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This new personal care company ditches single-use plastic for refillable containers

By Humankind sends your first deodorant in a plastic dispenser. After that, you just get refills.

On a trip to Thailand in 2017, serial entrepreneur Brian Bushell went diving for the first time and expected that the water would be pristine. Instead, it was filled with trash. “We were about to dive off the back of the boat, and all of the sudden we’re surrounded by junk plastic containers,” he says. That night, he went back to his hotel room and looked at the products he had sitting on the bathroom counter. “I realized that I was part of the problem.”

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Bushell, who had recently left Baked by Melissa, the chain of successful New York City-area cupcake bakeries he cofounded, started researching the challenge of plastic waste. “We learned that a third of all the single-use plastic products in landfills are personal care products,” he says. “So we decided that personal care was really an important nut to crack.” With cofounder Joshua Goodman, he started working on By Humankind, a new line of personal care products that launched today. Each product eliminates single-use packaging.

[Photo: courtesy By Humankind]

A new type of deodorant, made from natural ingredients that the company says are formulated to kill bacteria more quickly than other natural products, comes in a reusable container the first time you order. (The reusable container is plastic; the founders say they believe that plastic is not inherently bad, but it needs to be designed in a way that it doesn’t immediately land in the trash.) In the next order, the product shows up in a paper pod that pops into the original package and then twists out like a typical deodorant. The company’s mouthwash comes in tablets that customers drop in water, eliminating the need for a plastic bottle. Its shampoo comes in a bar form wrapped in paper instead of liquid in a bottle.

[Photo: courtesy By Humankind]
Unlike Loop, a new experiment from major brands that will sell products like deodorant in packaging that is sent back to manufacturers for reuse, the startup thought that it made more sense to make packaging that consumers would keep and reuse themselves. “We didn’t think that customers were going to want to do the work to send it back,” Bushell says. “And there’s also an additional cost in that reverse or return logistics.”

With the first three products, available online, the startup has calculated that in a year, an average American consumer can keep five pounds of plastic out of the environment. The company will also donate $1 for ocean plastic cleanup for each first purchase of a product. It plans to continue adding new personal care products. “Our whole thesis is, what if you could help save the world from single-use plastic just by getting ready in the morning?” he says. “And so anything that’s within that morning routine is within our target.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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