Raising the Bar
issue six : the shape of things to come
Sometimes, the simplest of switches can have the biggest impact on the shape of things to come.
Simply put, switching to bar-soaps is one of the easiest things you can do to minimize your reliance on plastic. Bio, biodegradable or even recycled plastics all have their impact. Not only that, it can also minimise the potentially toxic ingredients needed to preserve liquid soap. As liquid soaps main ingredient (according to weight) is water, liquid soaps require preservatives to ensure they do not grow mold and bacteria.
The first soap was made by the Babylonians way back in 2800 BC by boiling animal fats and ashes together. Although the process has been refined over the centuries, not all that much has changed, really.
Soap requires only three ingredients to become soap; oil (from a natural source), lye and water. The combination of these three main ingredients, in certain percentages, forms a chemical reaction called saponification, resulting in 'soap.' Of course, other ingredients such as fragrance, colour, and flourishes can be added to the mixture to enhance the appearance, smell and performance of the soap.
I remember always using bar-soap as a child. I had three favourite soaps based on smell. Pears Original, Yardley (Violet), and Cuticura Tea Tree Soap. Still, to this day, the smell of those soaps conjure up strong memories (mostly of my grandmother, whom I miss dearly).
Then something shifted. We were lead to believe that bar soaps were not as hygienic, we suddenly needed more bubbles to feel cleaner and anti-bacterial agents to fend off the killer bugs.
The fact they needed to be 'contained' - mostly in plastic, because glass is dangerous around the edge of the bath or in a shower - was never considered. It was convenient and practical and we were 'cleaner' and 'safer' - or so we thoughts. What we didn't consider, know about or even care about, was that all these commercially produced 'liquid soaps' were not actually soap at all, but rather a concoction of toxic synthetic ingredients classed as detergent.
Fortunately, there has been a global awakening to the impact of these synthetic detergents - not only for our health but also for the environment at large - and consumers are beginning to favour naturally derived formulations again because of their ability to biodegrade.
Solid vs Liquid
While there are brands like Dr Bronners and Austin Austin (there are many more on the market) that make an environmentally sound liquid castile soap, they are still contained in plastic bottles, albeit made from recycled plastic and fully recyclable after use.
Castile soap is named after the Castile region of Spain, where soap was made using olive oil instead of animal fats. Today, castile soap refers to any natural soap that contains plant-oils instead of animal fats as the oil constituent of the formulation.
Castile soap comes in both solid and liquid forms. The liquid soap is made using the hot process method and the lye used is potassium hydroxide. Once the saponification has occurred, more water is added to the mixture, along with additional preservatives to keep the formulation free from unwanted bacteria.
The lye used for bar soap is sodium hydroxide, and the hot or cold method can be used to produce the soap. It requires nothing more than paper packaging - or no packaging at all! Most importantly, they do a perfectly good job of cleansing our skin and hair (yep, you can use castile soap in your hair too as they contain no harsh, oil-stripping detergents and retain the natural glycerine which is removed from commercially produced bar soaps).
Here are some of my favourite bar soaps. Some can be used for a plethora of uses, others address particular concerns. All come in plastic-free, packaging.