By Leah Blunt on Sep 12, 2011

The Dish on Concentrates

Stock Photo

When it comes to household cleaners, many consumers accept the long standing habit of using their favorite product and then recycling the container. But what if there was a way to reuse that container to not only help the environment, but also save money? Or what if that container was smaller to begin with, cutting down on plastic waste and energy?

The cleaning industry already has the answer – refillable and concentrated formulas – but these types of cleaners remain under-utilized by consumers to help reduce rather than just recycle.

Despite continuing to innovate and introduce new concentrate products as greener alternatives, the new choices have not been embraced by consumers as enthusiastically as expected. Ultra laundry detergents and dishwashing soaps are pretty popular, but concentrated and refill versions of other cleaning products are still being met with some resistance.

“Not every single product offering is a grand slam out of the gate. Some have mass appeal, others may appeal to a niche audience,” says Nancy Bock, Vice President of Consumer Education for the American Cleaning Institute. “You usually hit the sweet spot when the innovative, sustainable product is very convenient for a consumer to use.”

Photo courtesy SC Johnson

Earlier this year, while trying to launch Windex Mini, a concentrated refill pouch, SC Johnson was faced with just that issue.

READ: SC Johnson CEO: Convenience Wins Over Sustainable Innovations

Getting their product stocked by retailers or even produced became a challenge when sales data suggested that consumers were not willing to refill their used Windex bottles by way of refill pouch.

Even though the refill pouch requires 90 percent less plastic than the standard bottle and is much less expensive to transport, consumer convenience was still beating out sustainability.

In the meantime, SC Johnson has launched an online campaign and store for Windex Mini in hopes to “help build the case for concentrates.”

This may be a trend in how consumers see the rollout of newer eco-conscious products.

“We believe there will be more product offerings on store shelves and via online shopping as companies continue to research, develop, test and perfect cleaning products that demonstrate sustainability and clean effectively,” says Bock.

The Benefits

Compared to their bulky counterparts, concentrates bring a lot to the table with regard to sustainability.

“Decreased impact on the environment is a driving force behind the development of concentrated detergents,” says Bock.

READ: First-Ever U.S. Cleaning Industry Sustainability Report Released

Less water is used to create concentrates, and because they are lighter, energy is saved compared to transporting a heavier finished product.

Concentrates reduce the amount of new plastic created for containers as well as the physical waste those containers create when they are empty. Products in concentrate form also help reduce the amount of leftover product that often requires its own attention for eco-friendly disposal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that these sustainable products are not just important tools for the environment, but can also provide financial savings to both the consumers and the businesses behind the products.

Businesses save money on raw materials and shipping costs by creating concentrated products with less packaging, and that savings can be passed to the consumer. Consumers see their dollars stretch when they buy a product that can be refilled rather than completely replaced each time.

With their obvious environmental benefits, and added economic attributes, it seems hard to believe that some of the concentrated cleaning options have taken so long to gain consumer acceptance.

Still, it looks as though there will be even more environmentally focused options to come.

READ: Handbook on Eco-Friendly Household Cleaners

“The cleaning products industry is fully committed to making sustainable products. Consumers have a wide range of choices in the cleaning product marketplace, including concentrated products and refills,” says Bock. “Sustainability isn’t just one part of the business; it’s a part of doing business.”

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. The American Cleaning Institute is one of these partners.

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