Having made the move as a family as far away as possible from single-use plastics ('SUP' as they are now referred to in the #ontrend nomenclature of the eco warrior), we are now bar soap users rather than shower gel-ers. (Incidentally, this met with some resistance initially from the teens, but over a bottle a week was reason enough to stand firm!)
Our soap use is also off-the-scale ridiculous however. I'd like to think this is a reflection of our cleanliness, but it's probably more to do with the muck of working outdoors, and having three footballers in the household.
If you've made the transition to soap too, you will know that it's merely replacing one minefield with another. There is soap and there is soap. Here is an example:
Exhibit A, on the left, is a major supermarket's own-brand soap. It's cheap as chips, and although the pack of four bars is plastic wrapped, it's still less plastic than a shower gel bottle (although it's not recyclable. Maybe they'll switch to paper soon...) and probably a better option than not. Exhibit B, on the right, is Upcircle's chai soap, which is somewhat more (currently two bars for £9.99). It comes in a cardboard box, which could either be composted or recycled, and Upcircle upcycle used chai spices to make it, reducing food waste, which is brill. It'd be first on my list for a treat, but using a bar a week is outside our budget.
If you look closely at the ingredients (which is sadly something I do often), the reason for the price becomes apparent. Exhibit A has, near the top of the list, sodium palmate. Anything with 'palm' in it indicates that palm oil has been used. Palm oil is ultra cheap and accessible, but it comes with a heavy environmental price. In most cases, palm plantations occur where once there was virgin rainforest. Clearance displaces unique animals and plants, and through burning, contributes to the climate emergency. It's also shipped from far, far away... It is very, very difficult to buy either food or beauty products without palm oil nowadays (try it, you'll see!) but it's something I try to do as a matter of course.
Finding a palm oil free, cheap and accessible soap bar is not so easy. In the past I've ordered off Suma in bulk (bringing the cost down to around £1.50 a bar) but I forgot to add it last time and we were running short. The next cheapest option was an organic bar in Tesco at around £2.50 with 'sustainable palm oil' - the jury's out on this one. Some think it's better than no palm oil; some think it's still bad. I'm not sure, but on carbon miles alone, it seems iffy. And it's expensive.
So biting the bullet, I decided to do what I'd been meaning to do for several years and make my own soap. This, to the uninitiated like me is, quite simply, terrifying. There are burny chemicals (caustic soda), there is hot oil, there are drying and curing periods, there is 'superfatting...' And it all seems a little bit like a badly organised chemistry class in a small kitchen. But hey, I can do this!
I used this recipe, with the alternatives to lard listed, and substituted olive oil with local rapeseed. I gather it's important not to deviate too far from what's listed as, being a chemical reaction, the proportions have to be measured and precise (this is a challenge for me as a recipe wanderer).
But by golly jingo, it worked! It has dried calendula petals for colour and calm, orange oil for scent and oats for skin softening and mild exfoliation. It's lovely to use - lathers up nicely and leaves your skin moisturised.
We got 8 good sized bars from one sitting, which should last a couple of months. Taking around 3 weeks to cure, I'll need to make more in a fortnight or so to keep up, which is no hardship. The ingredients probably amounted to an equivalent of around 70p a bar, so it's cheaper than buying, there's zero packaging (not counting that of the oil or caustic soda etc) and it was a lot of fun to make. Plus there's a certain amount of self satisfied pride seeing it sitting on the side of the sink, knowing it's home made. Even the teens haven't complained.
In short, recommended. Give it a whirl!
Treading Lightly is simple living, within your means and the means of the planet, and making a minimal impact on the Earth. Find out more here about Catherine, of Barefoot Solutions, does this from day to day.