of plastic. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data indicate that, as of 2009, most plastic bottles still end up in landfills (see Reference 1, page 52).
Reduce your fossil fuel consumption by selecting soap with lower water content. The first ingredient in most liquid body washes is water. This makes the product heavier and bulkier than a comparable amount of solid bar soap. Bar soap's more concentrated formula means that less energy is required to transport an equivalent amount of active product. As a result, switching to bar soap indirectly reduces your environmental footprint by reducing the pollution generated during transportation (see Reference 5). Depending on where you live, you may also be able to find locally made soaps at farmer's markets or nearby businesses, reducing the soap's transportation footprint even further.
Avoid questionable chemicals. By selecting a natural bar soap, you avoid potentially hazardous chemicals like triclosan, an antimicrobial agent commonly found in commercial soaps. Triclosan was under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as of 2011, due to concerns that the chemical alters human hormone production (see References 2). Triclosan is also toxic to multiple forms of aquatic life. That raises concern that the chemical, which accumulates in fat cells, is spreading through food webs and posing an environmental threat, according to M .A. Coogan, lead researcher for a 2007 study done at the University of North Texas Institute of Applied Sciences (see Reference 3). On the public health front, the American Medical Association suggests you avoid antimicrobial products such as triclosan due to concern that frequent use of such chemicals helps dangerous bacteria develop antimicrobial resistance more quickly (see Reference 4).
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures; December 2010
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Triclosan -- What Consumers Should Know
- "Chemosphere"; Algal Bioaccumulation of Triclocarban, Triclosan, and Methyl triclosan in a North Texas Wastewater Treatment Plant Receiving Stream; M. A. Coogan et al.; May 2007
- "Archives of Dermatology"; Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Consumer Products; Litjen Tan, et al.; August 2002
- "Environmental Science & Technology"; Comparing the Environmental Footprints of Home-Care and Personal-Hygiene Products --The Relevance of Different Life-Cycle Phases; Annette Koehler and Caroline Wildbolz; October 2009
Grace Grimm has been a professional writer since 2008. Her work on birding and the environment has appeared in "The Jack Pine Warbler: The Magazine of Michigan Audubon," "The Pine Press" and on numerous websites. She is an ecologist with a bachelor's degree in zoology and a master's degree in conservation biology.
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