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“Clean Hair, Clean Conscience: Why Shampoo Bars are the Eco-Friendly Choice”

In today’s world, amid the ongoing research on how our habits contribute to climate change, many people seek ways to transition to a sustainable lifestyle. If somebody asked for advice on how to reduce their carbon footprint, you would probably suggest a more plant-based diet, utilising public transport, switching off the lights and taking shorter showers. While all these habits are crucial, an overlooked aspect is the environmental impact of our shower products.


Our landfills and oceans are filled with plastic shampoo bottles, which are filled with harmful chemicals. This raises the question: is there a sustainable alternative we can opt for? There is, and it comes in the form of shampoo bars!


To understand why shampoo bars are the eco-friendly choice, we need to first explore the devastating impacts of shampoo bottles on the environment.


How Shampoo Bottles Contribute to Environmental Degradation


1. Plastic Packaging


Did you know that 552 million shampoo bottles end up in our landfills every year? This amount is enough to fill 1.164 football fields! What is even more alarming is that, once discarded, most of these bottles are never recycled, leading to more waste, and they are left to decompose. The process of decomposing is really slow, as it can take up to 450 years, and dangerous, as harmful chemicals can be released into the air and groundwater.


At the same time, large amounts of plastic shampoo bottles also end up in the ocean, where they decompose slowly too. The plastic is either consumed by marine life or breaks down into microplastics, poisoning the animals and damaging their ecosystems, either way.  


Finally, it is not just the disposal of shampoo bottles that harms the environment. The production of one plastic shampoo bottle produces 0.07kg of carbon dioxide (CO2), including the energy used for the manufacture and transportation of the bottles to stores and the emissions produced throughout the product’s usage. In comparison, the production of a single-use plastic water bottle produces about 0.02kg of CO2 emissions. And we thought that plastic water bottles were doing all the harm!


2. Chemicals 


Liquid shampoos contain chemicals such as sulphates, silicones, parabens and phosphates, all of which are harmful to the environment. When we rinse our hair, these chemicals go down the drain and end up in our water supplies, like the groundwater, contaminating them. Even though they are prevented from entering our drinking water through water treatment plants, the water treatment process is damaging to the environment and there is a slight chance it might not eliminate all the chemicals.


These chemicals also end up in the oceans and rivers, disrupting the hormone balance and reproductive abilities of aquatic life, endangering, therefore, the aquatic ecosystems. 


Finally, these chemicals contribute to air pollution too, both during their production and the manufacturing of the chemicals contained in them. The main culprit is the synthetic fragrances whose production releases Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air, causing pollution and even respiratory problems to those exposed to them. Additionally, the emissions from the transportation of the end product from the manufacturing facilities to the stores exacerbates air pollution and climate change.


3. Non Vegan Ingredients


Last but not least, most liquid shampoos do not use vegan formulas. While this might not concern some people, it is important to understand that plant based formulas avoid the toxic and non-biodegradable chemicals mentioned earlier, causing, thus, no damage to our water supplies. 


How Shampoos Bottles Affect Human Health


In addition to being harmful to the environment, shampoo bottles do our health no favour either. Some of the chemicals contained in them can have detrimental effects, such as:


  • Skin Irritation, Dryness, Breakage 

  • Hormone disruption

  • Asthma

  • Allergic reactions 

  • Neurotoxicity

  • Cancer


It is, therefore, wise to check the list of ingredients on shampoo bottles before buying them. Furthermore, the water and air pollution caused by shampoo bottles also affect human health.


Realising how shampoo bottles damage both the environment and our health, how do we protect ourselves and our planet?


Shampoo Bars Are Here to Save the Planet and our Health


1. Sustainable packaging 


Unlike shampoo bottles, shampoo bars are packaged in eco-friendly and biodegradable or recyclable material. Once removed from their packaging, the latter can be either composted (how amazing is that?) or recycled, making them a very environmentally friendly option.


2. Natural Ingredients


Shampoo bars are mostly made of natural ingredients, such as essential and plant-based oils (e.g., coconut oil) and are chemical free, causing, therefore, no harm to our drainage and water systems. 


There is only one ingredient in some shampoo bars we need to be cautious of: palm oil, which is linked to deforestation and habitat degradation. If a shampoo bar lists this in its ingredients, it is better that you avoid this shampoo bar!  


3. Lower Carbon Footprint

Shampoo bars have a significantly lower carbon footprint than shampoo bottles. Firstly, they use natural ingredients and minimal water, requiring limited resources for their production. As such, the carbon footprint of their manufacturing procedure is low. Secondly, as already mentioned, their packaging is sustainable and often biodegradable. This results in producing lower emissions compared to the manufacturing of plastic bottles, and in reducing the generation of waste. Finally, they last longer compared to shampoo bottles, having, therefore, a lower overall carbon footprint, both during their manufacture and throughout their usage.


However, it is important to note that the shampoo bars containing palm oil may not have as low a carbon footprint, as this ingredient is associated with deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. 


4. Last Longer


Liquid shampoos are made of approximately 80-90% water, so, it is no surprise that they run out as quickly as they do! Shampoo bars, on the other hand, are concentrated and use minimal amounts of water. In comparison, a shampoo bottle will provide approximately 25 to 35 washes before it runs out, whereas a shampoo bar will last about 60 to 80 washes. That is twice as much! Shampoo bars are, therefore, a more sustainable option, requiring less water and resources for their production, while also proving to be a more cost-efficient option too! 


5. Cruelty-Free


While it may seem unrelated to sustainability, cruelty-free products play a significant role. They prioritise the well-being of animals and by doing so, they use more natural ingredients and fewer harmful chemicals in their formulations. Shampoo bars are mostly cruelty-free and as such, they pollute the environment less.


6. A Healthy Option


Shampoo bars are healthier and more gentle to our skin and hair. They contain natural ingredients, instead of chemicals, and are pH balanced, protecting, thus, the hair and scalp. They are also suitable for all hair types and colours!


Are There More Sustainable Alternatives?


It is possible that some people might not enjoy using a shampoo bar. In that case, I would suggest opting for brands with a ‘refill policy’. This way, you prevent more plastic waste being created. Be cautious, however, of brands that have been exposed for greenwashing (e.g., P&G Beauty) despite providing this option.


Another alternative would be shampoos with vegan formulas, but make sure to find the brands that use recycled plastic for their bottles!


Conclusion


It goes without saying that our shower routines need to change! Our landfills and oceans can no longer withstand the damage shampoo bottles cause to our water sources and marine ecosystems. Neither can our water systems and air sustain the pollution caused by the chemicals and emissions released during the manufacture and shipping of shampoo bottles. It is evident that a transition from shampoo bottles to shampoo bars needs to be made, as the latter constitute both the eco-friendly and the healthy choice for the planet and ourselves! 


So, with Valentine’s day approaching, instead of choosing the typical, commercial gifts, why not consider gifting your loved ones (or treating yourself to) a shampoo bar? Not only is this a thoughtful gesture, but it is a first step towards a more sustainable lifestyle too! 


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