The Packaging Industry and How We Can Consume Differently, Part 12

Last updated on February 20, 2021.

Brown glass dropper jar surrounded by pink petals
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

In my last article, I wrote about several companies offering cleaning products with refill options. Today, we will look at refill options for personal care products.

The Refill Shoppe

This company sells refillable hair, body, and home products made with non-toxic, vegan, and biodegradable ingredients.1 They have a storefront in California but offer online ordering as well. They are a Certified B Corporation, meaning they use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Their products can be purchased and refilled in pouches that you return to the company with a prepaid envelope, and they sanitize and reuse the pouches rather than just recycling them. They even offer many customizable products with the same refill options. Next time I run out of conditioner or bubble bath, I plan to try them!

Plaine Products

Plaine Products aluminum shampoo bottle

This company was founded by two sisters who want to stop plastic pollution.2 Plaine Products sells shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand wash, and body wash in aluminum containers. The first time you purchase, you receive a reusable pump. This is great, as you’re not getting a disposable new pump with every purchase. When you order a refill, you switch the pump to the new container. Rinse the empty bottle out and ship it back to Plaine Products at their cost. They will sanitize and reuse the bottles, creating a closed-loop system with minimal waste. Their products are vegan and cruelty-free, and they are also a Certified B Corporation. I plan to try their products in the near future! There’s an additional review under Additional Resources below.

Fillaree

I wrote about Fillaree in my article about refillable cleaners, but they also carry personal use products, so I’m mentioning them again here. They sell refillable liquid hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. You can refill any of these at stores that carry their products, and the hand soap and body wash are available as mail subscriptions.3They plan to offer refills by mail on their other products soon as well. This is a growing company with an ideal business model. The customer buys the refill product, which provides 2-4 refills in the original container, and then ships the empty containers back to the company for refilling at the company’s cost. They sanitize and refill the containers and ship them again.

Fillaree hair products in aluminum bottles

by Humankind

Mouthwash tablets in glass cups

This company’s tagline is, “high-performing personal care products
that are kinder to your body and our planet.” They’ve created refills that use little or no plastic and they do not ship water, reducing emissions. They sell shampoo and conditioner bars, mouthwash tabs, deodorants in refillable containers, and cotton swabs without a plastic container. This company uses vegan ingredients, its products are cruelty-free, it is a carbon-neutral company, and most refill packaging is home compostable. I’ve tried their conditioner bar and cotton swabs, and while a bit expensive, the products so far are high quality.4

“Great personal care products don’t have to come at Earth’s expense.” -by Humankind

Bite

Bite Toothpaste Bits jar

“One billion toothpaste tubes are thrown out each year.”

Think about that for a second, one billion plastic tubes, tossed out annually! Most toothpaste tubes are not recyclable, either. The founder of Bite set out to solve this problem but was also concerned about the questionable ingredients found in common toothpaste and the fact that oral care products are tested on animals. She wanted to create a toothpaste that was healthy for our bodies, not tested on animals, and plastic-free. Bite toothpaste bits sell in refillable glass jars and have safer ingredients. The company offers a refill subscription plan, lists their ingredients on their website, and ships only in recyclable corrugated boxes and paper mailing envelopes. The refills come in 100% home compostable pouches.5 I’m very excited about this company, and I recently purchased Bite products which I’ll be reviewing in a future post. You can also read Beth Terry’s review of Bite, which I’ve linked under Additional Resources below.

The very week I wrote this, Bite released a plant-based dental floss in a refillable glass container, much like Dental Lace (see below). Refills ship in compostable pouches. Two weeks after that, Bite released a line of mouthwash tabs in reusable tins.

