Breaking Up With Dawn

Last updated on November 28, 2021.

Dawn soap
Dawn dishwashing liquid soap

I’ve used Dawn dishwashing detergent my entire adult life. It seemed to work better than every other brand I  tried. The concentrated version seemed to go a lot further than other brands, therefore giving me my money’s worth. Even after I started reducing the number of products in plastic packaging that I buy, I kept buying Dawn. I used it not only to wash dishes but also used it in my Easy DIY all-purpose cleaner.

And, I was supporting clean-up efforts and saving wildlife after oil spills, right?

I believed that Dawn products were helping clean and save wildlife after oil spills. And I think they do in some cases, as well as raise money to donate toward rescue efforts. According to a 2010 article in the Washington Post after the major BP Deepwater Horizon spill, Dawn is legitimately used by the International Bird Rescue. “After a 1971 oil spill, the California-based nonprofit group began experimenting with products including paint thinner and nail polish remover to find the least traumatizing method for cleaning oiled animals.”1 So in 1978, the International Bird Rescue started a relationship with Procter and Gamble, the makers of Dawn. “Through trial, error, and our tenacity to find a solution, we discovered that Procter and Gamble’s Dawn dish soap, was the golden ticket! It was inexpensive, effective, readily available, and Procter and Gamble was excited to learn about this somewhat unusual use of their product.”2

Procter & Gamble heavily markets Dawn’s Saving Wildlife campaign toward conscientious consumers. Their advertisements pull at our heartstrings. One moved me to tears, which I originally shared in this post. The URL for that specific video changes frequently, so I decided to just let you search “dawn oil spill commercial” on YouTube where you’ll find many of these commercials. But the footage was not of wildlife actually affected by an oil spill. The commercials are a “simulated demonstration” and some have a caption indicating “no oil used.” I’ve read they coat the animals with a mixture of tempera paint and corn syrup so they can simulate cleaning the animals on camera. I find this to be a questionable practice.

Oil covered bird. Photo by Mike Shooter on Shutterstock.
Oil-covered bird. Photo by Mike Shooter on Shutterstock.

But Dawn is petroleum-based – so does that mean they’re part of the problem? 

NPR did a segment on this very issue after the BP oil spill disaster in 2010, looking at the story in detail and interviewing people from both sides. The overall conclusion was that yes, Dawn does help remove crude oil from the animals. But this is because the grease-cutting part of the solution is made from petroleum, according to Procter & Gamble, who was interviewed for the segment. There are alternatives to using petroleum products but that needs testing. Meanwhile, rescuers and veterinarians are sticking with what works, because, in the end, they are trying to save the animals’ lives.3

Yet others find the product to be hypocritical because Dawn is a petroleum-based soap.4 A writer for Treehugger.com wrote:

“The sad irony of the whole thing is that Dawn is petroleum-based. Every bottle of Dawn used to clean a bird actually adds to our nation’s demand for oil. Not only are we using an oil-based product to clean oiled birds, but we’re increasing the incentives for companies to drill for more oil, making it more likely that there will be another spill. Which, incidentally, will be great for Dawn’s marketing. It’s one big beautifully incestuous circle.”5

oil rig, Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash
Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

What about animal testing?

Procter & Gamble, owner of the Dawn brand, does do animal testing. They have committed to the #BeCrueltyFree Campaign in recent years but have not yet achieved that status. If you want non-animal-tested and cruelty-free products, avoid Procter & Gamble brands and products.

An oiled gannet getting cleaned at a rehabiliation center after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
An oiled gannet getting cleaned after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, at the Theodore Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, June 17, 2010. Image by Deepwater Horizon Response on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND 2.0).

What about the ingredients in Dawn?

I decided to check into the ingredients of Dawn through the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Dawn Ultra Concentrated Dishwashing Liquid (Original), the very product I used to regularly buy, received a D rating (on A-D, F grading scale). One of the main concerns was the lack of ingredient disclosure. There are not many laws in the United States regarding chemicals in household ingredients and products. Procter & Gamble is not required to tell us what is exactly in their product. Many companies like to keep their ingredients and formula a secret, to prevent others from copying. EWG’s Top Scoring Factors for this Dawn product were “Poor disclosure; May contain ingredients with potential for acute aquatic toxicity; general systemic/organ effects; bioaccumulation.”6

Procter & Gamble claims to be using biodegradable surfactants in Dawn and claims to be trying to improve and reduce packaging. But this giant corporation has made only a few changes over the last decade – it’s too little, too slow.

