Cleaning Up the Cleaning Aisle

Using recyclable paper cartons and refillable aluminum bottles, Cleancult reduced plastic waste by 90% compared to traditional cleaning packaging. Image courtesy of Cleancult.

Let’s Normalize Refilling in Our Cleaning Rituals

By Ryan Lupberger, CEO and Co-Founder of Cleancult

For any CPG brand, packaging is a top priority as the consumer agenda continues to shift toward sustainability. With a spotlight on material choices, recyclability, reusability and refillability, gone are the days when companies could get away with the mindless use of single-use plastic.

Retailers are starting to be held accountable for their sustainable practices as well. Many are making zero-waste pledges, teaming up with suppliers that prioritize renewable efforts and provide better-for-the-planet options while ensuring that sustainability doesn’t come at the expense of consumer budgets.

Refill rituals

Converting consumers from bad plastic habits to cleaner refill rituals is the stance Cleancult has taken to tackle the plastic problem plaguing the category. We have established home and personal care refill systems that cut 90% of single-use plastic from cleaning rituals with patented refill cartons and infinitely refillable bottles – something we are very proud of.

Earlier in my career I supported social entrepreneurs and worked at the Unreasonable Institute in 2014, a fast-track program that gives altruistic entrepreneurs skills and funding to effect large-scale businesses. There I learned that real needle movement in climate change requires “changing behavior without changing behavior.” In other words, our sustainable options had to meet and supersede all metrics of traditional brands in ease, function accessibility, efficacy and price point to really succeed.

While we started with a direct-to-consumer approach, the scale of the plastic problem set the wheels of our packaging innovation and retail journey in motion to what it is today. With over 70,000 points of distribution at the likes of Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, CVS, Harris Teeter, Amazon, and regional grocers, we are well on course to bring sustainable cleaning routines to the mainstream.

State of the cleaning aisle

It’s not an overstatement to assert humans’ addiction to single-use plastic is steamrolling the planet. The average American uses and throws away 110 pounds of single-use plastic every year. On a per capita basis, we are the most plastic-consuming country in the world. Only 5% of the plastic the U.S. makes gets recycled, and those rates are dropping. We can’t make plastic a “back end” issue to solve anymore. It has to be a “front end,” sourcing omission in how we package goods.

Balancing the demand for convenience and value with greener packaging options is something the cleaning industry in particular has grappled with. A quick stroll down the supermarket cleaning aisle reveals just how much plastic still shrouds shelves. Part of this is due to the very nature of cleaning products that are used to break down dirt and oils with powerful ingredients and (in many cases) toxic chemicals. Plastic is a material that can cheaply house the wide assortment of intense cleaning formulations.

This is what kickstarted our mission to shape the movement towards a refill and reuse culture, driving packaging innovation to steer away from the longstanding reliance on plastic to package soaps and detergents. Now, our entire product portfolio is Plastic Neutral Certified.

As a small company, we are nimble and can quickly innovate and adapt to address the real issue at hand. With early investment, we were able to develop machinery that allowed us to become the first company in the world to successfully package soaps and detergents in 100% recyclable paper-based cartons instead of plastic containers. Today, these cartons are integral to the refill systems we have created along with our aluminum bottles across our dish soaps, hand soaps, and all-purpose cleaners – slashing 90% of single-use plastic from cleaning rituals with reuse and refill solutions.

Making sustainable cleaning mainstream

We want to help change the DNA of the supermarket cleaning aisle.

From our paper-based refill cartons to Cleancult’s collection of refillable aluminum bottles, we are removing the barrier of entry to appeal to new audiences and create more accessibility and equity in the refillable space by being available in retail outlets like Walmart, Kroger, Amazon and Harris Teeter. Our price point is also competitive with traditional better-for-you cleaning brands.

We created ready-to-use refillable aluminum bottles of dish soaps and all-purpose cleaners, both first-to-categories in mass market retail, along with hand soaps to offer lightweight, durable and environmentally impactful options that can be reused time and time again.

Our environmental stewardship hasn’t gone unnoticed. Walmart’s Project Gigaton™ recognized us as a Giga-Guru as part of the retailer’s ambitious goal to cut one billion metric tons of emissions from its global value chain by 2030.

Responsibility starts with businesses but doesn’t end there. Refillable packaging presents a sustainable alternative that goes beyond waste reduction — it encourages responsible consumer behavior.

Progress over perfection

True progress is about constantly moving the needle. There is no magic silver bullet to end climate change or the plastic pandemic, but meaningful progress is critical.

Consumers need to be aware of “greenwashing,” while brands need to ensure they aren’t making false promises or attempting to get on the sustainable bandwagon without earning their seats. Navigating environmental action often involves a delicate balance, and employing “big plastic” propaganda can potentially hinder progress on both the business and consumer fronts. Still, no solution is perfect. Life cycle studies point to the environmental superiority of cartons over plastic on all fronts.

Still, carton waste is still waste. While recycling numbers are going up for cartons, we will continue to push innovation and that unyielding demand to do better for our planet.

About the Author:

Ryan Lupberger is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cleancult; a category disrupter that cracked the code on carton refills for cleaning products. Distributed nationwide by top retailers, Cleancult is transforming the household cleaning industry and reducing plastic waste by 90% compared to traditional cleaning brands. Ryan has been named a top CEO in innovation by World Business Magazine and named Retail 40 Under 40 by Retail Touchpoint. Learn more at www.cleancult.com.

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