Updated: Jun 11, 2020
As awareness of the plastic pollution problem increases and policymakers begin taking steps to remove it, we are left waiting with our hands folded for others to find a solution. Between the physiological and toxicological effects that hurt all marine life and our own bodies, we need a mindset of urgency with such an overwhelming problem.
The marine environment has to burden 300+ million tonnes of plastic entering it every single year, and that data was taken in 2014 (Ogundula, 2015). So much of that plastic pollution is from our every day products that can be easily replaced with plastic free alternatives. So, let's start with shampoo.
Why are plastic shampoo bottles bad for the ocean?
Well, shampoo bottles are rarely, if ever, recycled because consumers don't know you can recycle them and most people don't keep recycling bins in the bathroom. Even if they make their way to the recycle bin, less than 10% of those items ever actually get recycled. When you consider shampoo from hotels, airbnbs, and personal use, it adds up to millions of bottles ending up in landfills, waterways, and our oceans.
Plastic transfers pollutants like PCBs, PFCs, BPA, and DDT into our bodies and our oceans. These toxins are linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, and hormone disruption (Gross 2015, Leslie 2014). We are exposing ourselves to these chemicals with every plastic product we own, and it adds up to a pretty heavy chemical burden. The shampoo bottle breaks down into small pieces of plastic, which enters the marine food web and exposes thousands of species to the adverse effects of each pollutant (Leslie 2014). Not to mention the actual bottle can be eaten by species like whales, turtles, and sharks and damage their insides.
As a conservationist, I don't agree that any of this is okay for our planet, let alone our bodies. That's why I started exploring plastic free options for my hair. I quickly found out about shampoo bars, and couldn't help but wonder if it was worse for my hair ingredient-wise. When I did my own research, what I found was astonishing.
How do shampoo bars compare?
In addition to traditional shampoo containing severe toxins like BPA and PCBs, they contain phthalates that are used as a gelling agent (Dodson et al. 2013). These chemicals are included in the vague term "fragrance,"on the ingredient labels of hundreds of products from cleaners to deodorant to lotion to shower products. Phthalates are clearly linked to developmental abnormalities, hormone disruption, weight gain, and impaired male fertility (Desvergne et al. 2009). Why wasn't this information published on the label?
Not only are shampoo bars completely safe for the environment without packaging, they are free of all these hazardous chemicals. Shampoo bar brands are transparent about their ingredients, and make sure their bars are free of phthalates, sulfates, and completely safe for you and your family. Not to mention, they last up 80 washes!
What to expect when making the switch
Traditional shampoo uses chemicals to strip your hair of its natural oils, so I would recommend allowing 2 weeks for your hair to transition away from the heavy chemical exposure and back to its natural state. Your hair may seem oily during this time, but it is just detoxifying your scalp.
What brand should I try?
When I began using shampoo bars, I always bought them from LUSH because I knew they were vegan and trusted they wouldn't make my hair greasy. I just switched over to the Zero Waste Store and absolutely love supporting a smaller brand striving to help the planet and normalize a plastic free life. I also switched over because Zero Waste Store is more affordable, ships to my house completely zero waste (even plastic free tape!), and saves me from driving across Oahu to the most crowded mall on the island to get my shampoo.
The Sunshine Shampoo Bar leaves my hair smelling better than any other options I've come across in my 3 years of plastic free shampoo. All of their ingredients are organic, and their essential oils clean and soften my hair instead of weight it down with oil.
Make the switch for Mother Earth
Plastic shampoo bottles expose us to an intense chemical burden that becomes intensified with every use. Plastic bottles are rarely recycled, and end up in our oceans where they can pass on the toxins to sea life. The bottle breaks into small pieces that ocean species can mistake for food, ingest, and die from. As they ingest these microplastics, the pollutants enter the food chain where they are spread and magnified.
With shampoo bars, you are protecting yourself and all marine species from harsh chemical burdens. They are more cost effective, softer on your hair, and completely plastic free.
This is one of the most simple switches you can make in your every day lifestyle to help save the ocean and stop plastic production with your dollar. After all... if you won't do it, who will?
References and further reading:
Desvergne B., Feige J., Casals-Casas C. 2009. PPAR-mediated activity of phthalates: A link to the obesity epidemic? Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 304(102): 43-48. x
Dodson R., Nishioka M., Standley L., Perovich L, Brody J., Rudel R. 2012. Endocrine disruptors and Asthma associated chemicals in consumer products. Environmental Health Perspectives. x
Leslie H.A. 2014. A review of micro plastics in cosmetics. IVM Institute for Environmental Studies. x
Gross M. 2015. Oceans of plastic waste. Current Biology 25(3). x
Ogunola O., Falaye E., Onada O. 2018. Mitigation measures to avert the impacts of plastics and micro plastics in the marine environment (a review). Environmental Science and Pollution Research. x.