Before (left) and After (right) oiled Brown Pelican washed at the Fort Jackson, LA Oiled Wildlife Center.
Before and After oiled Brown Pelican washed at the Fort Jackson, LA Oiled Wildlife Center, May 14, 2010. Photo courtesy of the International Bird Rescue Research Center on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Plastic-free dishwashing?

Dawn dishwashing soap has been one of my hold-overs from going plastic-free that I haven’t been able to kick yet. Then one weekend, I ran out. I used to buy the economy-size bottles, tricking myself into believing that buying a larger plastic bottle was better than lots of little bottles. But I was unable to find that size again at my regular grocery store. And short of running around to Target or Walmart or searching online, I decided maybe this was a good opportunity to try something different. Here were my options:

Seventh Generation dish soap. Photo by me.
Seventh Generation dish soap. Photo by me.

Ugh! My only choices were plastic, plastic, and more plastic. However, this store also carries Seventh Generation brand dish soap. If you’re not familiar with this brand, they use ingredients they believe to be safe and healthy as well as using post-consumer recycled packaging. This bottle that I purchased is a plastic bottle marked “100% recycled plastic.” They also list all of their ingredients on the back of the package. Last, Seventh Generation does not test on animals.

Unfortunately, before using this product at home, I checked the EWG’s site to see if they’d tested it. Sadly, it only received a C rating, meaning “some potential for hazards to health or the environment. At least some ingredient disclosure.” While they found their ingredient disclosure good, they found that this dish soap has ingredients that have some concerns, mostly aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects, and skin irritations. Seventh Generation does follow the regulations for the EPA Safer Choice certification, but EWG still found concerns. But it has much safer ingredients than most of the brands on the shelves of most stores.

washing a fork, Photo by Catt Liu on Unsplash
Photo by Catt Liu on Unsplash

What am I going to do next?

Dawn and most other major brands of dishwashing soap are going to have the same issues with plastic packaging, animal testing, and unsafe ingredients. With all of those things combined, I am going to try going plastic-free on dish soap after I use this bottle of Seventh Generation. Because even that 100% recycled bottle has an afterlife. And there is no guarantee that that plastic bottle won’t end up floating in the ocean someday.

I am experimenting with using bar dish soap and baking soda. I’ll update this post once I’ve experimented and have some good results to share. What about you? Can you try a new solution for washing dishes plastic-free, toxic-free, and animal-friendly? Join me in the adventure and be the change. Please share and subscribe, and thanks for reading!

Update, March 15, 2019: We have been using plastic-free bar soap for a couple of months now to wash dishes. And it’s working good! We just rub the scrub brush and Skoy cloth against the soap and then wash our dishes and pots. I’ve been trying different brands.

I’m also now using baking soda for cleaning pots, especially those that have stains or black areas. I learned this advice from Beth Terry at myplasticfreelife.com, and it does work – look how clean I got this pot!

Footnotes:

Bar Soap & Why It’s Better than Liquid Soap

Last updated on December 26, 2020.

Bar soap is often plastic free, less expensive than liquid soap, and usually has safer ingredients. Photo by silviarita on Pixabay
Bar soap is often plastic free, less expensive than liquid soap, and usually has safer ingredients. Photo by silviarita on Pixabay

Bar Soap can be plastic free

Switching to bar soap is one big change you can make right away. Stop buying liquid soap that comes in plastic bottles, even the large refill bottles. Yes, those bottles are recyclable but please know that recycling isn’t what we think it is. If those items make it to the recycling center, they will be down-cycled (the chemical composition of plastic changes when heated) and cannot be a soap bottle again. So the answer is almost always to refuse plastic. Just stay away from it.

Unfortunately, many soaps at the local supermarket are plastic wrapped. Ugh! So you’ll likely need to find a moderately priced soap. You can find one or two brands that are plastic-free at Publix. I usually find bar soaps for our hands at Earthfare or Whole Foods, and again, I only buy the brands that have no plastic packaging. It’s just not necessary. For the rest of my body, I use Nourish brand bar soaps.

There are many bar soap choices, but most are wrapped in plastic. There's really no need for this. Photo by me.
There are many bar soap choices, but most are wrapped in plastic. There’s really no need for this. Photo by me.

