Global consumers use a million plastic bottles every minute, 90 percent of which are not recycled. Family-owned household products company SC Johnson is offering a simple solution by asking consumers to swap the same products they already use for concentrates that reduce plastic waste.
Concentrate products—cleaning products, specifically, in SC Johnson's case—can be combined with tap water in reusable bottles, minimizing the packaging and transport of containers that are mostly filled with water. "Every single time you use a concentrate bottle, you use nearly 80 percent less plastic waste," CEO Fisk Johnson, a fifth generation member of his family to lead the private company, said in statement.
SC Johnson is no stranger to the concentrate game. The company first released a concentrated version of its Windex window cleaner back in 2011 and has since steadily expanded its refill options to other popular cleaning brands, including Pledge, Scrubbing Bubbles, Shout and Fantastik.
The new line of SC Johnson concentrates will roll out in the U.S. and Canada starting this month. The items will hit Amazon and other e-commerce retailers—including Target and Walmart websites—first, according to the company. The next wave of concentrate refills, including Scrubbing Bubbles, Windex and Mr. Muscle, will be available online in Mexico starting in July and in the United Kingdom a month later. China and Japan will follow in September.
The company claims its reusable trigger bottles deliver more than 10,000 sprays and can be refilled dozens of times. This simple swap is a light lift for the consumer, and it can make a big impact, according to the company. “Refilling with a concentrate is a small change that could make a real difference in minimizing plastic waste,” Johnson said.
For consumer goods companies, taking steps to minimize plastic packaging is no longer a nice-to-have. It's emerging as an economic imperative. For example, in June 2018, a group of 25 institutional investors with a combined $1 trillion in assets called plastic pollution a clear corporate brand risk and pledged to engage with consumer goods companies on packaging solutions. Multi-stakeholder groups, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy and NextWave, continue to call on companies to embrace a circular economy—in which materials are infinitely reused and nothing becomes waste.
SC Johnson says it's continuing to push for increased circularity of its product packaging. For example, its Windex bottles have been made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic since 2015, and the company recently released a 100 percent recycled ocean plastic bottle—a first for a home cleaning brand, according to SC Johnson.
The Wisconsin-based company says it's also looking to tackle ocean plastic waste by cutting it off at the source. Around two-thirds of the plastic that enters the ocean from rivers is carried by only 20 waterways—the majority of which are on the Asian continent, where access to waste collection and recycling is often limited.
"Efforts to improve recycling infrastructures in this part of the world are paramount," an SC Johnson press statement reads. "By raising collection rates to an average of roughly 80 percent across [China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand], plastic-waste leakage into the ocean would be reduced by almost 25 percent." That's a huge deal considering that, at this rate, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.
As 3p reported last year, SC Johnson is partnering with Canadian startup Plastic Bank in a blockchain-enabled pilot project to collect and recycle plastic in eight Indonesian communities, with plans to expand. Through Plastic Bank's model, everyday people can pick up plastic and sell it to local recycling centers in exchange for digital tokens—aka blockchain-enabled cryptocurrencies—solving dual challenges of plastic waste and poverty, the startup says.
Because the plastic it collects is tied to the blockchain, which is essentially a digital ledger book, Plastic Bank allows manufacturers to track and purchase the material under the Social Plastic name. The Social Plastic moniker is both a marketing angle and a way to communicate values and purpose to consumers.
German consumer goods company Henkel and British retailer Marks and Spencer have already used Social Plastic in products and packaging. At SC Johnson, plans are underway to launch a 100 percent Social Plastic Windex bottle by this fall, the company said.
Image courtesy of SC Johnson
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.