Remove the water.
Solving the global plastic pollution problem is a dilemma that has many innovators and companies scratching their heads. Better recyclables, thinner and more compact packaging, biodegradable materials, and refillable reusables are some of the solutions that get bandied around. All of these are valuable ideas, but what if we dug deeper and analyzed the actual products being shipped? Perhaps these could be reformulated in such a way as not to need the kind of packaging that we've come to view as necessary.
When you stop to think about it, much of what we're shipping around the world is water. Whether it's cleaning products or personal care products, these are mostly made up of water, with ingredients mixed in to clean, moisturize, color, or do whatever task you need.Now imagine if we could remove the water and only ship the additive. It could come in dry tablet or bar form and, depending on its use, could be dissolved in water to create a product just as strong as anything you'd buy at the store, or used in bar form directly on your body. This would save money, hassle (who loves lugging heavy jugs of detergent home from the store?), and environmental impact (think of the carbon emissions required to get that jug from its manufacturer to your home).
Several companies are jumping on the 'dehydration' bandwagon and I think they're smart to do so, as this could very well be the way of the future. One example is Blueland, a new cleaning company that sells its products in tablet form for $2 a pop. You buy a starter kit upfront that comes with reusable spray bottles, then pop in a tablet and fill with tap water.
It works just as well as a premixed formula. From FastCo's writeup,
"In several studies led by the EPA, the Blueland sprays outperformed Windex and Method, clearing out more dirt and streaks with each wipe than these competitors."
Another example is Bite, which is ingeniously doing away with non-recyclable toothpaste tubes. Instead, you bite down on a dry toothpaste bit', brush with a wet toothbrush, and feel it foam up in your mouth as you scrub. The bits come in small glass jars, as part of the company's promise not to contribute any more plastic to landfill.
You've probably heard of Lush, which has been pioneering the whole unpackaged movement for a long time and whose 'naked' product line is based on the same notion of getting rid of the water. Its offerings go far beyond its famous bath bombs and cake-like soap displays; I've used deodorant, lotion, massage and bath oils, shampoo/conditioner, and even eyeshadow in bar form, all made by Lush.
Ethique is another great company that specializes in bar-form skin and hair care products. Whether it's facial cleanser, exfoliant, moisturizer, hair products, deodorant, or pet shampoo that you need, this business is based on the concept of removing water from products in order to make them last, make them easier to ship, and make them plastic-free.
Canadian bar shampoo company Unwrapped Life operates with the same philosophy, teaching people that "shampoo really doesn't need to be in a bottle!" and that cutting out single-use plastic is easy if you opt for a solid-form shampoo and conditioner. (I can vouch for their products wholeheartedly; after three months of using the Hydrator combo, I'm getting frequent compliments on how thick and shiny my hair looks.)
These are just a few examples of an industry that's starting to take off. Expect to see more of this model in coming years, as businesses realize that disposable packaging of any kind is a dead-end and that everyone comes out ahead when smaller, drier products are shipped, rather than heavy liquid jugs. (And if you know of any other companies using this model, please share their names in the comments below. I am always curious to learn more.)