The principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ provide a guide on how to reduce your impact on the environment when visiting the outdoors. Biodegradable soap is a key way to minimise your impact when camping, hiking and enjoying the outdoors,
These principles were originally developed to provide guidance for outdoor activities in wilderness areas. But they are equally relevant and can be applied to many other outdoor activities such as attending on country workshops and festivals. Each one of the seven principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ provides detailed information for minimising human impact on the environment.
Camping and outdoor activities could well be described as being rustic, earthy and dirty. Soap, in all its forms, helps keep camping equipment and humans clean while camping, but not all soaps are equal. The wrong type of soap can harm the environment.
Choosing biodegradable soap is the best way to minimise your impact on pristine environments and keep waterways healthy.
Why are Biodegradable soaps so important?
To protect natural waterways we need to take extra precautions to ensure we have as little environmental impact as possible while we enjoy the outdoors. One of the ways we can support the health of our waterways is to not add pollution or nasties to water bodies like creeks, lakes and rivers and the that soils surround them. By using biodegradable soap in these areas (in fact any area whether outdoors on in your home) helps to support healthy waterways.
What is Biodegradable soap?
Biodegradable soap is real soap that can be efficiently decomposed or broken down and eliminated or reduced to negligible amounts by soil.
The term Biodegradable means that the ingredients used in a soap or other products can be broken down naturally by bacteria and/or living organisms, rather than remaining in the soil for a long period.
A soap is generally considered to be biodegradable when at least 90% of its ingredients break down into water, carbon dioxide and biological material within six months of being discarded.
Many regular soaps bought in the supermarket are not biodegradable. These ‘regular’ soaps can contain chemical ingredients like phosphates or triclosan, which cannot break down naturally or be filtered out during water treatment. For example, when phosphates find their way into lakes they can cause algae to overgrow, causing ‘algal blooms’. An algal bloom is harmful to plants and animals as it can take up all of the oxygen in the water which essentially suffocates all the existing fish, animals and plants in a body of water. Regular soap causes build up of these chemicals in lakes and rivers upsetting the natural balance of the water and environment.
How do I identify a biodegradable soap?
Most Mwerre soaps are biodegradable. Biodegradable bar soaps are made from quality, natural vegetable oils which reacts with lye to make soap with glycerin, this is called saponification. Any saponified soap bar or ‘cold-process’ soap bar is a good place to start for finding a biodegradable soap. These real ‘saponified’ soaps are made using traditional methods with natural ingredients and are unlikely to include other additives, fragrances, chemicals or detergents such as surfactants.
Of course, when buying any soap it’s worth considering all the additives included in soap. While most saponified soap is biodegradable, they may include non-biodegradable ingredients.
Most regular or commercial ‘soaps’ have surfactants, which are man-made foaming agents. These surfactants are extremely hard to filter and remove during water treatment processes. Products that advertise themselves as anti-bacterial are especially likely to include these, so double check the ingredients.
Most commercial soaps have surfactants, known as man-made foaming agents. These surfactants are unhealthy for the environment and hard to filter out during water treatment processes. An easy switch is making sure you use biodegradable dish soap, hand soap, shampoo and body wash.
It’s not only about the soap being biodegradable, it’s also how you use it!
Whether you are at hiking or trekking, camping or glamping, any waste water from using soap (even biodegradable ones) must be suitably disposed of, to help support a healthy environment.
When camping, using regular or non-biodegradable soap to wash yourself, your clothes or your pots and pans harms waterways! While biodegradable soap has a lower impact than regular soap, all soap needs to be used with care in the outdoors. You should minimise the use of soap and never use soap directly in water sources to wash yourself, your dishes/equipment or clothes.
You should always do any washing away from creeks, rivers or lakes. Collect water, and take it to a wash site at least 60 metres away from water sources. This lessens trampling and erosion of riverbanks and shorelines, and helps keep soap and other nasties out of the water.
There are two best practice methods of disposing of soapy waste water or ‘grey water’ outdoors:
- Disperse or throw small amounts of grey water in a wide arc. This method prevents pouring of concentrated waste water in one spot and saves you from having to dig a cathole, especially if you do not have tools handy.
- Dig a ‘cathole’ (a hole in the ground about 150-200 deep x 200mm long) into which you can pour your grey water from washing. Digging a hole to bury the waste water puts the soap in direct contact with bacteria in the soil that will break it down and aid in efficient decomposition. It also helps to prevent potential surface runoff during rainy weather. Make sure you fill in your cathole and the waste is covered and the soil is well compacted.
Which Mwerre soaps are biodegradable?
Most of our soaps are biodegradable! We have created a menu item in our Features section titled biodegradable which includes all of our biodegradable products.
Shop our biodegradable soaps here