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How our bathing habits impact the environment?

Updated: May 12, 2022

Commercial soaps not only jeopardise our health but also cause great harm to the environment. The bioaccumulation of the trace chemicals finally ends up o our dining tables in the food we eat. Read on to find out how.


Every day billions of people living on planet earth go about their routine. Most of them start the day with the morning toilet activities, brushing, bathing, grooming and so on. One of the most integral part of this routine for majority of people is bathing. Some people bath in evening, others after the day is over. Some really sincere ones do it both times. In some countries it is the climate which forces people to do so. Even more than twice on an especially hot summer day. Bathing is refreshing and therapeutic in many ways. It cleanses the body of dust, pollution, body odour and bacteria. It rejuvenates the senses and helps us get our mind off things for few moments. But have you ever stopped to think how this innocent indulgence affects our environment?

If we try to estimate the number of baths that take place on the face of earth in one day the numbers would be staggering. If we go one step ahead and estimate the total amount of soap that flows out of the drains and into the soil and water bodies during each of these baths in one day, can you imagine how many tonnes that must be? And we have not even taken into account the amount of hand wash that goes into the drain throughout the day, each time we wash hands. I don't think anybody must have calculated that, but we can imagine. Right?

Most of us use commercial soaps which come in so many forms and shapes these days, beauty bars, shower gels, shampoos, shaving creams, face wash, hand wash etc. These commercially manufactured soaps are in reality, synthetic detergents and are ridden with harmful chemicals which are not only risky for our own health but also the health of the planet. In addition to these 'syndets' we use for bathing and washing we also use detergents to do our laundry and wash utensils.

Mass manufactured synthetic detergents for all these purposes contain chemicals to render each of their properties. Surfactants for lather, Antimicrobial agents, preservatives for longevity, perfumes and dyes for fragrance and colour etc. Most of these compounds are either non biodegradable or degrade very slowly and wreak havoc during the time they are in the system.

They contaminate water supplies, rivers, and oceans with toxic heavy metals like cadmium and arsenic. Commonly used surfactants Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) break the surface tension of water. Lower surface tension reduces the oxygen level in the water, causing harm to fish and other aquatic wildlife, particularly tiny invertebrates. These surfactant molecules cause toxicity when they end up in soil. They enter the plants through roots or surface absorption. They are toxic to plants and cause retardation of plant growth, affect elongation of roots, photosynthetic efficiency, uptake of cations and growth of pollen tubes. They damage cell membranes and alter the absorption of chlorophyll pigments. They are reported to cause denaturation of proteins and inhibit enzymes in various metabolic processes. They cause damage to cell membrane of leaves by dissolving membrane proteins that are insoluble in water but soluble in detergent or surfactant solutions. .

“Commonly used surfactants Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) break the surface tension of water. Lower surface tension reduces the oxygen level in the water, causing harm to fish and other aquatic wildlife, particularly tiny invertebrates. These surfactant molecules cause toxicity when they end up in soil. ”

Commonly used anti microbial agents like Triclosans are known to kill earthworms and useful microorganisms in the soil hence curtailing important ecological processes like biogeochemical cycling, and decomposition of organic matter and pollutants, thus negatively impacting soil fertility. Some studies have expressed concerns that Triclosans may lead to increase in the number of antibiotic resistant micro organisms in the soil. That is increase of pathogens which cause diseases in plants and animals, and reduction in amount of good micro organisms which keep their numbers in check.

Preservatives like Parabens in detergents are highly effective in preventing the growth of fungi, bacteria and yeast that can cause products to spoil. They contribute directly to the quality of the products by extending their shelf life. also known to cause ecological harm by harming fishes and killing corals. These are some of many chemicals used in the manufacture of personal care products which are harmful to our bodies, our food chain as well as our environment in general. They are responsible for causing soil infertility and may end up in our food causing health impairments.

Potable water is becoming scarce on the planet due to many factors. Saving water has become utmost important if we want to continue our food supply and other survival needs of future generations to come. Hence, grey water recycling has become a significant practice. But this grey water that we use for irrigation needs to be free of chemicals otherwise the solution would backfire and become a problem itself. There is a chance that traces of these chemicals might accumulate in crops irrigated with grey water. These traces are quite harmless if they remain traces, but its not so that we eat only once. We consume food on a regular basis and there is no way of knowing where your fruits and vegetables are coming from. Cultivators practicing grey water recycling have the best intentions, but is there a way to know what contaminant is getting mixed in their water from what source? Even those farmers who are using fresh water for irrigation have no way of knowing the amount of contaminants in their irrigation source.

After reading this you must be thinking, what can be the solution to this? Once again, the answer is going back to traditional practices, going back to nature. Use and promote Handmade soaps. Handmade natural soap is not harmful for the soil and plant. Because it itself is a natural product. Saponification reaction yields triglyceride of fatty acid (glycerol) and sodium salt of fatty acid (soap). Both these products can be found in nature. eg. when we eat oils and fat they are saponified inside our intestine by enzymes called Lipase so that they can be assimilated by the body. Handmade soaps are made by this same process using oils and lye and do not contain any ingredients that are synthetic and harmful to environment in any way. They are fully biodegradable.

So, if you are planning to reduce your water footprint by grey water recycling using handmade soap is your best bet to ensure success of your efforts.

Use and promote handmade soaps and ensure your own health and health of the Planet!




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