If you quickly scan through the products under your sink–counter spray, window cleaner, dish soap–they all have one thing in common: Water is their main ingredient. Until now, few consumers thought this was a problem. But as a growing number of people become increasingly aware of both climate change and plastic pollution, the outsize environmental impact of everyday products is becoming hard to ignore.
“We’re basically shipping water around the country,” says Heather Kauffman, cofounder and COO of Full Circle, who keeps an eye on the home cleaning products industry since her company creates complementary products, like dish brushes and sponges. “Water is something we all have readily available at home. If you think about the carbon emissions required to ship bottles largely filled with water from the manufacturer to the retailer and then to the consumer’s home, it really adds up.”
Then there’s the question of plastic packaging. A new study in the scientific journal Nature found that at the current pace of production, the global plastics industry will contribute to 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. According to Euromonitor, the home care industry generated 29.5 billion plastic containers in 2015, while the personal care industry generated 60 billion units. That translates into 8.9 million tons of plastic generated by both industries, and only a small percentage of that was recycled. The vast majority ended up in a landfill, or worse, in the ocean, where it could be consumed by sea animals and end up in our food. “While the impacts of plastic’s life cycle on climate are important, its impacts on the health of marine life, and human health, are equally important,” says Jaqueline Savitz, chief policy officer of Oceana, an organization committed to saving the oceans.
All of this research shows that we need to take drastic measures to curb our plastic consumption–and this includes the products that fill our homes. “We can’t recycle our way out of this problem,” says Sanders Defruyt, the lead for the new plastics economy at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which is focused on making the economy more circular. “We need to totally rethink our products to focus on reusable packaging.”
One shockingly simple way to tackle all of these issues? Remove the water. And several companies have found a way to do just that, spurring a small but growing design revolution in the consumer packaged goods industry.