Cleaning up my act

by Jesse Oey 12/09/2021

A Sustainability Journey

So – I’ve recently started using bar soaps again.

Growing up in the tropics, I strictly only used soap bars in the shower for as long as I could remember. At the time, soap bar ads were all the rage, and they were everywhere – TV, radio, billboards, back of cabs, you name it; some soap brands even sponsored prestigious beauty pageants!

Back then, nothing was more refreshing than a nice, cold afternoon shower straight after school. When it was time for a soap top-up, I would always look forward to picking up a fresh bar from a stacked selection of scents and colours in the vanity cupboard, excited to lather up for a much-needed reprieve from the oppressive, humid heat.

But then, suddenly, liquid soap became the new trend, and soon plastic bottles of liquid body wash, in a plethora of brands and sizes, started appearing on supermarket shelves. Enticed by the idea of convenience (pump dispensers!), luxury (soap with built-in moisturising cream? Sold!), and social currency (everyone else was doing it), I blindly made the switch, and never looked back.

Fast forward half a decade, and many wasteful plastic bottles later, here I am, finally undoing the damage. A few months ago, I finished my last drops of liquid soap, threw the bottle in the recycling bin, and decided to bid farewell once and for all.

Time to come clean (tee-hee) and make the switch.

But why did I decide to do this?

For starters, liquid soaps require 5 times more energy to create and 20 times more energy to package in a plastic bottle, compared to bar soaps wrapped in paper or cardboard. Plus, according to a Swiss study, the overall carbon footprint of liquid soap was 25% higher than that of bar soap, when counting factors such as production, freight, transport, and shelf space in stores.

It’s important to know that whilst most liquid soap bottles are recyclable, their pump dispensers are not, which means that if we don’t separate the pumps from the bottles when we put them in the recycling bin, we risk them not being recycled at all. Also, statistically, we tend to use more liquid soap per wash compared to bar soap, hence creating the need to replenish more often, resulting in more waste over time.

In contrast, most bar soaps come in minimal paper or cardboard packaging. It’s also relatively easy to find ones that are packaging-free from your local market or grocery shop; the ones I get are sold in bulk, unwrapped, and made locally in Australia. A good-quality bar of soap will almost always cost less to buy then a bottle of body wash, and it lasts much longer too when used in moderation.

This is why for me, the decision to swap over was an easy one to make. So far, I’ve really enjoyed having a less-cluttered bathroom space without all the bulky bottles, and the shower experience has become a little nostalgic, reminiscent of those after-school bubbly washes from my younger years. Plus, because the bars I’ve been using contain plant-based natural oils and fragrances, my skin has actually become less dry over time, reducing the need for moisturisers.

What about soap holders?

If you’re thinking about making the switch but worried about needing to buy soap holders for your lather-up bars, here’s a bonus tip – look around your bathroom, and start with the things you already own.

In my case, I’ve re-used an empty hair wax container as a makeshift soap holder. The container is made out of metal, which makes it sturdy and waterproof; plus, in an amusing twist of fate, it turns out that the soap fits in it perfectly!

An unexpected upcycling exercise – Soap-prise!

Granted, there’s more than meets the eye. Unfortunately some bar soaps are still made from palm oil, some sources of which can be horrible for the environment due to ongoing deforestation, mass burning, and pollution issues. Also, when choosing which soap brands to buy, look out for harmful hidden ingredients like parabens or other preservatives.

When it comes to making better choices, make sure you always read the labels available at the point of purchase; if you have a particular brand in mind, do a quick search on Sustainable Choice to read more on their sustainability practices.

Now here’s a challenge for you:

The next time you run low of liquid soap, try swapping it with a soap bar from a comparable brand. It does not have to be super fancy or completely package-free, just give one a go and see how you feel. Trust me, for the most part, you’ll likely be glad to be making the switch, knowing you’ve made a small contribution towards a more sustainable world.

And of course, hang on to that precious empty jar of hair product or skin moisturiser – it might come in handy to house your brand-new sustainable soap! Such an easy choice to make; why wouldn’t you?

Good luck!


Disclaimer: This blog is an opinion piece that is based on my own personal experiences, and nothing written here is intended to serve as legally-binding advice or formal recommendations. I recognise that every individual’s situation is unique, and your experiences may differ from mine in many ways. Healthy discussions and respectful dialogue are welcome and always encouraged.

by Jesse Oey

Jesse Oey is a marketer, photographer, and sustainability enthusiast based in Melbourne. Jesse’s journey towards a more socially-aware, environmentally-conscious way of life began in 2011 when he received a reusable coffee cup as a gift; since then, Jesse has been a strong advocate of sustainable living, passionate about learning, educating and raising awareness on how to reduce waste, make impact-led decisions on purchases and daily life habits, and invest money ethically.