Getting into a lather – should we really be ditching liquid soap?

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been a bit bamboozled this week. I thought I’d make a few simple changes, straight off the bat. First up, I was going to change all my liquid soap to bars. When did all our soap become liquid anyway? It certainly wasn’t when I was a kid. Easy, right? Only in these modern days, sinks and other bathroom fixtures don’t have those little built in soap drainers that used to be standard, so I would be needing to invest in some soap dishes.

Secretly, this appealed. Most projects for me begin with setting myself up with the necessary kit. That is, of course, against the very essence of what I’m trying to achieve here. So I’ve been busy sitting on my hands trying to prevent myself throwing out everything constructed of a plastic based material and piously sourcing bamboo and coconut husk products to adorn my soon-to-be eco-friendly home.

While consulting Google over the carbon footprint of soap dishes of a variety of mediums, a phrase I never expected to be putting in a search engine, I came across an article on the carbon footprint of soap itself. A problem I thought I knew the solution to evidently needed some preliminary research.

I’ll not bore you with the details. Frankly, I’m not sure I understood them. I think the bottom line is that bar soap is definitely better. The dilemma arises due to the oils that have to be flown around the world to make up the soap. Liquids contain more chemical based products so there are less airmiles involved, and they are probably not so good for your skin.

So we’re good to go with replacing all liquid soap in the house with bars – when it runs out, obviously. Sit on those hands, remember. A quick recce round the house revealed four bars of soap hidden away in cupboards, so I don’t even need to buy any yet. I also found an alarming number of fancy looking sample sized shower gels fleeced by my husband on the rare occasions he gets to stay in a posher than usual hotel. I figure they should get used up at some point, and never replaced. Sigh.

So I’ve still not got my soap dishes. Common sense has to prevail over a detailed examination of carbon emissions, surely. I reckon I’m going to have these things for the duration of my life or theirs, whichever comes first. So I’m going with durability as a primary focus. Whichever one looks like it can be used as a missile and not shatter into a million pieces will win my vote. Not that I’m planning to use it as a missile you understand, it’s just that strange things happen in houses containing small children.

I found a new product that has passed the Winton family test. It is a scrub pad made from organic coconut fibre; totally biodegradable and compostable. I’ve been using it for about a week and it’s great. It doesn’t take the non-stick surface off pans or baking trays and uses less soap.

On the surface it seems like a great idea to use a natural product instead of a plastic based one. I’m not sure what would happen to the world if the demand for coconut suddenly went stratospheric, but for now, my conscience is eased on the plastic scourer front.

I also found a product that I abandoned after just three uses. A bamboo toothbrush. I have a small issue of sugar addiction and I like a nice firm brush to know that whatever sugar it’s possible to brush away, is suitably dealt with. A dentist may tell me that this isn’t how it works, but I just like to feel like my teeth have been cleaned. Using bamboo was like gently caressing my teeth the way you might loving stroke a baby’s hair with a soft brush. My dentist might have rubbed his hands with glee at the drilling that might or might not have ensued, but I wasn’t taking the chance. I will continue the search for a more effective one, but this one was not it.

I had an epic Eco Warrior fail this week. I suspect this will become a regular feature, just to make everyone else feel great about their own efforts. My daughter has a sports class about three miles from my home. Normally I drop her off and go about some errand or other before picking her up an hour later. If there is nothing I need to do within striking distance of her class, I go home and ‘achieve’ something, even if it’s just catching the end of Loose Women. Don’t judge.

Only I was saving the planet on this occasion, so I thought I’d sit tight and wait for her in the car with a book and a flask of tea. Events beforehand rendered the tea non-existent, but I had a plan. There was an independently run café within walking distance. Now I would be saving the planet and a small business. I was on a roll. It was all working out perfectly until I saw the barista, if we can call him that, pour my delicious latte into a non-recyclable disposable cup.

Photo by Ross Varrette on Unsplash

Awareness is the first step to change. I’ll get there.

I did have some success though. I managed to extend the life of two bits of stuff in my house. Firstly, a small thing, but every little helps. My son, Samuel, has a curly straw. I’ve no idea where it came from, probably a party bag. And don’t get me started on them! It ventured out one dinner time where, after engaging in many minutes of slurping, bubble blowing and general straw related mayhem, he decided on a more ambitious venture.

He’s an inquisitive child with an enquiring mind. How wonderful. How inconvenient. So he looked at his straw, and he looked at his mashed potato and you could kind of see how it was going to end. It was evidently quite easy to suck the mashed potato into the straw, however a bit trickier to get it out again. There was much screaming.

I tried various methods of mashed potato extraction involving syringes, washing up liquid, hot water and blowing, none of which yielded any success. I finally left it soaking in a cup full of water hoping that gravity might do something to extend the life of this bit of plastic.

Samuel wandered into the kitchen and started poking around it. ‘Leave that Samuel, I’ll have another go later’ I said, pondering whether I had a thin knitting needle lying about.

‘It’s ok, I think I’ve figured it out’.

A minute later he was retching into the sink. Yes, where I had gone for blowing, he had gone for suction. To be fair, it worked. And I don’t think he’ll be trying it again any time soon!

So, I didn’t have to put a curly straw in landfill. I’ll take these small wins where I can.

My other life extension came in the form of our burglar alarm. The battery died many months ago, and I finally got round to phoning a company to come and replace it. I tried three, none of whom would service an alarm as old as ours. It is 11 years old. I was offered many quotes for replacing the entire system; in fact I was told I really should do this as our system was so old it might not be fully functioning. I considered phoning the insurance company to tell them we no longer had an alarm.

Then my husband got the rage. This doesn’t happen often – usually when his pocket is being hit in a totally unnecessary fashion.  He searched YouTube for a video on how to replace a burglar alarm battery, laughed at the simplicity of it, bought a replacement battery for £15 and fitted it in about ten minutes. We now have a fully functioning burglar alarm. Burglars take note.

It angers me that we are expected to replace things so frequently. I remember having the same ropy vacuum cleaner from probably around the time I was born to when it finally gave up the ghost about twenty years later. It had been held together with gaffer tape for many years, but as long as it worked, my mum was happy to use it. She was endearingly excited to get a new one.

Last year I had to replace our ten year old washing machine after the drum broke and it was deemed irreparable. The attitude these days is far more ‘replace’ than ‘fix’. Are things built differently? Are they cheaper to replace? Do we have higher expectations of what our ‘stuff’ should do? Maybe I do more loads of washing in a week than my mum did. Maybe I do more vacuuming…! I suspect things just aren’t built to last anymore.

I’d say I’ve had a mixed start on the Eco Warrior Transformation Programme. I would like to be able to share with you that I’ve already made lots of lifestyle changes that are saving the planet, but I’m finding that it’s not straight forward to make a change that does more than attract headlines. I want to make sure that the changes I make don’t inflict a different problem further down the road. Like a shortage of coconuts.

Next week I’ll be sharing my journey on food packaging and looking at some realistic changes we can adopt that will hopefully make a difference.

I’m still keen to hear your ideas and success stories. And fails. It will make me feel better to know I’m not the only one struggling!

Post Author: catherine