Microbeads in body wash (liquid soap)

If you are or were using body wash with “exfoliating” features, please know that what you were most likely using to scrub your skin was little, tiny plastic beads. And those beads are now found in the ocean and the Great Lakes. When microbeads go down the drain, they pass unfiltered through sewage treatment plants and end up in rivers and canals, and eventually the ocean. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 was passed in December 2015, and it amended the “Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to ban rinse-off cosmetics that contain intentionally-added plastic microbeads beginning on January 1, 2018, and to ban the manufacturing of these cosmetics beginning on July 1, 2017. These bans are delayed by one year for cosmetics that are over-the-counter drugs.” It was a fight to get rid of them, so thank you and congrats to everyone who contributed to that cause!

Is bar soap hygienic?

I have heard that some people believe that bar soap is less hygienic than liquid soap. I also believe that large companies have promoted this myth to consumers in order to make a higher profit. It’s likely cleaner and safer! The fact is, most dispensers, in the places your fingers and hands touch, are not clean. Think about that – do you sanitize your dispensers? If you do, congratulations on being so hygienic! But public restroom soap dispensers are often not sanitary. Have you ever noticed that most hotels provide bar soap and not liquid soap in the rooms? I imagine that has a lot more to do with cost than sanitation, but I’ll give them credit for both! I’ve also read that hotels take the leftover bar soap and melt it down to remake into new soap bars, although I have not verified this myself.

Upon an internet search, I discovered that the question about germs on bar soap is common, but most articles I’ve come upon indicate that the risk is low, perhaps lower than liquid soap in a dispenser. Many articles and posts cite a 1988 study done by the Dial Corporation, which found that bacteria did not spread through washing with bar soap. But sometimes companies drive profit up through fear. Regardless of that study, many companies encouraged the idea that using liquid soap was more hygienic and sanitary – and the idea stuck!

“Liquid soap requires about five times more energy to produce than a bar of soap, and it is almost always sold in a plastic bottle.” –Living Without Plastic: More Than 100 Easy Swaps for Home, Travel, Dining, Holidays, and Beyond 

Take care of your bar soap

So make the switch, and here’s the advice I’ve found online: First, let your bar soap dry in the open (as opposed to a closed soap dish). Second, if the soap is moist, run the bar under the water for a few seconds to rinse off the outside “slime.” Third, if you are sharing bar soap, you’re likely only sharing it with family members, and you share many microorganisms with them anyway. Last, if you are washing your hands the way you’re supposed to and for the amount of time you’re supposed to, you’re washing any residual germs away anyway.

Image of bar soap, Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash
Photo by Paul Gaudriault on Unsplash

Cost

Bar soap is significantly less expensive when compared to liquid soap because the amount of uses from bar soap is higher than with liquid soap. Cost analyses on the internet mostly show that bar soap is cheaper. I am no mathematician so I am not going to attempt the figures. But I will tell you that since I switched solely to bar soap in my household, we’ve seen a savings! Even with the moderately priced soaps we use. And it was one more step toward plastic free! Yay!

Safe Ingredients

I will not reinvent the wheel on this part – there is so much written about the ingredients in so many of our products, including liquid soaps. First, always check products through the Environmental Working Group‘s (EWG) website. They are a non-profit dedicated to being a consumer advocate, testing and reviewing products so that people can look up and understand what’s really in their products. They have guides to cosmetics, sunscreens, cleaners, food, personal care products, and even tap water!  They’ll be able to show you what’s really in that soap, liquid or bar, for many major products.

Second, Beth Terry at myplasticfreelife.com wrote about body wash and liquid soap compared with bar soap. She also reviewed some of the problems of liquid soaps including that soaps can contain toxic ingredients. I don’t see the need to reinvent the wheel since her article is so well written and thorough. Please read it!

DIY

You can even make your own bar soap, any shape or color you want! Photo by pixel2013 on Pixabay
You can even make your own bar soap, any shape or color you want! Photo by pixel2013 on Pixabay

Although I have not ventured into soap making yet, I likely will one day (and I’ll be sure to blog about it). There are probably hundreds of ideas on the internet for DIY soap. Making your own soap could be a new hobby, a family project, or a challenge among friends to see who makes the best soaps! Get your creativity on with different shapes, scents, and colors. I imagine Pinterest is bursting with ideas on soap-making!

I hope this post has been helpful to you. If you have questions or ideas, I’d love to hear them! Please leave me a comment below! Thank you for reading.

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to recommend certain products.

Halloween Candy Wrappers: A Plastic Nightmare

Last updated on March 28, 2021.

Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Trick-or-treating on Halloween is a tradition. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Did you know that American spending on Halloween should top $9 billion this year? Or that $2.6 billion will be spent on candy that is individually wrapped and thrown away? And most of it’s not recyclable and just ends up in landfills or bodies of water?

Don’t have guilt. Get inspired!

I don’t want to be one of those people that makes you feel bad about it. That’s not why I’m here. But I do want to inspire you to be forward-thinking. I want to get you thinking about next year, and what we can do to eliminate some of the wastefulness.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and I absolutely participate! Especially because I have a young son and I want to share all of the Halloween traditions with him. Surely, I can reduce waste from this holiday and still have a silly great time!

So what can we do going forward?

Start thinking about the big picture and asking questions: How many candy wrappers do we throw away, just in the United States? How many costumes are tossed in a landfill instead of reused or donated? What is the total amount of decorations made of cheap plastic that get used for only one Halloween before they end up in a landfill? Do many pumpkins go into a landfill instead of being used as food or composted? How many resources are wasted on this one holiday?

I’m actually not sure. I couldn’t find exact data for any of those things. The closest I came to actual data was related to pumpkin waste, which I hadn’t even considered before today. I’ll cover that in another post. I’m just focusing on candy today.

Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.
Bowl of Halloween candy from a trunk-or-treat event. Photo by me.

Candy & Their Wrappers

Recycle Nation calls Halloween candy “Halloween’s Environmental Nightmare.” Putting plastic wrappers into regular recycling is not possible. They aren’t made of materials that are collected by recycling facilities. Hershey’s kisses, gold chocolate coins, and other types of candies are wrapped in aluminum foil, which is great if you live in a town or city that accepts aluminum foil through the recycling system. Unfortunately, where I live in the Southeast, it is not accepted. Even so, foil-wrapped candies would be better than plastic!

Sometimes candy wrappers can be upcycled. TerraCycle and lots of artists on Etsy.com make upcycled candy wrapper bags and purses, and many other items.

Terracycle candy and snack wrapper zero waste boxes

TerraCycle sells zero waste boxes for candy and snack wrappers, and they take the collected materials and make them into new products. They are expensive, and therefore not everyone can or will do that. Realistically, upcycling the candy wrappers is not the solution.

So what is the solution? There are a few ways to drastically reduce plastic waste.

Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.
Plastic Halloween candy wrappers from a Halloween event. Photo by me.

Trick-or-treaters at your house

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home wrote that if you are purchasing candy to give out to trick-or-treaters, ensure it comes in fully recyclable packaging such as cardboard or paper. Think Nerds, Junior Mints, Pixie Sticks, Dots, or Milk Duds. Find lollipops that are paper-wrapped and not plastic-wrapped. Maybe small boxes of raisins? There’s also a company called Alter-Eco that sells truffles individually wrapped. They’re pricey, but sometimes that’s what it takes to protect the environment and ourselves. I’ve bought my candy for this year, but next year I will be buying candy that is not wrapped in plastic.

Another idea I’ve found online is giving out coins for trick-or-treating. I remember finding quarters in my Halloween bag when I was a kid. Have kids close their eyes, reach into a bowl and grab a handful. Child obesity is very high these days, so this may even be a better option!

Coin jar, Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash
Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash

Think outside the box! Maybe seeds packets or small wooden toys? Pencils or crayons? Drinks in aluminum cans, which might be quite refreshing after running from house to house. Anything to stop this huge plastic waste stream. Others suggest different types of fruit, such as oranges and tangerines, but the supposedly urban myth of poisoned foods will likely result in the fruit being thrown away.

If you are having a Halloween party, Bea Johnson also suggested purchasing candy in bulk using your own jars (or cloth bags) to avoid the candy wrapper dilemma altogether. I know Whole Foods and a few other stores sell bulk candy. Where individually wrapped candy is required, such as at a school or church, wrap them in small paper bags, you can even decorate them!

Taking your children trick-or-treating

How about reducing the amount of trick-or-treating you participate in? Sure it’s fun to go house to house, and kids love the reward of candy. But you, as a parent, know how much candy is enough for your household – so stop there. Encourage the fun by just walking the neighborhood, and shifting the focus from obtaining an excessive amount of candy. Maybe just stop at every other house on your route. Your whole family will still have a great time!

Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash
Individually wrapped candies create a litter and plastic problem. Photo by Tucker Good on Unsplash

Trash Art?