“Whether it’s mindlessly tossing out an empty toothpaste tube or glossing over the ingredients list, small daily actions can shape the future of our planet. By uncovering how we can be better to ourselves and to the earth, we are one step closer to a healthier and plastic-free world.”- Bite Toothpaste Bits

Dental Lace

Dental Lace glass container

Did you know that most dental floss is made of plastic, some of which contain dangerous PFCs (perfluorochemicals)? And sold in plastic containers? Well, there’s a better option that’s natural and compostable, and in refillable glass containers. Dental Lace was begun by a librarian, and we all know how awesome librarians are. The floss is made from silk and can be composted instead of put in the trash. The glass containers are decorative, refillable, and recyclable. The packaging is all home compostable.6 I have personally used this product for about 3 years now, and I love that I can floss and not create a ton of non-recyclable waste while doing so. Below is a video review from zero-waste platform Trash is For Tossers:

Solutions

“If you want to eliminate waste in your life – and in the world – the answers will always come down to one simple thing: consume differently.” -Tom Szaky

I’ve included this quote in many of my packaging series articles, as it succinctly summarizes what we need to do going forward. Consume differently. We must look for more sustainable, longer-lasting products. We must look for less packaging in our consumables and seek refillable options. If we demand better from companies and vote with our spending, we can make great changes.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the companies that offer refillable products but rather a list of resources. I have listed companies that I have either personally tried or researched.

We have one more topic to explore in this series: food packaging. So look for my next and final article in my Packaging series soon! By subscribing, you will receive it directly in your inbox! Thank you for reading!

 

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote any of the products in this post.

Additional Resources:

Article, “Shampoo Bars Eliminate the Need for Plastic Packaging,” Because Turtles Eat Plastic Bags website, October 2, 2019.

Review, “Why I Love Plastic-Free Bite Toothpaste Bits,” My Plastic Free Life website, March 21, 2019.

Article, “My Top 5 Zero Waste Shower Essentials,” Going Zero Waste website, May 19, 2017.

Footnotes:

The Packaging Industry and How We Can Consume Differently, Part 11

Last updated on February 28, 2021.

Water bottle refill center painted sign
Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash

In my last article about the packaging industry, we explored companies with recycling built into their business models, have creative packaging, or use limited or no packaging. Today, we are going to look at refillable packaging.

Besides refilling bottles or jugs at a water refill station, other consumer refill options could make a significant impact on the amount of disposed of plastic and packaging. The idea is that you buy your products in containers that are either reusable or are returned to the company for sanitation and reuse or recycling. This eliminates disposable packaging and should be one of the major solutions to our packaging problems. I was encouraged to discover just how many companies offer refillable solutions!

Cleaning Products

Of the several types of refillable products on the market, I wanted to start with cleaners because they are the easiest to refill. Most cleaning products are made of about 90% water and almost all are sold in single-use disposable plastic bottles or pouches. Additionally, most major brand cleaners are full of harsh chemicals, toxic ingredients, and phthalates (“fragrance”). To make matters worse, in the United States companies are not required to list their ingredients on the label. So what can we do to get away from harmful products that are in disposable packaging? It turns out, there are lots of options!

I have not tried many of these products because I make my own Easy DIY Cleaner that I use for windows, counters, floors, and bathrooms. But I am still looking at options for liquid dish soap, laundry products, personal use items, and food items that have plastic-free packaging and non-toxic ingredients.

Supermarket aisle with cleaning productsSupermarket aisle with cleaning products. Photo by me

Fillaree

I discovered Fillaree earlier this year, and I love their business model.1 They sell liquid dish soap, cleaners, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and other products. You buy your first bottle and when you run out, you can bring it back to the store to refill. Their products are sold in stores, many in North Carolina where they’re based out of but also one in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia. If you don’t live near a store that sells their products, as I do not, they have a mail program for their dish soap, hand soap, and all-purpose cleaner. No packaging waste! Here’s a Fillaree chart showing how it works:

Fillaree mail in refillables chart

I’ve recently purchased their products and tried their mail-in program. The liquid dish soap comes in a glass pump bottle and the refill comes in a plastic jug that you mail back in a prepaid envelope for the company to reuse. This is an ideal system. I will fully review their products in a future post – but I can tell you that so far, it’s very easy to use.

