Soap, We Barely Give It a Second Thought, But Should We?
There are things that happen in life that’s so ingrain we don’t think twice about it. Consider paying taxes. You know you’re paying it, whether it’s on certain products you buy, when you are paid by an employer, or even when you file your taxes. You simply don’t think about it, it’s just a part of life. We can say the same of something that is also commonly a part of our everyday life. That something is soap. It’s ingrain in us to use it for everything, whether it’s washing our hands, taking a shower, washing our clothes. It’s just a part of the fabric of our lives.
Then COVID-19 came along. Suddenly, you hear so much about soap and how important it is, and why we need to use it. Of course we already knew of its importance, we just didn’t give it a second thought, until now. The preventative measures implemented to combat a deadly respiratory disease made this everyday item less of a habit and more of a required necessity.
While COVID is certainly an unparalleled reason for understanding the importance of soap, there is another basis to consider. The environment. Let’s preface this post by saying a choice to use a bar over liquid, won’t have a major impact on the environment. However, it’s also important to believe that everything we do, no matter how small, contributes to a better planet. So let’s delve into soaps and which is better for our planet.
A brief history…
It’s believed the use of soap dates back to 2800 BC. Archeologists uncovered evidence of a soap making process used by ancient Babylonians. Going back to 1500 BC, records shows the Egyptians combine animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salt to create a soap-like substance used for bathing and to treat skin conditions.
There are other noted periods in history where some form of a cleansing substance exists and used to wash. It wasn’t until the 7th century that countries such as Italy, Spain and France established a soap making process. Thanks to their continuous supply of oils from olive trees. Still, although the process took hold, after the fall of Rome in 467 AD, its use declined.
An interesting history fact: One reason that contributed to so many deaths from the black death plague, which occured in the 14 century, was because of uncleanliness.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that cleanliness and soaps were fashionable. In 1791, French Chemist, Nicolas Leblanc patented a process for making soda ash from salt. Soda ash combines with fat forms soap.
Up to this point, the process has been about solid soaps. In 1865, the first patent for a liquid form was issued to William Shepphard; the man credited for inventing what some coined modern soap. Even though it was available in liquid form, it was only use for industrial purposes. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that the liquid form was mass produced and used by the masses.
Move forward quite a few centuries, and the soap making process has become sophisticated and efficient. So much in fact, it’s a part of our lives and we don’t give it a second thought. At least not until COVID. The process for making soaps is now urbane. Still, I have to wonder how many of us have heard the word Saponification, or even know what it means. It is the heart of the soap making process. Here is the exact definition taken from the website The Spruce Craft.
It is the chemical reaction in which the building blocks of fats and oils (triglycerides) react with lye to form soap. Saponification literally means “turning into soap” from the root word, sapo, which is Latin for soap. The products of the saponification reaction are glycerin and soap. Chemically, soap is a fatty acid salt.
The liquid form is not natural
The above process aside, liquid cleansers is not a simple process. In fact, certain chemicals are a part of its development process. These chemical compositions are among the most essential but dangerous ingredients for making soap. Crucial because they remove grease, oil, and dirt from our skin. Some of these chemicals are:
Parabens, which are effective at inhibiting microscopic growth. Widely used as preservatives in many pharmaceutical and cosmetic formulations, extending product shelf life.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate – foaming agents for many liquid soaps.
Triclosan, an antibacterial agent for liquid soaps. This has the effect of limiting the spread of bacterial infections.
These chemicals can affect our environment. Parabens, for example, are linked to environmental damage. Laboratory tests conclude that low levels of butyl paraben can destroy coral. Also, it has been detected in surface waters, fish and sediments. Triclosan has a negative impact as its accumulation can damage the marine ecosystem species such as algae.
It’s pretty clear bar soaps are a better option when considering the environment.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that in 2020, over 301 million Americans choose the liquid form. In that same year, 273 million Americans choose bar. You will find liquid soap instead of bar soap in most people’s homes. Yes, COVID has bought the use of soap to the forefront. Yet, if you are environmentally conscious, you may wonder which is better, bar or liquid.
It’s important to clarify, both are effective for cleanliness and removing bacteria from our skin. The question isn’t their effectiveness, it’s their impact on our environment.
Let’s compare and see why we should use one type of above the other
It doesn’t account for a large part of our carbon footprint. In fact, food and transportation are more impactful. However, liquid soap has 10 times the carbon foot print when compared to its counterpart. Its impact is greater for two reasons.
The energy requirements for manufacturing liquid’s raw materials and the chemicals in it, which are energy intensive.
Packaging – The packaging for liquid is usually plastic containers. Unlike bar packaging, liquid takes more energy to manufacture, and to package. It’s also more expensive to produce (from an environmental standpoint.) Also consider how difficult it is to dispose of the plastic that most liquids are in. Manufacturers often package bars with paper, or sometimes, not at all.
Related post: Carbon Footprint, 5 Simple Ways To Reduce Yours
Water and land impact
We use 30% more water when we use bars than using liquids. Bar soaps also have a higher impact on land use than liquid soaps. This is because bars contain ingredients extracted from vegetable oils which comes from land crops. Agriculture impacts our environment significantly.
What points bar soap lost in water and land use, it makes up with transportation. The delivery process for bars is much more structured than liquid soap. Packaging and shipping bars is a space saving process. The makers of liquid soap do not package it efficiently and are heavier when transporting.
Both types of soaps—liquid and bar are effective, whether it’s protecting ourselves from bacteria and viruses, or simply for cleanliness. However, as mentioned above, they have their advantages and disadvantages.
It is not always a matter of what’s right and wrong, but bar soap is almost always a better choice. It’s liquid equivalent consumes more energy to make and its packaging destroys our trees, not to mention difficult to recycle.
Given a choice, we should choose bar soap. If we measured the amount of greenhouse gas emissions you saved per year by switching to bar, it would be a tiny amount. But remember, Fullrliving believe we should take even small steps to change our environment. Switching to bar soap may seem insignificant where the environment is concerned, but it’s not. Every effort we make, no matter how slight matters.