Last, if you aren’t using Terracycle’s zero waste boxes for candy wrappers, how about using the wrappers for art? There are hundreds of art project ideas out there – just type in “upcycle candy wrappers” on Pinterest and you’ll find them. Anything from vases to handbags, hair bows to dresses. This is one of my favorites that I’d like to try someday:

Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest
Upcycled candy wrapper vase, found on Pinterest

Trash & Litter

The last thing I want to say about candy wrappers is the amount of litter they create on Halloween. Kids don’t necessarily mean to drop things, they just do – even the environmentally-conscious ones. I’m part of the Litterati, and my plan is to photograph and pick up every piece of litter that I see tonight while taking my son trick-or-treating. It will be mostly candy wrappers, but we live in a city that has the Tennessee River flowing right through the center of it. So I feel compelled to pick up those wrappers!

Can you do the same thing, pick up the candy wrappers and trash? Can you join the Litterati? Will you be the change?

As always, thanks for reading. I’d love to know if you have any out-of-the-box ideas about reducing waste from Halloween. Please leave me a comment below!

This post does not contain any affiliate links.

Footnotes:

Toilet Paper: Paper, or Plastic?

frog figurines next to toilet paper
Photo by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay.

Toilet paper is one of those things that we all buy and use. But have you ever noticed that the vast majority of brands wrap it in plastic? Then you take that package home and throw the plastic in the trash because it’s not recyclable. My family used Quilted Northern for years and threw away that plastic packaging every week. I tried Charmin brand once, and they wrapped every 4 rolls of toilet paper in plastic. Those were then wrapped inside of the 16 pack with more plastic packaging.

I’ve looked everywhere locally – Food City, Publix, Wal-Mart, Target, Earthfare, and Whole Foods. The majority is plastic wrapped, sadly. You can buy individual rolls of toilet paper that are wrapped in paper at the local stores, but that is not cost effective for a family.

Affordable plastic-free toilet paper?

The first thing I did a couple of years ago was to check myplasticfreelife.com, as blogger Beth Terry is an authority on living plastic free. In 2007 she addressed the issue and discovered that she could buy a case of 60 paper wrapped rolls of Seventh Generation toilet paper from Amazon (click here for her article). The company uses recycled paper and post-consumer recycled paper in their products. I do not normally buy in bulk, but I was about to make this switch when I discovered the company, Who Gives a Crap. Their claim: “We make all of our products with environmentally friendly materials, and we donate 50% of our profits to help build toilets for those in need.” I decided to give it a try since they seemed legitimate. I received my box (see image) and was really excited!

Who Gives A Crap toilet paper
My Who Gives A Crap toilet paper order.

Believing that some things are too good to be true, I posted on myplasticfreelife.com’s discussion board about the company. Beth Terry had heard of it but not yet tried it. Since then, she has not only tried the product and switched to it, but she extensively interviewed the head of product and sourcing of Who Gives A Crap via email and asked important questions about their claims and products. It’s a good interview and I respect the company even more now. Please read it!

FYI, their toilet paper is free of BPA, which apparently does show up in recycled toilet papers. Another issue for another post, but one which myplasticfreelife.com covered thoroughly.

I did not get paid or receive gifts to write this post. However, if you decide to try Who Gives A Crap, please use this link and we’ll both get $10 off our next order.

Are there alternatives?

Yes, there are. Bidets are like an additional toilet used for washing your nether regions. Installed in the bathroom, usually next to the toilet, and more popular in Europe and Japan than North America. If you still don’t understand how they function or how one would use a bidet, read this. For the history of the bidet, read here.

Does the use of a bidet reduce toilet paper consumption, and hence save trees? According to an article in Scientific American, they not only save trees but they save water (water from the production of toilet paper).

Personally, I’d be willing to try this but there is just no room in our small bathroom.

There’s also something called family cloth, which are basically reusable cloth wipes that you launder after each use and then use again post laundering. I had a family member who made her own to use while she was pregnant because she was peeing so frequently – brilliant! I’ll refrain from writing a lengthy dialogue about it for now because there are so many articles already out there. Here’s one from BuzzFeed that I enjoyed reading. But I did find articles that indicated that this practice can spread germs – on the other hand, what did we do before the modern toilet paper roll?

That’s another article for another day, I think.

Have you found other brands of plastic-free toilet paper? Or have you tried one of these alternatives, or even another that I did not cover? I’d love to know if you’ve thought of something else!