Meliora Cleaning Products

Meliora banner plastic free packaging

Meliora Cleaning Products is a Certified B Corporation that makes non-toxic cleaners and detergents that are sold in plastic-free refillable packaging.2 Their All-Purpose Cleaner and the refill container can make 18 bottles. They sell powdered laundry detergent in a steel and cardboard container. You can buy refills in recyclable/compostable paper bags and not have plastic waste. I’m excited about this company! I tried their laundry detergent and oxygen cleaner and I like it so much that it is going to be my new regular laundry product brand.

Supernatural

Supernatural starter set with glass bottles and vials

This company uses all-natural essential oil blends for all of their cleaning products, with no chemicals.3 The customer mixes the solutions with water in reusable glass spray bottles. Supernatural’s products ship in glass vials and all items ship with only cardboard packaging. No plastic waste! “When I conceived Supernatural it was out of a desire to create something that’s never been made before: all-natural cleaning products that are sustainably sourced, with the lowest carbon footprint possible, that smell unbelievably amazing,” wrote the founder. They also sell aromatherapy products using essential oil blends.

Blueland

Blueland's products image

With a mission to stop plastic waste and pollution by selling cleaning products in reusable containers, Blueland sells reusable bottles and concentrated refills. Their products have no toxic ingredients, are vegan, and cruelty-free. They ship with all recyclable and/or compostable packaging.4

As I was writing this, Blueland announced that they are doing away with PVA in their laundry tabs! PVA is an acronym for polyvinyl alcohol, which is a petroleum-based plastic that dissolves in water but the plastic stays in the water system. It is commonly used as a wrapper for convenient pre-measured amounts of dishwasher and laundry detergent tabs. They are allegedly dissolvable and biodegradable, but recent studies confirm that all of the plastic does not break down. “PVA does not fully biodegrade in most wastewater treatment facilities. This can potentially result in an estimated 60-82% of intact, PVA particles released into our oceans, rivers and canals,” the company states. Blueland now sells naked laundry detergent tabs. This is a really big deal, and I’m even more excited about this company now!

ThreeMain

ThreeMain product line

This company’s mission is to eliminate plastic packaging in household cleaning products. Sold in aluminum containers and refillable, the company does not appear to use plastic packaging for shipping. They use limited ingredients and list all of them on their website. They are also a carbon-neutral company. The company does use plastic refill pouches but they will reclaim these to send to TerraCycle at their cost, where they will actually be recycled. They have a blog that covers healthy and sustainable living.5

Branch Basics

This company was founded by three women who experienced health problems, both personally and within their families, but discovered renewed health by removing toxins from their homes, food, and lives. They founded Branch Basics to get back to basic, clean living and to inspire others to do so. You select a bottle and buy “The Concentrate” which makes multiple types of cleaner – you use different amounts of water and concentrate in each type of cleaner. I really like that they have one cleaner for almost everything! It is a #1 plastic bottle, but it is significantly less plastic wasted since the product lasts so long. I am also excited about their Wellness Center resource page, which has articles about healthy living.6

Branch Basics The Concentrate diagram

“We believe choices like the food we put in our bodies, the paint we put on our walls, and the cleaners we use around our homes have power; the power to rob us of good health or to cultivate it.” -Branch Basics7

Replenish & CleanPath

Replenish bottle refill diagram

CleanPath, which is part of Replenish,8 are refillable bottle systems that offer concentrated cleaners and foaming hand soap, which saves time, resources, and money.9 The company’s mission is to eliminate waste from buying products in disposable plastic bottles. The founder designed a system where the consumer buys the plastic bottle once and refills it with a concentrated refill pod that attaches to the bottom of the bottle. Each pod can make 4-6 bottles of cleaner. By only shipping the concentrate and no water, it greatly reduces emissions and reduces plastic waste. However, I believe that the pods must be recycled at the end of their life, so this is still plastic waste although much less. Replenish and CleanPath claim to use less toxic ingredients and real essential oil bases for fragrance.

JAWS

JAWS (an acronym for Just Add Water™ System) wanted to reduce plastic waste and reduce emissions by shipping cleaning products without water. They founded their company on this principle: “Stop Shipping Water. It’s the Right Thing to Do.” The products are EPA Safer Choice certified but not necessarily all non-toxic. But they offer full ingredients lists on their website for each product.10 Like Replenish and CleanPath, the pods are not reusable which does still create plastic waste, albeit less plastic waste.

Grove Collaborative

As the name suggests, this collaborative company sells its own products but also sells products from other companies that manufacture like-minded products. They are a Certified B Company that sells household cleaners and personal use items that use safe, non-toxic ingredients but also offer some refillable products and containers. Grove uses a take-back program for their refill pouches, which customers return to them and they send them to TerraCycle for recycling. They have carbon neutral and plastic neutral practices, use ethical supply chains, and use sustainable materials for their own products. This company might be a good solution as a one-stop-shop, but it does seem to be subscription-based only.11
Grove laundry starter set

Truman’s

Trumans surface care starter kit

Inspired to create simple cleaning products, minimize the number of cleaners in the home, and reduce plastic waste, Truman’s created a system of refillable products. They ship them in fully recyclable cardboard packaging. While I respect any company that is trying to do something good, this company sells its pods in PVA, which I do not recommend using. Truman’s also includes upcycled polyester towels in their starter kits, and fibers from polyester (which is plastic) get into the water supply from washing machine drainage.12

Cleancult

Cleancult carton refill

Cleancult sells refills for its line of cleaning products, and its refills are shipped in 100% paper mailers.13 The company is very transparent in its ingredients and explains in detail what every ingredient does, which I really like! It is a carbon-neutral company too. However, Cleancult uses cartons for some refills. These are lined with a thin layer of plastic on the interior and exterior. If you read my article about cartons, you’ll recall that although they contain far less plastic than regular plastic bottles, cartons are not recyclable in many areas. Also, the company uses PVA for its dishwasher and laundry tabs. I do not recommend using any PVA, but I like that this company is taking steps in the right direction.

Common Good

Common Good dish soap glass bottle

Common Good began in an effort to develop products with non-toxic ingredients that were safe around children and pets, as well as reducing plastic waste.14 Its products are Leaping Bunny certified and their biodegradable cleaning formulas are refillable at nationwide refill stations (although there is not one in my area). When purchasing online, the refills come in plastic pouches. While these use 86% less plastic than traditional plastic bottles, Common Good does not take the pouches back. They must be taken to stores that accept plastic bags for recycling. It is not clear if these collection sites result in actual recycling, which I wrote about in a previous article, so these may end up in landfills.

Refillable Systems are on the Rise

Writing this post, I was so encouraged to learn that there are more refill shops than I knew about! I hope that you have discovered a few companies that you’d like to try out. We can all help end plastic packaging waste by using a refill system. I plan to try several of these products and once I do, I’ll be sure to review them! In my next post, I will cover refillable systems for personal use products. Thank you for reading!

“Plastic was meant to last forever, but most is only used once. 8 billion tons of plastic trash – that iced coffee you had last week, that toothbrush you used when you were 4 – are still on the planet.” -Blueland

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote any of the products in this post.

 

Footnotes:

The Packaging Industry and How We Can Consume Differently, Part 10

Last updated on April 10, 2021.

Light bulb
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

In my multi-part series about the packaging industry, I’ve written about many types of packaging, packaging problems, and packaging solutions. Today I’m going to explore companies that already incorporate sustainability into their business model and those that are designing innovative and creative packaging.

But first, I wanted to exhibit my newest finding. In my post about packaging and Amazon, I wrote that Amazon does not currently reclaim any of its shipping packagings. Since then, I stumbled upon this compelling concept from Finland company Repack, a reusable and returnable packaging service.1 Check out this short video:

Companies with recycling built into their business model

Dr. Bronner

Dr. Bronner’s brand of organic liquid soaps has been around since 1948 and is a familiar brand in most healthy grocery stores. The company reuses and recycles within its facilities. They have been exclusively using 100% post-consumer recycled polyethylene (PET) plastic bottles for their soaps for the past 10 years. Approximately half of their post-consumer recycled plastic bottles are made from plastic sourced from curbside pick-ups in the state of California.

“‘Bottle-to-bottle’ recycling, the recycling of plastic bottles into new bottles, is also uncommon. Most times the plastic picked up on curbsides is ‘downcycled,’ shipped to countries like China, where it’s used to create synthetic fabrics for carpets and clothes, then shipped back to the United States for sale. Bottle-to-bottle recycling helps to close the loop and results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”2

Dr. Bronner's Cosmic Principles chart
Dr. Bronner’s Cosmic Principles

Unilever

Despite owning brands that use single-use disposable packaging, Unilever has been building sustainability efforts into their company for a decade. They set a goal to reduce pre-consumer waste which is the waste that is created during the manufacturing process. This is something we don’t normally consider but is a part of the packaging waste stream. The company applied a Zero-waste-to-landfill (ZWTL) concept where all non-hazardous solid waste “is not landfilled but instead reused, recycled, composted, or disposed of via some other outlet,” wrote Tony Dunnage in The Future of Packaging. “Today Unilever sees no landfill waste in its factories, has proud and inspired employees, has achieved $234 million in annual savings and cost avoided (to reinvest back into the business), and has created 1,000 jobs in the wider economy.”

Unilever also set a goal of using 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging by 2025. They feature a lot of goals related to plastic packaging and recycling on their website.3 While I appreciate the effort that they are putting toward building sustainability into their business, we all know that recycling will not fix the problem of plastic waste. They need to move away from plastic packaging as much as possible.

This company owns dozens of brands of products you’re familiar with: Vaseline, Axe for men, Breyers ice cream, Dove, Hellman’s mayonnaise, Lipton Tea, Klondike bars, Q-tips, Pond’s beauty products, and many more. Many items could be packaged without plastic. Hellman’s mayonnaise could be returned to the glass jars in which they were once sold. I recently used up a tube of Vaseline lip therapy and when I went to dispose of it, I found no recycling symbol or number. So I saved it to recycle through TerraCycle, but Unilever’s intent for the tube’s end of life was the landfill. Some companies are using #5 plastic for tubes like these, which is still hard to recycle, but at least it is an attempt. Unilever can do better.

Q-tips

Unilever packages Q-tips in a plastic-covered box, and while recyclable, it’s just not necessary and fuels the plastic waste stream. These could easily be sold in a cardboard box. Environmental writers often suggest contacting companies directly about packaging changes. Most of the time I just stop buying products that have plastic packaging, but I decided I’d write to Unilever. I used their ‘Contact us’ page and simply asked if they’d consider moving away from plastic and selling Q-tips in cardboard packaging.

The response I got was more of a programmed response rather than a tailored customer service representative response. Only in the first paragraph did they indicate that “packaging is regularly evaluated” and that “the container could change at some time in the future.” The focus of the email was on sending me a replacement coupon so that I can buy more Q-tips. Thanks but no thanks, Unilever. I’ve switched to a brand of cotton swabs that comes in cardboard packaging. The most interesting part of this email was that next to the logo was the slogan, “Make Sustainable Living Commonplace.” Will this company live up to its own marketing?

Unilever email response to me.

Creative Packaging as Part of the Product

Toys are the best examples of creative packaging. The first example is Disney’s Moana doll. The packaging had instructions to separate the paperboard and plastic for proper recycling, and also encouraged children to use the Moana packaging in their play! Part of the packaging turns into a boat for the doll to go “exploring.” Here’s a quick video showing how it worked:

Last year, my son got a remote-controlled Monster Jam Grave Digger Truck whose cardboard packaging turned into a scaled ramp. While this is very cool, I will say that the toy broke within a couple of months, which only added to the plastic waste stream. 

