Learning to Make Soap: Part 10

Apr 29, 2021

Why buying ingredients can be an ethical juggling act

Following on from last week when I put in place my plan for getting my soaps ready to be safety assessed. Part of which included making a lot more soap so that I would know the exact amounts of any colourants, scents and botanicals. 

So have I managed to move forward with this? Well the honest answer is no! It has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to work out where to purchase these new ingredients from (and to restock others). The first problem has been actually finding the suppliers. You would think that a simple google search would bring up all the botanical suppliers in the UK. Sadly that is not the case, I mean it does bring up a few but no where near all of them, some I have found via recommendations on social media or other soap /skincare blogs and some to just by luck - but I am sure there are more that I have yet to find. 

Another issue has been trying to find suppliers that will actually provide the paperwork that I will need to sell the products, namely the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). So for some of the botanicals I have found suppliers, but as they are for wholefood/herbs they do not supply the safety sheets, so not all that useful. Then some suppliers which sell both the botanicals and have the MSDS paperwork also have a lower purchase limit. I totally understand why they have this but it is a complete nightmare if you just want to try something out so you only want a small amount. And part of the point of Small Kindness is to reduce waste, not to make more of it by adding things to my cart just to get over the minimum limit!

Next comes the big one; plastic vs organic vs fair trade. Some ingredients are organic but not fair trade, some are fair trade but not organic, some are organic and/or fair trade but come in plastic tubs, some are all these things but don't have the safety paperwork! Honestly it has felt like each and every purchase has involved some kind of ethical dilemma and it has taken me for ever! If I am honest, I still haven 't ordered everything I need yet as I still haven't managed to resolve some of these dilemmas!

However all of my botanicals arrived today. I have organic calendula and organic chamomile flowers which I will be using to infuse my oils - honestly they smell amazing as does Small Kindness HQ now. I have also received the botanicals I will be trying out for natural colourants and exfoliants, so I am very much looking forward to experimenting with them! I have spinach powder (green), spirulina powder (blue/green), madder powder (dusky pink - bit like the Small Kindness pink), annatto seeds (orange to yellow) and activated charcoal (black to navy blue) as well as poppy seeds as an exfoliant (and a bit of visual interest). Sadly they all came in plastic bags but I will either reuse the bags or ensure they are recycled. I also need to remember that currently these are only small amounts for testing, once I have decided which botanicals I will definitely be using in my soaps I will reach out to the supplier and see if there is a way of getting them without the plastic. 

I also got 5 litres of organic sunflower oil, which obviously came in a large plastic bottle, but I think this will be something useful to use for soap making once it is empty so it definitely won't go to waste! And this order did come with loads of those starch packing noodles to protect my oils and botanicals which I absolutely love as they just dissolve in water. So no excess plastic or packaging waste, just what was absolutely needed. 

The one small eco victory I had this week was I wanted to get a coffee grinder so that I can make my own oatmeal for the soaps (using organic oats from my local zero waste supermarket) and I managed to get one of these second hand which was great! 

So what have I learnt from this week - well I definitely won't get everything right first time and there are a lot of eco/ethical conflicts with everything I purchase. I will try to do the absolute best I can, I know that to start with I won't always be able to get ingredients that are organic, fair trade and plastic free. There will be compromises, and I will be completely transparent about this. But I will always be looking to improve, to ask my suppliers to be better. And I hope that this will in turn mean that you don't have to juggle these decisions yourself, you can be confident that my products are as sustainable as they can possibly be and that I will always be striving for better.

Right, best order those last few bits, but will be back next week with an update on all things soap.

Until next time, take care xx


I am Kelly Townsend and this is the Small Kindness Blog. I am a scientist, a bee lover, a rewilding obsessive, and I want to spread Small Kindnesses through the medium of soap. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for your daily dose of kindness (as well as to see how the soap making is going!)