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:

Shampoo Bars & Conditioner Eliminate the Need for Plastic Packaging

Last updated on February 17, 2021.

Photo of man with head under shower. Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

Most shampoo and conditioner brands are sold in plastic bottles. Since we know that 91% of plastic isn’t actually recycled, many of us are trying to find ways to not purchase products in plastic.1 Recently, a colleague asked me what to do about shampoo and its plastic packaging.

Did you know you can buy shampoo as a bar?

No way, you say! Or, maybe you’re thinking ugh, what? Either way, stick with me for a bit.

Last fall, I wrote a post on the benefit of bar soap and how it can be purchased practically packaging-free. I use bar soap for showering out of personal preference. I always found that most body wash and liquid soaps washed down the drain rather than cleansed my body. Once I switched to bar soap, I felt like I got a better lather, a better cleanse, and found that I wasted less soap overall. An added bonus is that there are no travel restrictions on bar shampoo, so no need for little plastic travel bottles!

I first discovered shampoo bars on Beth Terry’s site, My Plastic-Free Life.2 I was excited to learn about shampoo bars and switched to them right away. But there have been some issues with various bars, so I’m reviewing those here.

Image of lavender bar soap, towel, and fresh lavender. Image by joe137 from Pixabay
Image by joe137 from Pixabay

“Up to 80 percent of shampoo and 95 percent of conditioner is made of water.” -authors Brigette Allen and Christine Wong3

How to use a Shampoo Bar

This part is easy! You just rub the bar between your hands like you would with regular bar soap, or directly on your hair and scalp as long as you are gentle. It’s only strange the first time. The lather of a bar is really satisfying, and I’ve actually come to prefer shampoo bars.

Plastic-Free often also means Toxin-Free

Most shampoo bars do not contain the perfumes, chemicals, and harsh detergents that are in major brands of bottled shampoo. This means you will not be exposing your body to toxic ingredients that will strip your hair, disrupt your hormones, or cause cancer. Yes, you read that right – many major brands of shampoo and conditioner contain one or more toxic ingredients. Under Additional Resources, I’ve included a link to a list of ingredients you should avoid, and also a link to review brands on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep site.

I will say that this type of shampoo does take getting used to. Most of us are accustomed to shampoos that strip our hair and scalp of their natural oils, so it will take a few shampoos for your scalp to adjust and not feel greasy. But this is normal and once you adjust, you’ll start to feel and see the benefits of shampoo that is not full of harsh ingredients.

Photo of the shampoo aisle at the grocery store.
Most grocery and department stores carry shampoo and conditioner exclusively in plastic bottles. Photo by me

“The number of shampoo bottles thrown out in the United States every year could fill 1,164 football fields.”-authors Brigette Allen and Christine Wong4

The Shampoo Bars

Here is a review of the brands I’ve tried, in order of preference:

J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bar

J.R. Liggett's shampoo bar

This is the first one I ever tried, mainly because I was able to find this locally at Earthfare (also sold at Whole Foods and Amazon). It is packaged in a recyclable paper wrapper. I’ve switched back to it several times after trying many others, and have decided this is my favorite. It lathers really well, the bar does not fall apart over time, and my hair is soft and clean.

There is a bar for every hair type: Original; Moisturizing (for dry, colored or damaged hair); Tea Tree & Hemp (fragrance-free and good for “itchy-flaky scalp”); and several others depending on personal scalp preference.

Sappo Hill

Sappo Hill shampoo bars, next to lavender sprigs

I really like Sappo Hill and it is my husband’s preferred bar soap. I discovered their bar soap when I used to shop at Earthfare, and I love that the bars were package-free except for a bar code sticker. After Earthfare closed all of its stores, I went online and discovered that they sell many more scents and that they also make shampoo bars! Their shampoo bars are mild and cleansing. They run a close second to my favorite (above) and are very well priced. I recommend this brand if you don’t like other shampoo bars.

Aquarian Bath

Shampoo bar from Aquarian Bath on Etsy.

My third favorite is one that I discovered through the website My Plastic-Free Life, called Aquarian Bath.5 This shampoo bar doesn’t break apart and lathers well. These are handmade, vegan, palm oil-free, SLS-free, fragrance-free, dye-free, and not tested on animals.

They will ship their products naked, meaning zero waste or no packaging, which is super! There are many scents and bars with ingredients for each hair type, including one for dandruff, so read each description to find the right one for you. They also sell other types of products with the same qualities.

