Thinking about impact of shampoo industry in shower

The Environmental Impact of Shampoo

An Unchanged Industry...

Plastic waste is a huge problem, and a large contributor to climate change in 2021. Since the introduction of plastic in the 1950s, over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced, with approximately half of that amount having been produced between 2005 and 2020. This is a huge amount of plastic, and with most of it sitting in our landfills, it’s important to think about how we got to this point of a plastic epidemic. The easy culprits for plastic waste are plastic bottled drink manufacturers, plastic food packaging and plastic product packaging, but in each of these industries we have seen some change on a mainstream scale. Whether it’s buying a refreshing iced tea in a glass bottle, or opting for the cardboard cracker box instead of the plastic bag, there are options. However, there is one industry that has remained relatively unchanged in its ways of manufacturing... the shampoo industry. Let’s dive into the negative impact that standard shampoo has on our planet and what eco friendly shampoo alternatives are available to you as a consumer!

White plastic shampoo bottles, similar to ones used by Head and Shoulders and Dove.

Just How Big is the Impact?

Shampoo bottles are often overlooked when discussing the environmental impact of consumer products as they are able to be recycled. Unfortunately, as is the case with all plastic products, the idea that all plastic that can be recycled, is recycled, is false. Data from a 2016 census by Euromonitor states that only 50% of all plastic bottles are collected for recycling, and only 7% of those bottles are actually recycled into new bottles. Although Canada specifically does a better job at recycling plastic bottles, the reality is the recycler's must sell their recycled plastics on the market & compete with virgin plastic or else the plastic is put in landfills. Due to uncontrollable market conditions this can challenging. While we feel much better about throwing something into the recycling bin rather than the garbage, the sad reality is that these products often end up in the same place… the landfill. It is estimated that over 552 million shampoo bottles end up in our landfills yearly, which is enough bottles to fill 1,164 football fields. Once in the landfills, these bottles take an average of 450 years to decompose. Add another 552 million shampoo bottles yearly, and our planet has a compounding problem. It is clear that the negative environmental consequences of shampoo bottles are real, but what can be done if our recycling efforts don’t seem to work? The issue needs to be tackled at its source; the production of plastic bottles by applying the basics of waste management; refuse, reduce, reuse, repair... and then recycle. But first let’s highlight the market.

Plastic bottles in fishing net on the ocean shore.

The Big Players

The shampoo market is controlled by a number of large multinational brands, such as Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Garnier, Suave, etc. that have been around for many years. Unfortunately, these companies don’t acknowledge the harmful environmental effects of their products and have the power to continue to pump out plastic bottles for years to come with no regard for the environment. That being said, because they control much of the industry, they do have the power to bring innovation to an industry that has stayed the same for so long. But will they actually make this change? And why should we wait for them to change?


In recent years we have seen a shift in consumer preferences towards sustainability, and companies are starting to take notice, but not always for the right reasons. In recent years large scale companies have been making changes to their shampoo product lines to make them more eco-friendly - making small improvements & boasting about them causing a ‘greenwashing effect’ (you can learn more about greenwashing here). Companies like Dove, who are known for their commitment to ongoing social issues like mental health and sexism, are taking some steps towards establishing a new normal for shampoo bottle production. In 2019, Dove announced their launch of 100% recycled plastic bottles, in the hopes of establishing a circular economy for plastic consumption. Additionally, they announced their commitment to reducing plastic production at its source through the elimination of excess packaging. Head and Shoulders has taken steps towards sustainability with the introduction of plastic bottles made from beach plastic. Their parent company, P&G, has also taken steps in the right direction, with the announcement in 2017 that they would now be using 25% recycled plastic in the 500 million bottles they produce yearly. 
Unfortunately, while it is great to see some steps being made in the right direction, none of these companies have outright changed their processes to eliminate the need for plastic, and are still continuing to pollute the earth, one bottle at a time… that takes 450 years to degrade. It is evident that these changes are being made in an effort to capitalize on the emerging popularity of eco-friendly products and are not being made for the purpose of actually saving the earth. For example, while Head & Shoulders now offers one shampoo product option that is earth friendly, they also still offer 50+ options that are not eco-friendly, and overall, they continue to do much more harm than good.  Despite moving in the right direction, these solutions are simply not good enough, and if we want to truly combat climate change and plastic pollution more drastic changes need to occur immediately. Luckily, shampoo alternatives that completely eliminate plastic from your bathroom routine do exist, and they are becoming more accessible to consumers. 

The Real Alternatives

While the big shampoo companies have sat back and continued to pollute the earth, small businesses built from the ground up on sustainability carry the torch in bringing change to an unchanged industry. Instead of trying to cut down on plastic, or incorporating recycled plastic into packaging, zero waste brands like ourselves have cut plastic out of the situation completely through the introduction of shampoo bars! All-natural shampoo bars are the best plastic free alternative to harmful shampoo bottles on the market today. They offer the same great wash for your hair that you’ve become accustomed to, free of the damaging plastic packaging and chemicals of traditional shampoo. Generally being made by small scale companies like Life UNpacked with a passion for the earth, community and global change; shampoo bars offer a true alternative to plastic. These products are generally less accessible to consumers, but many retail stores throughout Canada are beginning to carry zero waste products, and as always, they can be bought online individually and shipped directly to your doorstep each month as part of a zero waste subscription.

All natural shampoo bars on a table with plants and plastic free razors

You Have the Power!

So what can you as a consumer really do? Change is often scary, both for consumers and for large companies. For you, the consumer, we encourage you to take that first small step, embrace change and give a shampoo bar a try. We know how you probably feel; however, the benefit to yourself as well as the earth that switching to an all-natural shampoo bar provides is worth it! Canadians from coast to coast are already switching. By supporting a small business built on green values, you are not only supporting initiatives that are bringing real change to the environment, but also signaling to those large scale plastic polluters, that you will no longer stand for their practices. The more people who jump on board with truly zero waste and plastic free products, the more that other people & companies will take notice, and change. Together we can take on climate change. You have the power to make a real difference and lead the trail towards sustainability, rather than leaving behind a trail of plastic. Take your first step today and become a trailblazer with the Life UNpacked family!

Woman washing her hair with an all natural zero waste shampoo bar.