The Greening of Packaging
Cleaning and Personal Care Products Go Eco
by Sheryl DeVore
Health-conscious consumers have been purchasing home cleaning and personal care products with nontoxic ingredients for years. Now they’re demanding these products come in environmentally friendly packaging that reduces waste and plastic use. “It’s green movement 2.0,” says Tim Murphy, CEO of BranchBasics.com, a Minneapolis company that sells nontoxic cleaners. “First there was the green movement 1.0 to eliminate the toxins from the conventional products like bleach. Now green 2.0 is about the removal of plastic and waste reduction.”
Today, consumers can find refillable, concentrated cleaning products; eco-laundry sheets; reusable cleansing face pads; eco-toothbrushes made of bamboo; zero-waste toothpaste bits; plastic-free, refillable deodorant; and refillable lipstick. These and a host of other innovative products designed to be healthy and eco-friendly are available online via manufacturers’ websites or Amazon.com, and can also be purchased at certain big-box stores like Target.
A December 2020 Mintel Trends survey showed nearly all of the internet users 18 and older that shop for household items say brands should consider the environment when creating packaging. Many respondents said they wanted products that had easy-to-recycle packaging and were refillable to reduce waste.
“There’s a clear preference for lightweight packaging, plastic-free packaging, refillable and reusable products,” says Danielle Jezienicki, director of sustainability for San Francisco-based Grove Collaborative, an online retailer of eco-products. “It makes sense, because 90 percent of the weight of most cleaning and personal care products you buy consists of water and packaging. The formulated ingredients are a small fraction. It saves money. There’s growing awareness of this.”
“It’s really expensive to be shipping water all over the country,” Murphy says. “It’s just extra bulk and extra weight, and the carbon footprint is much higher. If you take that water out, it’s lighter and smaller, so it’s better for the environment.” His company, BranchBasics.com, sells a concentrate that can be used as a laundry detergent, hand wash or bathroom cleaner by mixing it with water in a glass bottle at home. The concentrate comes in a recyclable plastic bottle and is shipped in cardboard, without plastic wrap or foam.
In the past few years, Grove Collaborative, which sells nontoxic personal care and home cleaning items, has changed its packaging to be even more environmentally friendly, according to Jezienicki. “The company has vowed to sell products with zero percent plastic packaging by 2025,” she says. To that end, it has created a brand of hair, body, facial and hand care products that come in a concentrated bar with no plastic packaging. Its concentrated household cleaners, which can be used on floors, glass, tiles, tubs and other surfaces in the home, come in glass bottles, and consumers can use a glass spray bottle with a silicone sleeve to dilute the product with water.
“In 2020, we avoided shipping more than 1.1 million pounds of plastic with our concentrated cleaners alone,” Jezienicki says. Grove sells products from other companies such as Seventh Generation if they are plastic-free, and has recently placed some of its products on the shelves at Target.
Consumer Denise Monson Haberkorn, of Skokie, Illinois, welcomes these changes and says her friends call her the “plastics police.” She began ordering Tru Earth laundry detergent strips to replace the large plastic bottles of liquid detergent she was using, and she loves them so much, she’s been giving them away for friends to try. “The detergent strips are about three times the thickness of a Band-Aid. You put the strip in where you used to put in your regular detergent, and they dissolve,” Haberkorn explains, adding, “There’s no plastic to get rid of. Some people don’t think they can make a difference with their choices, but I think I can.”
Refillable Lipstick: One billion lipsticks are discarded worldwide annually. Now consumers can purchase refillable lipstick containers madewith biodegradable bamboo and recyclable aluminum, among other eco-friendly materials. Refillable containers are meant for the same shade, so users will need a different case for each color.
Toothpaste Bits and Tablets: Americans throw away more than 400 million empty toothpaste tubes annually. Now consumers can purchase bits and tablets of formulated toothpaste that go right in the mouth—simply bite down and start brushing with an eco-toothbrush made of bamboo. There’s also mouthwash and whitening bits, all packaged in glass bottles with compostable applicators.
Deodorant: Deodorant tubes are not easy to recycle because they’re often made of several types of plastic. Now consumers can buy a reusable deodorant case made of stainless steel or other eco-friendly materials and purchase refills, as needed. Companies are also making paperboard push-up deodorant containers that easily biodegrade, as well as organic deodorant cream refills.
Reusable Wipes: Reusable wipes are becoming more common than disposable types. For babies, they’re often made of muslin and terrycloth, and can be tossed in the laundry. Reusable makeup wipes made of microfiber are also available.
Doggy Poop Bag: Even Fido is going green when it comes to packaging. Instead of using plastic bags to pick up dog waste while on a walk, consumers can purchase biodegradable poop bags made of corn, vegetable oils and other compostable materials.