Lush soap bars are made from natural ingredients and are packaging free. This reduces the need for single-use plastic as well as being a long-lasting product means it reduces waste overall.

Soap bar by virtualtimecapsule on Sketchfab

why soap?

While the soap bar might seem like a harmless and unassuming object without much depth to it, when you try to understand it in the context of a virtual time capsule of the 21st century, it reveals many underlying themes that have been prevalent in the first half of this century. While soap itself is ancient ‘In the most primitive way of making soap, the basic reagents were animal fat (for instance, ox tallow) and plant ashes.’ (Contarini et al. 2008) When we consider its history, such as how it’s packaged and what it is made of, it has changed greatly over the decades and reveals what broader topics matter to us as a society.

It is believed that soap was first made using the most basic ingredients of oil, soil and ashes. (Burns-Moguel, 2011) These would have been made mostly at home and used sparsely. Since then we have learned the hygienic benefits of soap and naturally the product has become industrialised, mass-produced and used daily by individuals and within medical fields. ‘Soap has a simple production process, which has happened since ancient times. It is worth to remark that changes in soap production contributed to human being’s evolution in a direct way.’ (Contarini et al. 2008) Soap has allowed us to evolve by helping to prevent disease and infections, as a result it has become an intrinsic and unremarkable part of our daily lives. Therefore, trends in how this vital product is packaged and the ingredients used to make it, are directly linked to the needs of the majority of the people at that moment in time.


Name: Soap Bar

3D Model

Creator: Aisling Moylan

Date: 27-01-2022

Place: Maastricht, The Netherlands

Themes: Environmentalism and Wellness

Captured with Canon EOS 250D, EF-S18 (18mm), lazy susan

Processed with Agisoft Metashape Professional Software run on Mac OS Catalina (8GB)


Physical Object

Size: 6.5 x 6.5 cm

Weight: 55 g

Material: Soap made from Sicilian oil, Olive oil and Rosemary

Old Ivory soap bar (circa 1954) compared with modern liquid soap in plastic packaging:

The soap bar I chose to digitise for our collection is the Lush soap bar as I believe it is symbolic of the trends in the 21st century of a consumers concern for the environment and our well-being. This particular soap bar is made of Sicilian citrus oil, olive oil and rosemary but the entire Lush range of soap bars mostly consists of natural ingredients. Many people are becoming more conscious of the products they buy and consume. Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important value for consumers. ‘In a recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group, 75% of consumers consider sustainability an important factor in their purchasing decisions. While 73% would change how they regularly consume to offset their environmental impact.’ (greenorb, 2021)

Therefore, I believe that a package free and natural ingredient soap bar would be an important element of a time capsule of objects representing major themes in the first half of the 21st century.

capitalism and climate change

In our current capitalist global system, widespread demand for soap has led to a complication of ingredients. Soap is no longer made from three ingredients alone. Today many soaps contain contaminants such as carcinogens, phosphates, and petroleum (Burns-Moguel, 2011) as well as having evolved to being packaged in a liquid form in disposable plastic bottles. This trend of using single-use plastic containers to store our products, more than just soap, has led to an immense amount of plastic waste. 

Our reliance on plastic as a society to package every product we buy in a store in plastic wrapping, designed to be thrown away, has culminated in immense plastic pollution. ‘In 2020, we created 900% more plastic products than we did in 1980.’ (Stanton, 2022) This plastic cannot be disposed of as it takes years to break down, however, when it eventually does break down, it still leaves traces of micro-plastics behind which are being proven to be harmful to not only the environment but also to human health. ‘Ingested microplastic particles can physically damage organs and leach hazardous chemicals that can compromise immune function and stymie growth and reproduction.’ (Thompson, 2018)

River polluted with dye and plastic as a result of fast fashion manufacturing

As a result of these staggering facts, this object is a representative symbol of the environmental awareness movement in the 21st century as it is a manifestation of consumers wants and needs. Consumers are now actively avoiding products that are viewed as harmful for the environment, causing companies to react and provide alternative products. ‘Environmental issues are at the heart of the company and trickle through to the decisions we make on a daily basis.’ (Lush, 2022)

Why plastic pollution is high on the agenda for this year’s UN Environment programme.

greenwashing by corporations

As much as consumers try to minimise their individual environmental damage through their shopping choices, many companies have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ and performative activism in the 21st century. Greenwashing can be described as ‘misleading consumers about their environmental performance or the environmental benefits of a product or service.’ (Delmas & Burbano, 2011) This is a new phenomenon that has come with the trend of environmentalism in the 2000’s. Companies responsible for huge amounts of pollution and waste will try to soothe their customers concerns by simply labelling things with environmental buzz words without taking meaningful action to change their practices to become more sustainable. 

