Raise the (Shampoo) Bar: Eliminating Single-Use Plastic

Various shampoo bars with text overlay "These Shampoo Bars are Taking 552 Million Bottles Out of Our Trash"

You might not have noticed, but there’s a small revolution happening in the beauty and skincare industries:  it started with shampoo bars, but the ripples will soon be everywhere.

 

Naked Products

At the center of the revolution is the need for the beauty and skincare industries to be more accountable for the waste they create — plastic bottles in particular. By one estimate, using a “naked” product like a shampoo bar, one that doesn’t come with a container, could prevent up to 552 million plastic bottles per year from winding up in our landfills.

Here’s how the ripples began. Four months ago, ATTN — a media company known for producing videos on social and cultural topics — released a Facebook video on the subject of shampoo bars and the plastic-saving virtues of naked products. The video received 89 million views and 30 thousand comments. Not long after, viewers of the video bought 12,000 shampoo bars from Lush Cosmetics in 48 hours.

 

 

The Larger Issue

As the video spread across Facebook and other social networks, the sudden popularity of shampoo bar caught the attention of news and media sources as well. National Geographic featured an article in its Travel section on ditching shampoo bottles for bars. To quote Us Weekly on the Lush shampoo bar rush, there is “growing awareness of the need to reduce waste going into our oceans.”

But it’s not just the cosmetic industry that’s working to remove plastic from our oceans. In July, Starbucks also announced new company-wide measures to cut down on customer waste, introducing a “no-straw” policy to be enforced in more than 28,000 Starbucks stores across the globe.

 

Now What?

It’s never been more important to act with increased awareness of daily personal waste or adopt small behaviors that work to combat the infamous reports of there being more plastic than fish in oceans by 2050.

Though undoubtedly necessary, each individual and industry faces unique challenges that make sustainable behaviors inconvenient — and the beauty industry is no exception. Reading some of the thirty thousand comments on the ATTN video reveals key concerns expressed by viewers and consumers:

  • Shampoo bars are too different from the products people are used to and are comfortable with.
  • Like all soap, shampoo bars make hair dry, frizzy, and unmanageable.
  • Plastic bottles can simply be recycled and serve the same purpose.
  • We can instead just buy in bulk and refill our smaller bottles.
  • Shampoo bars aren’t equal. How can anyone tell which ones are natural?

 

Starting from the Bottom

The last question — how to identify all-natural shampoo bars — is becoming increasingly easy to answer. Packaging and labeling can present an appealing picture, but it’s always ingredients that tell you the truth:

  • If you see “SLS” or “SLES”, you know you’re looking at a product with a synthetic detergent base in need of a foaming agent — and not a product like ours made from oils designed to be compatible with your skin.
  • If you see perfume or fragrance listed in the ingredients, you’ll know those scents are synthetic, rather than the essential oils we use to scent our soap.

Rolls of soap labels, listing all natural, organic ingredients

 

Force of Habit

Change is hard for some people. Once consumers find a product that works for them — that leaves their hair the way they want it — it’s hard to get them to try something new. As one commenter on the video said, “As soon as they make one that works on my hair as well as Paul Mitchell, color me there. Until then, I’ll keep recycling my empty shampoo bottles.”

Another comment had a similar theme: “Wouldn’t work for my hair. Fine and lifeless. I use Pantene Volume products and those are the only products I found that work on my hair. Sorry, I am picky. I have hard hair. I don’t trust this.”

Neither of these commenters mentioned if they’d actually tried something else or if they simply didn’t trust the idea of shampoo bars in general.

 

The Eco Thing

There’s also a glaring problem with mentions of recycling and reusing in the above comments. Being ecologically correct is easy in theory: “all people have to do is recycle or reuse.” Just saying it doesn’t make it so, however. In fact, despite increased awareness of the need for recycling, plastic recycling in the U.S. has actually been decreasing over the last four years — and the recycling rate is projected to drop to just 2.9% of all generated plastic waste in 2019.

Solutions like shampoo bars address the reality of plastic in America: if production avoids plastic entirely, there is no plastic to be thrown away rather than recycled. Naked products eliminate the recycling part altogether, which has proven too difficult for a vast majority of Americans anyway.

 

It’s About Quality

In the end, choosing a shampoo bar is much the same as choosing any other soap. How it treats your skin and your scalp depends on its quality. Soap that begins as a detergent and requires foaming agents and multiple ingredients to mitigate its harshness isn’t the soap you want… in fact, it’s most likely not even soap.

As a private label company, we at Botanie have always known that quality isn’t important just to us; it’s important to every customer who buys our soap and puts their name on it. The shampoo bars we make begin with the same world-class soap base as the bars available on our website and through our custom division. We frequently add castor oil to shampoo bars for denser lather, and we also work with adding conditioning ingredients, such as panthenol (vitamin b5) and hydrolyzed proteins (such as oat protein). Regardless of ingredients, though, our first priority is always quality and skin compatibility, as it should be for everyone who makes products for your skin and scalp.

 

 

 

3 bars of soap in various colors. In the middle, one round, white shampoo bar.

Revolution of the Real

In the best of worlds, we’d all recycle our plastic bottles or buy in bulk and refill them. But as current statistics suggest, we’re doing even worse than we were four years ago. Shampoo bars can be a great option for eliminating plastic from the shampoo equation entirely. Like any soap, though, you want to make sure the product you’re using is as good for you as it is for the environment — that it was made to be compatible with your skin and scalp, not just made to sell.

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