Replenish – How to redesign cleaning products

Cleaning your house or washing your clothes shouldn’t require polluting the rest of the world, that’s what, according to Mintel, the generation that grew up with Swiffer, Febreze and Tide to Go is calling out for. Gen Y – born between 1977 and 1994 – constitutes one-fifth (21%) of the global population and a consumer force to be reckoned with.
In the eyes of this generation it’s not enough to overload the market with concentrated formulas, particularly for cleaning products, that only will shrink container size. Apparently Proctor & Gamble with its Tide, Tide Simple Pleasures and Tide Total Care liquid laundry detergents might haven recognized the value of fully conceived and functional packaging, but larger handles, oversized and ribbed closures and aesthetically appealing geometries, are not convincing the Y-Gen consumers that these are the products they should use to avoid further pollution of this globe. Concentrated or not they are still merely buying water, maintaining the negative carbon footprint due to container size (material consumption) and product shipping weight.

It is often said, that although not necessarily contributing to product recognition or visual impact, marketers are eager to position their brands as environmentally friendly. In this regard, finding ways to use renewable and/or recyclable resources, or being able to make claims of operational efficiencies in terms of carbon footprint or material consumption has become essential to marketing.

However, aside from the advances being pioneered by Method (read my article: New Technology and Design in Laundry Detergent) and in some limited way by Procter & Gamble, there are very few advances in packaging in the household aisle. From one (large) plastic bottle to another standard trigger-spray bottle, to a (too large) rectangular paperboard box, the only point of difference comes from the sizes, brand-specific colour schemes and highly crafted illustration techniques applied to trademark presentations.

But what ever the concentration most manufacturers of cleaning products sell an abundance of air or water. It was Wonder Tablitz in 2007 that took away the water from its household cleaners and started to sell empty bottles. The new packaging design incorporated a custom designed patented empty spray bottle sold with three concentrated tablets housed within a cavity as part of the bottle’s design.
The consumer would drop one of the tablets in the bottle through a special refill opening on the backside of the bottle and add water making a full 32oz (950ml) bottle of household cleaner. With 3 tablets stored in the cavity of the bottle the consumer could make 96oz of cleaner.
The refills are held in the cavity by a resealable label that allows them to be stored until use. A second feature of the high-density polyethylene bottle, is a 28-mm opening on the side of the bottle fitted with a screw cap that allows consumers to easily fill the bottle from a faucet after adding the effervescent tablet. A standard trigger-spray dispenser tops the bottle.

As water is added to the bottle after the product is purchased by the consumer, the bottles weigh less during shipping, requiring less fuel to transport, it is obvious that the company claims environmental benefits, such as reduced carbon dioxide emissions and since each bottle represents three 32-oz bottles, 66% less plastic waste sent to landfills.

But still after using 3 tablets the consumer has to buy a new empty bottle with 3 tablets. And here comes the next step made by Replenish.

Replenish is introducing a line of cleaners, by selling empty spray bottles – which will last at least three years – and concentrated cleaner mix.
Replenish’s bottle is made so that the pods of cleaner concentrate screw into the bottom of it. To make the cleaner, you turn the bottle upside down, squeeze the concentrate pod to fill up a measuring cup built inside the bottle, and add water.
Replenish’s pods hold enough concentrate for four bottles and can stay attached to the bottle as long as needed.
According to the inventor, Jason Foster, Replenish’s products result in 90 percent less plastic, oil and carbon dioxide emissions compared to using other cleaners over the course of a year. By shipping empty bottles, truckloads are lighter. And since the idea is for consumers to reuse one bottle over and over while buying only pods, the smaller physical footprint of the pods would lead to fewer trucks trips and other storage savings. Foster said it would take 1 semi-truck of pods to equal the amount of product in 15 semi-trucks of typical cleaners.

The bottle and pods are made of PET, although the spray nozzle, which is also entirely plastic, is not. Since the spray nozzle doesn’t contain any metal, it has a longer lifespan than the ones that have metal coils, which might rust and fail. Foster estimates the life of the bottle at around three years. The downside to an all-plastic spray trigger is that it costs twice as much as standard spray triggers.

Due to the fact that the parts had to be precision moulded, and the base of the bottle ultrasonically welded to the main part, something that hadn’t been done before, the bottle doesn’t contain any recycled content. Not sure about the quality of recycled PET, Replenish is sticking with the virgin PET resins, although it says that it will be doing trials with recycled content.

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