Will You Soap My Back? The Impact of Your Shower

Man in the showerSimran Sethi and Sarah Smarsh are writing a series on the impacts of everyday things. They will be posting previews on the Green Options Media blog network before launching the posts on Huffington Post. Here’s a sneak peek at what happens in the shower.

The magical cleaning agent in your bar of hygiene is likely cow fat or oil from, say, coconut. At the manufacturing plant, a chemical process removes the valuable glycerin in the fats and oils to be used in other products. The leftovers are mixed with sodium hydroxide and then blasted dry to form soap pellets, which are then mixed with the colorants, fragrances and other ingredients that allow a humble soap to go by the name of Carribean Breeze or Lilac Meadow.

While the production of soap—or anything, really—has environmental repercussions all its own, the pretty smells in our personal care products are, perhaps, the issue most worth examining here. Many of the chemicals producing fine aromas have been linked to not-so-fine human ailments or tested on animals, and their disposal—down your shower drain in a sudsy stream—fills our water system with chemicals that do not readily biodegrade (or breakdown).

Now, how about a shave?

Razor production involves a lot of steel—made from our friend iron ore, a finite natural resource, through a process officially known as Carbon Emissions Nightmare.

Modern-day razors also owe a lot to the stinky plastics industry, as most are either entirely disposable or come with the nifty replaceable blade cartridge. An estimated 2 billion disposable razors wind up in U.S. landfills in each year. Don’t forget the packaging (the thick plastic encasing a new Venus Quad-Blade Mach 3000 is more accurately described as a booby trap). You’ve got the plastic bag around the disposable razors, the plastic tray holding razor cartridges, the various spots of cardboard. A group called the Dogwood Alliance is fighting for companies such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Revlon to reduce excessive paper packaging.

Thanks to the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Lacey Johnston for research assistance.

Written by simran_sethi

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