shower shelf with shampoo, body wash and a bar of soap

The Environmental Impact of Body Wash

Week 20

I think we can all agree that bathing or showering is an essential part of life and that soap is a necessity. However, the soap we use should keep both our bodies and the environment clean, which is why this week, we are taking a look at body wash.

Why is body wash a problem?

I'm not sure when liquid body wash became a necessity over good old-fashioned bar soap, but its rise to popularity has significantly increased plastic waste. According to Reduce Plastic Waste 238 million Americans use body wash in disposable bottles. That means an estimated 1.4 billion disposable bottles are used every year.

Like most of the previous weeks, one major concern is that body wash and shower gel come in plastic bottles. Plastics are problematic because they are made from non-renewable resources, have limited recyclability, and take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to break down. Body wash bottles, like all plastics, are made from crude oil, a non-renewable resource, which is harmful for two reasons: manufacturing generates significant pollution and the product is not biodegradable. As put it, "they are difficult to produce and nearly impossible to get rid of once produced". Instead of biodegrading, plastic breaks down into tiny micro-plastics that litter our soil, our waterways, and even our air.

Are body wash and shower gel bottles recyclable?

Yes, most body wash and shower gel bottles can be rinsed and recycled with your curbside pickup. If you don't have curbside recycling, you can print out a free shipping label and mail them to Terracycle via a program sponsored by Garnier.

Other than the plastic packaging, soap and body wash are ok?

Not quite. Body wash is considered a cosmetic and according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market." This means that many shower gels have an array of questionable chemicals like parabens, which have been linked to hormone disruption and breast cancer. In addition, cosmetics will often hide some of their ingredients as "trade secrets". These ingredients are not only harmful to humans, but since they get washed down the drain, they end up in waterways and can be harmful to marine life.

How can I be more sustainable?

Soap bars are an excellent low waste option since they don't require any packaging. This week, I made a soap saver to make my bar soap last as long as possible. You can also find body wash in infinitely recyclable glass or aluminum containers. Read my next post for 10 sustainable body wash options.

10 Sustainable Body Wash Options →