When you order a starter kit from Gelo, which makes pods of concentrated hand soap, you usually get a Gelo-brand soap bottle for you to refill over and over. But if you order Gelo’s Soap Bottle Salvage kits, you get a cheeky little extra: an empty bottle from another soap brand, such as Method or Softsoap. It wasn’t a cross-brand partnership—Gelo says it rescued those other bottles from dumpsters or people who would have thrown them away and aimed to give them a second life as refillable soap dispensers.
“Part of Gelo’s DNA as a brand is really about promoting reuse and refill as an alternative to buying new plastic,” says Gelo CEO and founder Curan Mehra. Gelo first launched with foaming hand-soap refills that need a special dispenser pump, but its liquid gel refills can be used with any regular soap pump, and the kits, created in partnership with creative agency Mischief @ No Fixed Address, showed that. “There’s no reason to throw out stuff that’s good,” Mehra says.
Gelo initially made about 800 Soap Bottle Salvage kits, with cleaned bottles recovered from friends and family and “a little bit of dumpster diving in Midtown Manhattan,” Mehra says. The kits came with the salvaged bottle, a pouch of soap refill pods—one pouch comes with five pods, which completely dissolve in water, which Gelo says results in 97% less packaging waste compared to the same number of single-use plastic soap bottles—and Gelo labels to stick on.
The Soap Bottle Salvage kits are currently sold out and are likely a limited run; Mehra says Gelo doesn’t “need to be in the business of shipping salvaged bottles as long as consumers on their own are salvaging them,” since it’s not worth the extra carbon cost of shipping them in the long run. But Gelo does plan to replenish the supply for a few more and says it’s in talks with local recycling centers. The company is also talking to a few retailers for a program where customers can trade in their old plastic soap bottles and switch to Gelo.
Gelo says it’s already helped divert more than 1 million bottles from landfills since launching last year. Single-use plastic hand-soap bottles are part of the overall plastic problem; in 2016, 396 million metric tons of plastic were produced, the vast majority of which didn’t get recycled. (Some brands do offer soap bottles made with recycled plastic; Method, for example, has a line of recovered ocean-plastic bottles.) By removing both the bottle and the water, Gelo says it saves on shipping emissions, too; shipping the refills, per the company, cuts transportation emissions by 93% compared to the equivalent volume of single-use bottles.
People are, of course, also encouraged to use whatever soap bottles they already have with the refill pods, and they can even print out a Gelo label online, if they really want, to stick on any other brand’s bottle. “Whether you do or not,” Mehra says, “the idea is just [to] look at that bottle as something that has more than just a single life.”