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The Case for Plastic-Free Shampoo and Conditioner

Posted on by Unwrapped Life

While we pursue our mission year round, plastic-free July is a great time to raise awareness of the problem of plastic pollution. It saddens us to think that Mother Earth is perhaps tainted beyond repair, as the statistics are pretty scary, especially around plastics.

According to a study summarized by the New York Times, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since it was introduced in the 1950s, with around half of it made since 2004. Sadly, most of that plastic is no longer in use. Only around 9% of it has been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% is accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. Plastic packaging, which is typically used for less than a year, accounted for about 42% of non-fiber (aka, non-material) plastic production in 2015. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050.  

Read Unwrapped Life's blog to learn information about plastic recycling rates and why you should make the switch to plastic-free shampoo bars and conditioner bars this Plastic-Free July.

Of course, shampoo and conditioner bottles are only part of the problem and typically hang around your shower longer than a single-use water bottle would. Still, this collection of videos from Johnson & Johnson paints a dire picture about shampoo bottle usage and disposal (in the U.S. alone!!):

  • more than 552 million shampoo bottles could be ending up in landfills every year;
  • the number of shampoo bottles thrown out in the United States every year could fill 1,164 football fields; and
  • only 1 in 5 people consistently recycle items from the bathroom.

    Now, think about these estimates on a global scale, and add to that all of the travel size shampoo and conditioner bottles in hotels around the world that are replaced with each new guest! The numbers become staggering very quickly… 

    Read Unwrapped Life's blog for why you should go zero-waste in your hair care routine this Plastic-Free July by making the switch to plastic-free shampoo bars and conditioner bars.

    Yes, for the most part (depending on your jurisdiction) shampoo and conditioner bottles are easy to recycle after a quick rinse, but how many people are actually doing that regularly? Given the statistics above indicating that under 10% of plastic at large is recycled historically, in our mind, it’s clear that recycling isn’t enough.

    This is by far the number one reason to make the switch to shampoo bars and conditioner bars. These little pucks don’t require packaging, so they are much better for the environment than their bottled counterparts. 

    We spent some time hunting around the Internet for some statistics on shampoo usage so we could try and paint a better picture of how many bottles of shampoo and conditioner are in circulation globally, but unfortunately we weren’t able to find anything that directly answered that question. Instead, we came across some U.S. Census and Simmons National Consumer Survey (NHCS) data that claims 298.83 million Americans used shampoo in 2017. Arguably, most of these people likely used some form of bottled product, so that amounts to a heck of a lot of bottles, especially since that number doesn’t include all the small bottles produced for hotels worldwide! 

    That was helpful, but on this quest for shampoo usage information we came across this article summarizing estimates from Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report that scared the socks off us! While it’s related to water bottle production, here are some terrifying highlights that shed light on the enormity of just how much disposable bottles we are generating annually: 

    • A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number is projected to jump another 20% by 2021
    • This equates to about 20,000 bottles being bought every second
    • More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300 billion a decade ago. If placed end to end, these bottles would extend more than halfway to the sun. 
    • By 2021, annual plastic bottles sold is projected to increase to 583.3 billion.
    • Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. That means, approximately 93% of the 480 billion plastic water bottles sold in 2016 ended up in landfill or in the ocean.

    These statistics are related to plastic water bottles ALONE! In other words, this information doesn’t encompass all the other packaging waste in our supply chain (like shampoo bottles!), or other waste in general (hello, fast fashion!). When you start to think about it from that perspective, the numbers are truly enormous. To us, it’s a no brainer that it’s better for the environment (and ultimately for the future of our species and all species on earth) to make an effort to reduce packaging across the board where possible.  

    Read Unwrapped Life's blog to learn about how much of a problem plastic water bottles are and why you should go zero-waste in the shower this Plastic-Free July by making the switch to shampoo bars and conditioner bars.

    Now that you have a sense of our mission, you might be asking “What IS a shampoo bar and how can I use one?”

    Well, while over 95% of shampoos and conditioners are in liquid form, these hair care products come in bar form - not unlike a bar of soap. We took all the ingredients that cleanse and benefit your hair and scalp, removed the water and made them into concentrated bars of ingredients. These solid-form cleansers and moisturizers do everything a liquid shampoo and conditioner can do - cleanse, add volume and sheen, protect, add moisture - but require less complex packaging (an environmental win!).

    As they are made from super concentrated ingredients, they become activated when mixed with water in your shower or bath. When our shampoo bars make contact with water, they lather up and that lather can be worked through your hair like regular shampoo to cleanse without stripping your hair and scalp. Likewise, our conditioner bars are water activated as well. You won’t feel the ‘slip’ until you put your hair under running water after rubbing the bar along your locks.

    One of the other benefits of the bars being more concentrated than traditional shampoos and conditioners is you can use less per application and they will, with proper care, last longer. Take a look at a bottle of shampoo or conditioner in your shower and one of the first ingredients you will likely see is water. This explains why you typically need a healthy dollop of product to get the performance you want. It’s true, most brands recommend only using a dime or quarter sized amount, but how many of us tend to use quite a bit more than that? We know we were over applying both shampoo and conditioner when we were using liquid product. With our bars, it’s a lot more difficult to use too much, especially when you are applying the bars directly to your head (which is what we recommend). With the shampoo bars, you will find they suds up right away, so you’re able to tell pretty quickly when you’ve reached your desired lather. And the conditioner bars take a little bit of extra effort to get your strands coated with enough product to feel slippery, which helps extend the life of the product and to prevent over-application. To get the maximum usage out of your bars, ensure proper care (friends - don’t be letting your bars soak in water, and make sure they get air circulation around them to dry between use)! 

    Not convinced to make the switch to solid shampoo bars and solid hair conditioner bars yet? Here are a few other reasons you may want to give them a try!

    • Paying for water - like we said, the first ingredient in most bottled product is ‘water’! Which, in and of itself, is a very precious resource.
    • Carbon foot print - bars are lighter, more compact and more concentrated! Transporting products without added water is much more energy efficient and carbon conserving.
    • Space - again, bars being concentrated with no water means they take up less space, in your shower, cupboard, suitcase, wherever.
    • Zero-waste - once you're done your bars, there's nothing to dispose of.
    • Results - yes, you can get luxury results without buying products in fancy packaging.

    For every person that converts to a package-free option like shampoo bars and conditioner bars, we’re diverting unnecessary plastic packaging from landfills and our oceans, or an already bogged-down recycling system, which is more important than ever, given the state of plastic pollution and the shocking truth is that 91% of plastic isn’t recycled 

    Zero-waste hair care from Unwrapped Life. Read our blog to learn why you should make the switch to plastic-free shampoo bars and conditioner bars this Plastic-Free July.

    As our waste problem grows (and is projected to get worse), the need for bigger landfills and increase in incineration contributes to the production of methane gas, toxic compounds such as dioxins (linked to cancer), and other heavy metals which all add to the significant climate challenges facing us.  

    We need to shake the idea that plastics are disposable, because, rather, they are virtually indestructible, taking anywhere from 10-1,000 years to break down. And when they do breakdown, becoming old and brittle in the natural environment (plastic never fully biodegrades), they end up looking an awful lot like food for the smallest members of the food chain, like plankton, where it enters the food chain and ultimately ends up on our dinner plates.

    We hope this blog has inspired you to "be the change" and give shampoo bars and conditioner bars a try!


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