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BioSoap gets mixed reviews

Photo courtesy of luc.edu.

Students are noticing Loyola’s latest eco-friendly innovation in an unlikely location: campus restrooms. BioSoap, a sustainable hand soap developed by Loyola students, now fills soap dispensers in restrooms in all major class buildings and some residence halls.

Students from Solutions to Environmental Problems (STEP), an interdisciplinary course addressing sustainability issues, began producing biodiesel fuel in 2008 with a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The fuel is made in Loyola’s own biodiesel lab, located in the Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES). The project generates about 30,000 gallons of biofuel yearly from leftover vegetable cooking oil collected across Chicago.

STEP students took the waste-reducing process a step further and began utilizing leftovers of the biofuel production to make the project even more sustainable. They use glycerin, a by-product of the process, to create the liquid hand soap known as BioSoap. Although the soap has been in production since 2008, it has been popping up in restrooms on-campus more this year.

Junior Joe Straitiff started working on the production of biofuel and BioSoap through a fellowship over the summer and now volunteers every Monday.

“More or less, there’s no waste in the whole process,” the 20-year-old environmental studies and international studies double major said.

Zach Waickman, the biodiesel lab manager, who was involved in the first STEP course and hired by Loyola after graduating, said the program is also financially self-sufficient.

“The revenue we generate from fuel and soap pays our student workers, runs a quality control lab, maintains our equipment and furthers our research,” Waickman said. “Being able to see this all in one spot, and even get involved in it, is a major asset for our university.”

The soap can be bought at the clean energy lab in the IES. A two-ounce bottle of BioSoap costs $2.49, while an 8.5-ounce bottle is priced at $7.99.

BioSoap is made from waste produced during the biodiesel process, which happens in Loyola's Biodiesel Lab. Photo by Grace Runkel.
BioSoap is made from waste produced during the biodiesel process, which happens in Loyola’s Biodiesel Lab. Photo by Grace Runkel.

The project also addresses another important environmental issue. Most hand soaps and detergents contain solvents and surfactants, which are cleaning agents that can be toxic to aquatic life and pollute water, according to the EPA. While BioSoap may not smell or lather quite the same as other soaps, Straitiff emphasized the value of the soap’s sustainability.

“There’s going to be a trade-off involved when you’re making [soap] from used vegetable oil,” he said. “You have to think about what the product actually is — like what you’re getting out of it besides clean hands. You’re not using an antibacterial soap from the store; you’re using a recycled product, so that has a lot of value in itself.”

As for the fragrance, Straitiff said it’s lavender. However, aside from coming up with a smell that everyone can agree on, he said they also have to deal with strict EPA standards. Many fragrances, such as those used in laundry detergents, are restricted because they contain chemicals that are toxic to humans or pollute the environment, according to the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).

Lauren Grimm, a 20-year-old junior biology major, said she initially didn’t notice the switch to BioSoap across campus. However, when she found out that it was sustainable and made by Loyola students, she admired the initiative.

“I think it’s really cool that this is one more way that the school is going green, and that they’re getting students involved in the process,” Grimm said.

The EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program has recognized Loyola’s BioSoap as containing the safest possible ingredients for people and the environment. Because of this, BioSoap, along with 2,500 other products, carries the DfE Safer Product label.

“[The DfE] program helps us ensure we are producing a high quality, environmentally friendly and safe soap,” Waickman said.

Samantha Harrison, a 20-year-old junior, said BioSoap is a great idea and understands that it is different than most store-bought soaps.

“The harmful products are the ones with the best smell and other advantages, which is why they are often harmful,” Harrison, a biology major, said. “Those minor aspects are worth giving up for the greater cause. Plus, I think [BioSoap] smells pretty good anyway.”

However, not all students are willing to give up their traditional soaps. Freshman Katie Philbrick was so bothered by the new soap she brought it to the attention of the Unified Student Government Association president, junior Flavio Bravo.

Philbrick, a biology major, said she and her roommate have begun boycotting the soap. The 18-year-old said she doesn’t wash her hands with the soap because of the smell. She and her roommate have discussed buying a “big community bottle” of soap for their floor in San Francisco Hall.

For Philbrick, the trade-off isn’t worth it because people will simply stop using the new soap if they don’t like it.

Waickman said the BioSoap project is a work in progress and that the lab is open to student feedback, which helps them continue to make adjustments. Questions and comments about the soap can be sent to loyolabiosoap@gmail.com.

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Grace Runkel is the former editor-in-chief of The PHOENIX. She’s from Floyds Knobs, Indiana, a small town just north of Louisville, Kentucky. There she’s interned with multiple news outlets, as well as at WGN in Chicago. One of her favorite journalism memories is getting to interview Lee Crooks — the voice of the CTA.

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