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Sustainable Packaging

It may harken to a more Victorian past, but I can’t help thinking of Mondays as laundry days. Modern-day laundry-doers – whether they do the chore on Monday or not – have at least two opportunities to decide how sustainably they want to clean their clothes.

Seventh Generation's new laundry bottle. Credit: Seventh Generation

First is the choice of laundry detergent – there are options including super-duper-concentrated, made with bio-based/renewable materials, free of dyes or fragrance, and cold water compatable. It’s important to realize, however, that the real sustainability choice comes later when and if consumers flip the wash dial to cold water.

But back to the suds. Seventh Generation has upped the ante in sustainable detergent with a new packaging scheme. Along with all of the above features, this detergent has a jug where the rigidity comes from a formed cardboard-like ”fiber bottle” which can be recycled with paper or composted. The liquid is inside a #4 recyclable plastic pouch. The lid? Like most plastic bottle lids, in many areas it is just trash.

The package claims to be made with 66% less plastic than a comparable product, however, the comparison is to a 100 oz bottle and not the 50 oz super concentrated Seventh Generation size. 

According to Gwynne Rogers of the Natural Marketing Institute (a market research firm) sustainable packaging does win over consumers. In a recent article, she points out that “more than three-quarters [of consumers] think products are over-packaged, and for some, that changes behavior. More than one-quarter says that when they see something over-packaged, they look for something else to buy. …In the U.S., the importance of recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable packaging has risen significantly (5-9% annually) since 2007.”

Cereplast's new bio-materials symbol

Another important signal that packaging sends is when it carries labels promoting the sustainability of the contents. For Earth Day, Cereplast, a maker of bio-based plastics, unveiled a design for a symbol that denotes products made from bio-based materials.

Laura Howard, a design student from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, won the firm’s design contest (and $25,000) with her winning entry. Keep an eye out for this symbol when you shop – products that carry it also likely contain some interesting chemistry.

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