In a year, U.S. consumers go through around 900 million plastic bottles of laundry detergent. A new line of plant-based detergent is designed to stem the tide of some of that plastic waste: A reusable glass dispenser can be used indefinitely, and the detergent itself comes in lightweight, recyclable pouches.
The line, from a startup called Grove Collaborative that sells subscriptions to sustainable home and personal care products, is available online, and that helps make change possible, says Stuart Landesberg, cofounder and CEO of the company. “It’s a category that’s been built for the on-shelf, brick-and-mortar world for a long time,” he says. Giant, brightly colored plastic jugs of detergent–packages that are mostly filled with water–are designed to stand out in a physical aisle. Online, huge packages are unnecessary, and in a laundry room or closet, they just waste space.
The company’s detergents are 96% bio-based, without synthetic dyes, brighteners, or fragrance (scented options use essential oils). But although there’s an obvious market of consumers who are looking for sustainable products, Grove also wants people to buy the product because it looks good and it’s easier to use, with a dispenser that works in one hand and doesn’t drip on shelves. “We don’t necessarily go to market with, ‘Please make this choice because it’s better for the environment,'” he says. Around half of the company’s customers are completely new to the “natural” category for home and personal care.
The products aren’t cheap, though at 30¢ a load, it’s comparable to mid-priced conventional detergents. (Like some other companies trying to reduce plastic waste in laundry detergent, it’s also concentrated.) “We’re not trying to win on price, but at the same time, we want to be accessible,” says Landesberg. It helps, he says, that the glass dispenser measures out a precise dose of detergent, unlike caps on some standard detergent bottles that are deliberately designed with a low fill line on the cap–knowing that people will often fill to the top, wasting the product. “That’s really good for the [consumer packaged goods] companies, but doesn’t actually help get the clothes any cleaner, isn’t necessarily good for human health, and obviously has an adverse effect on the environment and on our waterways.”
The refill pouches need to be sent back to the company for recycling, but if you do, Grove has calculated that the system uses 80% less plastic than regular detergent. The startup wants to bring similar changes to other cleaning and personal care products. “The thing that gets me really excited is to know these are huge categories that are still super nascent online,” Landesberg says. “Unlike many categories that have moved from offline to online, I believe there’s an opportunity for not just the channel through which people buy the product to change, but also for the product itself to change.”