In August 2021, H&M launched a global campaign designed to give the impression that they were supporting young climate activists. However, The Big Issue, released a report conducted on fast-fashion companies that revealed that H&M’s Conscious collection, ‘pitched as a clothing line made from more sustainable materials such as organic cotton or recycled polyester, was found to contain a higher share of damaging synthetic materials than its main line (72 per cent compared to 61 per cent)’ (Pearcy, 2021) These sly practices of mis-representing the truth has led to consumers losing confidence in green products and services. (Delmas & Burbano, 2011) This leads to an overall negative consumer experience resulting in despair and eco-anxiety amongst the general public. ‘Surveys conducted in different countries show that many young people are worried about climate change and rank the problem as the most important societal issue.’ (Ojala, 2018) 

H&M performative activism on twitter:

a return to slower living and prioritising wellness

As a result of capitalist profit interfering with our environmental well-being, some people have been opting to join a rising trend of zero-waste and slow-living in the 21st century. ‘We cannot share our current consumption patterns with the future. We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.’ (Connett, 2007) The zero-waste movement can be described as an environmentally friendly lifestyle that aims to massively decrease the amount of waste left behind a person in day-to-day life. (Goodall, 2022) People who live this lifestyle aim to reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use in their daily lives in an effort to shrink their individual carbon footprint. ‘as far as raw materials are concerned, we simply can’t run a “throwaway society” on a carbon finite planet.’ (Connett, 2007) 

The demand of working in a profit-driven, fast-paced, global society has pushed a growing number of people to opt out and to follow a movement of slow living. As a form of self-care and prioritising wellness, people have decided to go against the grain and refuse to fill their agenda’s to the brim, ‘others call it the unbusy movement.’ (Susan, 2022) Living a fast-paced lifestyle feels unavoidable in modern society. However, it is not the healthiest lifestyle as cases of burn-out are becoming increasingly common. Burnout can be described as ‘a syndrome, consisting of the symptoms of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment’. (Oplatka, 2022) This lifestyle encourages single-use plastic for practicality, such as to-go coffee cups and takeaway food in plastic containers. Therefore, a zero-waste lifestyle and a slow-living one, often go hand-in-hand.

As a result, this object is much more than a soap bar. This naked packaged, all-natural ingredient soap symbolises many themes and challenges we face in the 21st century.


Bauck W. (2017, November 17) ‘Riverblue’ proves just how much fashion pollution hurts the planet – and its inhabitants. Fashionista.

Burns-Moguel, A. (2011) Soap: Clean for the Environment or Just Us? Yale National Initiative.

Connett, P. (2007). Zero Waste: a key move towards a sustainable society. New York. USA.

Contarini, J. M., & Waldman, W. R. (2008). Itinerant museum of chemistry history: The soap. International Journal of Hands-on Science, pp. 1-7.

Delmas, M. A., & Burbano, V. C. (2011). The drivers of greenwashing. California management review, 54(1), 64-87.

Goodall, J, (2022, March 2) How to Go Zero Waste: Inside the Zero-Waste Lifestyle. Masterclass.

Greenorb, (2022, July 21) Does Sustainability Matter to Consumers? Thinking sustainably

H&M, [@hm] (2021, JUl 21) Twitter.

Ivory soap circa 1954 [Ivory old 1954.jpg] by Procter and Gamble Heritage Center [linked to profile page] licensed under the [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International].

Lush (2022) Our environmental policy.

Natalya Aksenova. (2022). Plastic Bottle with liquid soap [stock image]. dreamstime.

Ojala, M. (2018). Eco-anxiety. Rsa Journal, 164(4), pp. 10-15.

Oplatka, I. (2002). Women principals and the concept of burnout: an alternative voice?. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 5(3), 211-226.

Pearcy, A. (2021, August 5) H&M greenwashing is ‘disguising the reality’ of fast fashion. The Big Issue.

Stanton, L. (2022, January 12) 100 Ocean Plastic Pollution Statistics & Facts. It’s a fish thing.

Susan, (2022, February 11) Slow Living Movement: The 7 Principles of this Popular Lifestyle. Sassy Sister Stuff.

Thompson, A. (2018, September 18) From fish to humans, a microplastic invasion may be taking a toll. Scientific American.

UN Environment Programme. (2022, February 24) Why plastic pollution is high on the agenda for this year’s UN Environment Assembly. YouTube.