Plastic Free July Day 20 : Shampoo, Soap, Conditioner

plastic bottles waste no recycling

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Did you know that liquid shampoo was invented in 1927 by German inventor Hans Schwarzkopf in Berlin (whose name created a shampoo brand we can still find in Europe)?

Before that, people were using, guess what… shampoo bars!

And now, fast forward to 2018, we throw away 552 MILLION plastic shampoo bottles in the US every year! And wait, how many body wash bottles? I couldn’t find a number but a quick guess is at least the same amount as shampoo bottles, if not more…  

GREAT NEWS! We can avoid more than 1 BILLION PLASTIC BOTTLES every year, right now, just in the US. No need for new products, new technology, we can do it now: RAISE THE BARS OR REFILL!!



Why solids are way more eco-friendly than liquids?

  • They don’t need a packaging: nothing to recycle or throw away, when it’s gone there’s nothing left
  • One bar can replace several bottles (depends on the size of course): just like any concentrated products, it means less carbon emissions all along the production chain.

The fear of germs is often the main argument of anti-soap people. Thank you Beth Terry for mentioning this study’s conclusion in one of your blog posts: these findings show that little hazard exists in routine handwashing with previously used soap bars and support the frequent use of soap and water for handwashing to prevent the spread of disease.”

Solid soaps: a no-brainer.

sappo hill almond soap zero waste

There are so many options when it comes to bars of soap, I won’t go on and on about them. For me, these 3 criteria are important to make the most eco-friendly purchase:

  • Unpackaged (naked soaps as they are called) or with a thin paper wrap
  • Safe ingredients, even better if it’s organic: because some companies can put harmful products even in solid soaps. Check out the composition online if you can and if you’re not sure, check out EWG Skin Deep database or Made Safe.
  • Local: there are soap makers everywhere, you’ll find them in makers markets. But small production doesn’t mean safe, so ask questions about the ingredients.

Solid shampoos: yes, they work; no they won’t dry your hair!

shampoo bar all natural los angeles

I’ve started using shampoo bars 2 year ago. I’ve tried different ones and here’s what I’ve discovered.

There are 2 types of shampoo bar formula and they are adapted to different hair types. The difference comes from the surfactants used, which are the ingredients that foam and clean.

  • Oil based shampoo bars: the surfactant comes from the “saponification” process, which is a reaction between fats (oils) and lye (sodium hydroxide)
  • Detergent based shampoo bars: the surfactant is a detergent, made from petroleum (worst case) or plants (better!). You’ll hear about sodium coco sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate...

My experience for long normal hair, with occasional dandruffs: I first tried a couple of oil based shampoo bars but after a few weeks I noticed my har were heavier, they didn’t look clean, I had to wash them more frequently. Then I switched to a detergent based shampoo and I never had to change since; I use it twice a week and I love my hair!

Thanks to my friends and customers feedbacks, my conclusion is:

  • Oil based shampoo bars: they work great for short hair and dry/very dry and/or curly hair
  • Detergent based shampoo bars: they work great for all other hair types!

Maybe you have a different experience. If so, please share, we’d love to get more feedbacks!

Takeaway: if you haven’t tried shampoo bars yet and you’re in the process of reducing plastics at home, you have to give these bars a try. Start with a travel size. 

And just like for soaps: don’t forget to check out the composition. I know that Lush bars are very popular but honestly they are not completely safe, they still have lots of synthetic fragrances, even if the company says the contrary. Check out the ingredients on EWG Skin Deep database and see for yourself. Last time I checked, I saw ingredients like geraniol, amyl cinnamal, hydroxycitronellal, all rated 7 (8 being the worst). They are absorbed by our hair and skin, but are also released in the water and later accumulate in rivers, oceans where they impact aquatic life. We really don’t need these toxic compounds!


Solid Conditioners

Another bar for your bathroom! They work just as well as a liquid conditioner and are easy to use. Once again, check the ingredients list before buying, not all conditioner bars have the same quality. Resist the buying impulse for a few minutes to make sure that a bar is good for you :-)

I would say that the little drawback compared to a liquid conditioner is that it takes more time to apply the solid version. If you have short hair it's fine. But if you have very long hair like me, you need to take your time. 


refill stores zero waste shampoo soap

If you’re not a solid soaps person, no problem, there’s another solution for you: find a local bulk store near you and refill your bottles! It will reduce the amount of disposable plastics, it’s better than individual bottles even though it’s not a 100% plastic-free solution. In the end there’s still a plastic container (usually 1 gallon, sometimes more). But again, it’s better than single use small bottles.

That’s why, as the owner of a refill store, I made a strong decision when it comes to shampoo, body wash and conditioner: only solid products and products with a refill system like the one developed by the brand Plaine Products. I’m trying hard to avoid ending up with plastic containers in between. With Plaine, the products are packaged in aluminum bottles and when people run out, they return the bottles. At Fillgood we take them back when we deliver orders and we ship them back by groups. If you don’t have that kind of service near you, you can ship them back for free, ask for a shipping label on the brand’s website. I truly hope that kind of model will become the norm, with local cleaning and refilling centers… We’ll see :-)

I can hear you saying: “that’s a lot of shipping, does it really worth it?” YES IT DOES! Because Reusing is always better than Recycling. And here’s how I’ve tried to explain that, with the help of Brittany, a graphic designer passionate about zero waste. Hope this will convince you!

reuse recycle comparison plaine products

(Graphic by Fillgood and Brittany Steiner)

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