A typical 100-ounce bottle of laundry detergent is filled mostly with water. As people increasingly buy detergent online, the cleaning product company Seventh Generation saw an opportunity: How much could it shrink the standard bottle to avoid the wasted energy of shipping water thousands of miles?
A new detergent, which the company designed for Amazon and is launching today, cuts the amount of water in half, reduces plastic by 60%, and slims the overall weight by 75%, making it more efficient to ship. Regular detergent, the company says, ships with at least five pounds of unneeded material and water. The new detergent can wash as many loads as a regular bottle, but comes in 23.1 ounces instead of 100.
“We live in a world right now with a massive amount of unnecessary waste,” says Joey Bergstein, Seventh Generation CEO. “All around us, we see pictures of branded plastic flowing into waterways, overflowing in landfills. We think really deeply as a business about how do we actually find systemic solutions.”
Concentrated laundry detergent, with less water, isn’t new, and Seventh Generation already sells most of its detergent in 40-ounce bottles rather than 100-ounce bottles. But shrinking to an ultra-concentrated formula was more difficult; the team had to find the right formulation that still worked as well as a bigger bottle. “Getting that right interaction at the right time is a really big thing,” says Bergstein. The package itself is also made from post-consumer recycled plastic; the designers had to ensure that the detergent interacted with the plastic correctly. The whole process took two years.
The bottle also has a new cap designed to dispense only the amount of detergent someone actually needs for a load of laundry. “Most people fill their caps from their laundry jugs right up to the brim, which is about twice as much laundry detergent is you actually need for a load,” he says. “The industry loves it, but it’s not so good for the consumer. It’s not so good for our waterways.”
The small size is easier to sell online than in a retail store, the company says–online, it’s easier to tell the story that the tiny bottle can wash 66 loads than it would be on a store shelf. The lightweight bottle also has advantages for online sales, since a large, heavy bottle sent on its own is more likely to leak during shipment. But the company ultimately believes that the small bottles should be sold in retail stores as well. Laundry pods aren’t particularly popular with consumers, Bergstein says, and the industry needs to offer a more sustainable liquid option. Some related options already exist; Method, for example, sells an ultra-concentrated 30-ounce bottle that can do 75 loads. If every company shifted away from 100-ounce bottles, trimming out each bottle’s five pounds of extra weight, the industry could stop shipping more than 400 million pounds of extra material each year.
“You have to ask yourself the question, if you could sell a pound and a half bottle instead of a seven-pound bottle of laundry detergent, why would you ever want to sell a seven-pound bottle?” says Bergstein. “It’s infinitely doable and it’s absolutely the way that the industry needs to move. I think it’ll take some time for people to understand that value and it’s hard for a small company to do that only on their own. I think it’s a huge imperative for the industry to make a move to really concentrate these products and stop shipping water all over the country.”