Nourish Natural Bath Products

Shampoo bar from Nourish

Nourish is where I buy the majority of my bar soap for body washing. But in recent years, they’ve come out with shampoo and conditioner bars. I was thrilled about this because I love most of their products! However, while I like the scents and the clean feeling these bars leave in my hair, they have the flaw of crumbling about halfway through the bar’s life. This leaves several small pieces of shampoo bar, and those pieces get smaller and smaller, creating frustration. I’ve tried 3 of these and each bar had this problem. I’m hoping they can improve their binding process.

Lush Cosmetics

Image of Lush shampoo bar

I tried a shampoo bar from Lush Cosmetics and it crumbled halfway through its life as well. I did not enjoy the scent either but I highly respect Lush Cosmetics because of its naked packaging. Their products are handmade, vegan, and cruelty-free. This particular bar just didn’t work for me. However, I like and respect the company so much that I plan to try additional shampoo bars. Here’s why:

“Since 2005, we’ve sold more than 41 million shampoo bars, saving 124 million plastic bottles from ever being produced. That’s approximately 3417 tons of plastic saved, or about the weight of 30 blue whales. Imagine if everyone ditched the bottle in favor of the bar!” -Lush Cosmetics6

The Right To Shower Shampoo Bar & Bar Soap

The Right To Shower Shampoo bar packaging

I found this brand at Whole Foods, and they claim to help bring mobile showers to people living on the streets, which is pretty cool! It’s a large bar for the price and can be used on both the hair and body, which is an added benefit. These bars are vegan, sulfate-free, are made in the US, use Rainforest Alliance Certified palm oil, are cruelty-free and are packaged in 100% recycled carton paper. I love the promise of this product! But it does not keep my hair as cleansed as I’d like – I noticed some build-up on my scalp.

Photo of a woman's blonde hair. Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels
Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

What about Conditioner?

When I first started going plastic-free, I made my own conditioner and continued doing so for about 2 years. There are many recipes on Pinterest and I’ve tried a bunch. Most did not work for me – they were either too greasy (coconut oil-based) or left my hair tangly (shea butter-based). The one I settled on uses a combination of oils and aloe vera gel with guar gum as a thickening agent. Unfortunately, the ingredients are not all available plastic-free in the area where I live. Since the beginning of my journey, some companies have developed conditioner bars. Below are the ones I’ve tried.

by Humankind

White conditioner bar

This company sells all plastic-free/packaging-free products and orders are carbon neutral (meaning the company contributes to forest preservation to offset the carbon created from shipping their product). I tried their grapefruit scented conditioner bar and it is my favorite though most expensive. They are vegan and use all-natural ingredients. Unfortunately, it broke into pieces toward the end of its life. I found it very difficult to use 4 tiny pieces to conditioner my long hair, so this was disappointing. But it left my hair soft, manageable, and shiny! I plan to give it another try, and they also sell shampoo bars that I haven’t yet tried.

Nourish

Nourish conditioner bar, pink

I tried Nourish’s conditioner bars in addition to their shampoo bars. They have great scents and they conditioned my thick mane well, leaving it shiny and manageable. However, they crumbled about halfway through the life of the bar. Even so, this one is my second favorite and they are much more affordable than others. I plan to buy these again. They are vegan and made with natural ingredients. They offer a choice of packaging when you order, either compostable plastic or tissue paper wrapping.

HiBar

HiBar conditioner bar packaging and blue bar

I am still on the fence about this one. It is also a little costly and I don’t like the scent of the blue moisturize bar. But the shape is unique as you can see. The bar is made to hold in your hand while you rub the angled flat part of the bar directly onto your hair. This creates no friction or tugging and allows me to conditioner my hair much more thoroughly. The same goes for washing my son’s hair – I can conditioner it quicker without tugging, which of course makes hair washing better for him! So I do really like the shape but I may need to try a different scent. If I do, I’ll update this post. HiBar Conditioner bars are free of sulfates, phthalates, silicones, or parabens. They also sell shampoo bars. These are sold only in cardboard packaging, no plastic packaging.

Person washing hair in shower
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Let Go of Guilt

I’m not perfect. I’m still figuring it all out too. I got very frustrated once with conditioner bars breaking into small pieces that became unusable and purchased conditioner in a plastic bottle! I did at least buy Pacifica Beauty brand because their products are vegan and cruelty-free, as well as toxin-free. But I’m not giving up! 

Remember, the fact that you’re willing to try another method in order to avoid plastic means a lot. So if your attempts at switching fail, just don’t give up. You will find something that works eventually!

You can do this, and hopefully, this post helps! Thank you for reading, and please subscribe!

 

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor did I get paid to promote or receive free items for any of the product reviews in this post.

Additional Resources:

Article, 15 Harmful Ingredients In Shampoos And Conditioners That You Should Avoid, Starting Today!” Skinkraft Laboratories, April 21, 2020.

Website, EWG’s Skin Deep, accessed February 16, 2021.

Footnotes: