Nathalie Stämpfli is a European designer who has come up with a wall-mounted device that grinds bar soaps into flakes. Her intention is to encourage people to switch from liquid soaps, which have a greater ecological footprint.
The grinder helps to achieve this by alleviating the bar soap’s main sore points: slipperiness and mushiness. Some people have a hard time gripping the slippery surface and the clay-like texture that comes from sitting on a wet surface is a turn-off for others. The grinder is thus open-bottom and grinds the bar with a pushing motion reminiscent of liquid soap dispensers found in workplaces and food establishments.
I enjoy the simplicity of the idea because it encourages people to change their purchases without asking them to change their habits. People who already use liquid soap are accustomed to pushing a button to get it and this is no different. Presumably you’d have to press the button multiple times to scrape out enough soap (like a cheese grater!) but people who buy this on account of environmental prompts will likely put up with it. They would after all, be giving up the convenience of disposable liquid soap containers.
That also brings up the issue of packaging, which Nathalie Stämpfli gave as part of her prompt. She said that the cardboard containers that bar soaps come in are more environmentally friendly then the plastic bottles that liquid soap comes in. This isn’t necessarily true because some soap brands package their bar soaps in plastic-coated cardboard boxes, which are less likely to collapse within a wet environment like the bathroom. That in turn makes the cardboard much harder to recycle if at all.
It’s always hard to achieve an environmental goal with product design because the product is but one component in larger whole. In the case of the soap grinder, it may certainly help push people’s consumption habits towards a more environmentally friendly choice but that is ultimately dependent on the brand of bar soap people buy and what the brand does with its packaging. Just as the soap grinder is one component of bathing, other components of it must change. It will certainly take time.