Last updated: June 2012
Should you choose bottle or box?
Most cleaner bottles will be made from plastic derived from crude oil. PE (polyethylene) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are most often used and are the easiest plastics to recycle in the UK. This enables many manufacturers to call their packaging ‘recyclable’.
Even most of the eco companies, whilst eschewing petrochemicals as an ingredient on the inside will envelop their green cleaners with petrochemicals on the outside.
But four eco companies stand out for their sustainable packaging policies:
Faith in Nature and
In 2008, Ecover commissioned a study which found that plastics sourced from fossil fuel have 75% more embedded carbon than ‘renewable’ plant-based ones.(28)
Ecover’s bottles are now 100% Plant-astic which is made from sugar cane and is claimed to be 100% renewable, reusable and recyclable. However, concerns have been raised that increased demand for plant-based products could also have an adverse impact on the environment by increasing demand for agricultural land, which could in turn drive deforestation.
Ecover, however, insists it abides by strict sustainability criteria to ensure the Brazilian sugar cane it sources is grown in a way that does not affect the nearby Amazonian rainforest.
They said: “The entire production process is so efficient that we need only harvest 15 hectares of land to make a year’s worth of Ecover packaging.”
Ecover also offer a refill service in health food shops, reuse being a better environmental option than recycling.
On the other hand, Method Products’ research into sustainable packaging for their liquid cleaning products found that post-consumer recycled PET had a very low carbon footprint and is commonly accepted for recycling. Conversely, they claim that bio-plastics cannot be recycled, can contaminate recycling streams or most often end up in landfills where they are extremely slow to degrade.
Faith in Nature recently changed most of their bottles to 100% recycled PET and Bio-D are in the process of doing so.
One advantage of powdered cleaners (washing powder, soda crystals, borax etc) is that they are packaged in paper or cardboard, which if not from a recycled source is at least renewable and biodegradable.
The mainstream manufacturers do not tend to have any recycled content information on their boxes although recycled content is probably used. They claim their packaging is sustainable because the product is concentrated so less packaging is needed.
Ecover’s boxes are made of at least 80% recycled cardboard.