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Soap Nut Carbon Footprint Engulfed!

Soap Nut | Carbon Footprint | Engulfed | 27th November 2022 | Virtual Wire



Soap nuts, also known as Indian Soapberries, are one of the most underrated nuts we come across in our day-to-day, lives.

If we ask about nuts, almost all of us would say cashew nuts, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, etc are our favourite ones. Soap nuts don't even hold a place. But if we all want to give something good to our environment in a simple and easy way. Then soap nuts are a great example to follow as they can help in reducing the carbon footprints on our planet . Surprised, how? Well, these nuts can replace the regular chemical detergent and soaps from our shelves in homes, toilets, laundries, etc. The regular detergents which we use are not fully biodegradable and they contaminate our water supplies, lakes, rivers and oceans with hazardous substances like phosphates, cadmium and arsenic. The phosphates from detergents lead to eutrophication. But we can replace these chemical-laden detergents with natural soaps and detergents like soap nuts (Ritha) and soap pods (shikakai).

How Soaps And Detergents Leads To Increased Carbon Footprints


Well before going ahead a small sneak peeks into the chemical composition of soaps and detergents will help us to understand why they are harmful to us and to our environment. Chemically, they are a combination of surfactants that has cleaning properties. Soap is a combination of fatty acid (fat or oil), water and an alkali base/organic base. In the process of saponification, natural fat and an alkali react to produce soap molecules and glycerol. Whereas detergent is a sodium salt of long-chain benzene sulfonamides acid or sodium salt of long-chain alkyl hydrogen sulphate. Practically they are used in all areas of our lives from houses, offices, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, shopping complexes, sports complexes, arenas etc. In today’s era, we choose our laundry based on so many aspects which include fragrance, packaging, skin types, and moisturising effect, not only baby laundry has now become a separate section in all groceries and shopping complexes.

Soaps are Mainly Divided Into Two Types, as Described


  1. Natural Soaps: they resemble ancient or naturally occurring soaps. Fatty acids used are derived from plants and animals and are the main constituents of these types of soap. No binders, preservatives and parabens are added to them. They hardly create any toxic waste. Their production requires a very minimal amount of energy, therefore more effective in reducing carbon footprint.

  2. Synthetic Soaps: they are usually termed as Syndent, cleaning agents or surfactants. This terminology includes both detergents and soaps. Synthetic soaps are a result of different surfactants, binders, plasticizers and other additives.

They Contain Different kinds of components which are categorised as follows:


  • Saponified oils: stearic acid, olive oil, palm oil.

  • Emollient agents: glycerin, glyceryl stearate, castor oil, silicone fluids.

  • Colourant: dyes, beta carotene, chromium hydro green, carbazole violet.

  • Chelating agents : EDTA, sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP).

  • Bleaching agent: titanium oxide.

  • Crack resistance agent: coconut fatty acids.

  • Antibacterial agents: triclosan, triclocarban.

  • Anti-acne agents: sulphur, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.

  • Moisturising agents: lactose, propylene glycol, urea, aloe vera, sorbitol.

  • pH buffering agents: citric acid monohydrate, Polycarboxylates.

  • Fragrance agents: perfumes, vanillin.

Above mentioned components are used in various ratios during the production of soaps and detergents. These are hardly biodegradable and have high aquatic toxicity potential. Not only these chemicals, but the gigantic amount of production and packaging of soaps and detergents also adds to the carbon footprint. During the production of packaging materials like waxed paper, polyethene glycol-coated paper, cellophane, paper and low-density polyethene are generally used which produces hydrocarbons, heavy metals and air emissions generated from various pigments used during packaging. This also adds to the generation of grey water and sludge from these production companies at a large scale. The packaging industry itself adds to the water pollution and soil pollution as different dyes and chemicals leak into the soil directly when present on landfill sites and pollutes the groundwater. Whereas packaging of liquid soaps and detergents adds to plastic pollution which is already a nerve-wracking problem for all environmentalists.


According to the data recorded the worldwide production of soap is going to be $188.09 billion in 2021 as compared to $180.99 billion in 2020. Some surveys on greywater samples revealed that the amount of soap in wastewater surges by 50.71% during the pandemic only. Imagine the number of chemicals we are releasing onto the planet just by using laundry products. Eutrophication is one of the main hazardous effects of grey water as it leads to excessive growth of algae and plankton in water bodies. This blooming of algae disturbs aquatic life as algae consume more and more oxygen thus leading to the death of aquatic animals it also blocks the sunlight thus affecting marine plants.

Soapnuts have been known to mankind for over a hundred, centuries. They were first discovered by the washer and of India between 300 BC and AD1900.In Ayurveda, they are named Arishtak. In the Indian continent, they are widely used in many traditional customs and are also used in household chores too. They are native to the Himalayas, found in the foothills between India and Nepal. It grows in extreme environmental conditions. It doesn’t need much fertile land and soil to flourish, as it is incredibly resistant to diseases. It doesn’t need any fertilisers or pesticides to grow.


The fruits of soap nuts are harvested by local people when the berries become red and gooey, as they are ripe and fall on the ground. For the native population, they provide a sustainable source of income. The seed is removed and the shell is dried in the sunlight because the shell of soapnuts contains the cleaning agent called Saponin, which is responsible for the soap effect of this wonderful nut. Saponins are naturally occurring compounds that are widely distributed in all cells of legume plants. They act as anti-fungal and are water-soluble. There are many species which fall under the order of Sapindales, genus Sapindus L. The generic name of soap nuts is derived from the Latin word SWAPO meaning “soap” and indicus meaning “of India”.

Uses Of Soapnuts And To Replace Them With Synthetic Soaps:


  • Soapnuts have proved very effective in many skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, rashes due to allergic reactions, and acne-prone skin.

  • It has potent moisturising qualities and keeps the skin well hydrated, preventing drying of the skin.

  • It has antifungal properties.

  • It has antibacterial and non-toxic properties due to which it is used in spermicidal preparations as soap nuts reduce the motility rate of sperms.

  • It is used in the treatment of vaginal candida thus proving a potential remedy against yeast infections.

  • It also promotes hair health.

  • In Taiwan, soap nuts are used in the treatment of inflamed eyes.

  • Leaves and fruit extracts of plants have anti-ulcer and anti-gastric properties and protect against liver injuries.

  • It is used in the photo film industry.

  • It is used for washing fine silks and woollens.

  • It is used in washing and bleaching cardamoms to enhance their flavour and colour.

Soap nuts can replace a wide variety of soaps and detergents in our lives and can be used as soap, shampoo, laundry cleaner, pet cleanser, mosquito repellent and for many more purposes. So, as a human being who wants to work towards the betterment of our planet, this small addition to our lives can help in reducing the chemical load that we create by using soaps and detergents. Nature has so many beautiful and easy solutions for sustainable life we just need to get acquainted with them.

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