A third toy, Educational Insights Design & Drill Bolt Buddies, also transforms the packaging into a corresponding setting for the toy:

I’m really excited to see such innovations with toy packaging, as it is typically very wasteful. I think there are lots of opportunities for dual-purpose packaging in all types of products and I hope more companies explore the concept.

Naked Packaging

Lush naked advertisement, girl holding package free Lush products
Lush Naked Products advertisement from the company’s Instagram

This is my absolute favorite because those of us who are striving for zero waste don’t want packaging. Lush Cosmetics is a good example of this, and I mentioned Lush in my post about shampoo bars. Around 35% of Lush Cosmetics’ products are sold without packaging, or “naked.” The overall impact of 35% is astounding: “Since 2005, we’ve sold more than 41 million shampoo bars, saving 124 million plastic bottles from ever being produced,” according to Lush.4

Lush shampoo bar
Lush shampoo bar

Products from Lush use recycled and recyclable materials. They also have a take-back program for items sold in their black plastic pots, such as body lotions and masks. They’ll even reward customers with a free face mask after returning a certain number of their pots. They use a closed-loop system for these – they send the pots back to their recycler who molds them into new pots for Lush.

“When it comes to packaging, less is more.” – Lush Cosmetics

I hope that more retailers start doing this when there’s no need for packaging. Many small businesses and Etsy shops will ship without extra packaging or plastic packaging upon request, so make sure to ask! Aquarian bath does not use plastic at all, and they can ship their bar soap and shampoo bars without packaging, or naked.5 So be sure to ask about this option when buying!

Sappo Hill

Sappo Hill berry soap

This company’s soaps and shampoo bars are naked or package-free. We started buying this brand because it was a moderately priced package-free soap available locally at Whole Foods and the late Earthfare. But they will ship package-free as well. It’s a very mild soap and it has never irritated my dry, sensitive skin. They prevent over 9 tons of packaging from going into the landfill every year by not individually wrapping their soaps. They also have a near Zero-Waste facility.6

Limited Packaging

Nourish Natural Bath Products

Nourish bar soap

This company7 makes my absolute favorite bar soaps with safe ingredients and sells them with a simple paper wrapper that I put in the compost. Additionally, they ship with all paper packaging:

Nourish shipment with all paper packaging
Nourish shipment with all paper packaging. Photo by me

They still sell some products in #1 plastic bottles, such as lotions and body washes. But they’ve recently come out with a refillable option for their liquid soaps. The next post in this series will be about refillable options to reduce packaging.

Ethique

Ethique Pinkalicious shampoo bar

Ethique sells shampoo, conditioner, body and facial soap, and moisturizers, all in the form of bars.8 This reduces emissions from the shipping of heavier liquid products. All packaging and shipping materials are plastic-free. They use cruelty-free, vegan, plant-based, and sustainably produced ingredients. I am interested in trying their products!

Solutions

Truthfully, if you ask a retailer to use less packaging or plastic packaging, they often will comply to keep you a satisfied customer. This works especially well with smaller companies and Etsy shops. So if you’re buying, speak up! I do this all the time and I often get complimented, not judged, for being so eco-conscious. Additionally, less packaging usually saves the company money! If you’re ordering online, you can put this request in the notes section on the order page. If there isn’t one, feel free to send the company a quick email either through their ‘Contact Us’ form or by replying to the confirmation order email.

There are many companies I did not mention and many packaging innovations that I may not have included, so feel free to share those. Thank you for reading, and please subscribe. In my next post, I will explore refillable packaging options, which may be another great solution in solving the waste and packaging crises.

 

“If you want to eliminate waste in your life – and in the world – the answers will always come down to one simple thing: consume differently.” -Tom Szaky

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote any of the products in this post.

Additional Resources:

Article, “Bar Soap & Why It’s Better than Liquid Soap,” Because Turtles Eat Plastic Bags website, November 9, 2018.

Article, “Shampoo Bars Eliminate the Need for Plastic Packaging,” Because Turtles Eat Plastic Bags website, October 9, 2019.

Footnotes: