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Chemistry major uses soap business to help keep the Earth clean

A Chemistry student making soap for her own company

As a young girl, Sarah Zavatsky ’22 could usually be found in the kitchen, whipping up baked treats, and watching the outcomes change depending on how she tweaked the ingredients. She didn’t realize it then, but her baking experiments were the first taste of science that would lead to a love of Chemistry.

In eighth grade, the Spring Grove native decided she wanted to try some new experiments. With a book from the library and some ingredients from the local health food store, Zavatsky and her mom made their first batch of soap. It was a flop.

About two years later, Zavatsky picked up a pre-made soap base that allowed her to add her own fragrances or unique ingredients while making the setup fairly easy. With her confidence regained, she wanted to have more control over the product. She decided to try cold-process soap, where she mixed sodium hydroxide with fats and oils, creating soap as a byproduct of that chemical reaction. By the time she was 16, she had her first soap product and launched a business.

Now, getting ready for her final year as a Chemistry major at York College of Pennsylvania, that little soap company has helped Zavatsky get through college debt-free.

A greener business

During a study abroad trip to Costa Rica with her Sustainability Class, Zavatsky learned some of the unique impacts that plastic use has on the environment. She returned with a new drive to make a difference.

Now branded as Green Daisy Soaps, Zavatsky wanted her product to reflect the green initiatives that were important to her. “We don’t often think of the dangers of single-use plastics, and I wanted to eliminate them as much as possible from my business,” she says. “You can have an environmentally friendly, green product that isn’t boring and still smells good or looks pretty.”

Her soap is wrapped in biodegradable shrink-wrap. Within one to three years in normal landfill conditions, it will completely break down until nothing is left behind. Her haircare line features a waterless shampoo and conditioner bar that eliminates the need for single-use plastic bottles. She also uses recycled materials, such as boxes, whenever possible.

While some of her products, such as body scrubs and lotions, are still packaged in plastic, Zavatsky offers her customers a recycling program. For every 10 containers they return, she gives a discount on her product. “It really helps people become aware of their plastic use,” she says. “If I can get them to just think about it a little more, I think I’m already helping make a dent.”

Learning to scale

Being a full-time student and running a growing soap company can have its challenges. Zavatsky needed to find ways to become more efficient. Her dad, an engineer, helped create molds so her soap production went from seven bars to 100 bars at a time. He also made her a cutter, so instead of cutting bars individually, she can cut up to 12 one-inch bars with a single tool.

The biggest support has been from people who hear that Zavatsky runs her own business. “There are so many people who are excited to hear that I do this,” she says. “I’m blown away by how many people ask where they can get my products or want to know how they can help me reach my goals.”

Even after she graduates and pursues a career in a lab, she hopes to keep Green Daisy Soaps in operation. “I’ve learned a lot through this process,” Zavatsky says. “I know it’s impacted me for the long term.”