There’s a new carton in town, and I’m excited about it. Dr. Bronner’s flagship Liquid Pure-Castile Soap now comes in a new paper-based 32 oz. Refill Carton!
Dr. Bronner’s doesn’t launch new products all that often, comparatively, because we are very careful to bring only the best to market. Best for our suppliers, best for our customers, best for our world. Last week, the Refill Carton began its rolling launch, first on the Dr. Bronner’s webstore and soon to retailers nationwide. (For my international friends, you’re on our radar.)
Since the carton’s design has a great deal of retro charm with its throwback milk carton vibe, let me employ a retro construct and give you a Top 10 List (à la David Letterman, in reverse countdown order) for why I think this carton is top notch.
Reason 10: It’s gorgeous! Can I just say it? The rest of my reasons here are perhaps more substantive, but I want to start with my first reaction to seeing the carton. It is completely new but maintains the unmistakable Dr. Bronner style. And when you line up multiple cartons side by side?? A beautiful rainbow made of all eight Castile Soap Scents!
Reason 9: It’s super convenient for all your GIY recipes. This carton fits in the hand and pours beautifully with no glug-glugs, whether you’re refilling your shower bottle or making a recipe. Pair this in your cabinet with my Pure-Castile Cheat Sheet to have all the dilutions handy. This leaves you free to be creative with all your dispensers to match your house, your style, your mood.
Reason 8: This carton continues the commitment to transparency Dr. Bronner’s has maintained in its practices and progress. We have always shared our journey with our customers, what we’re doing, what we’re improving, what we’re still trying to figure out. This Refill Carton is our next step forward.
Reason 7: I learned something new. I always appreciate learning something new, especially about things I interact with daily. While this wasn’t a new construct to others, in the conversations around this carton I first learned the terminology of linear vs. circular packaging. Linear packaging is used once. It goes from manufacturer to consumer to disposal in a more-or-less straight line. Even if that disposal is recycling, the package has come to the end of its use, and it takes resources to convert that material into a new usable form. On the other hand, circular packaging is kept in use, repeatedly refilled, reused, or repurposed without needing to undergo any transformation. Circular is the gold standard because it conserves resources and has little environmental impact. This carton is a linear package because the circular infrastructure to refill is still developing in our communities. In many areas it is not yet available. However, read on for how we learned this carton would be the least environmentally impactful option.
Reason 6: This carton addresses the reality of consumer behavior and manufacturing practices, which is that less than 30% of recyclable plastic actually gets recycled by consumers, and less that 2% of recyclable plastic actually gets turned into a new plastic product. Most linear packaging ends up in landfills, which is why a material with the shortest life cycle is a step forward. That being said, our hope is that everyone recycles this carton and finds stores that refill bottles with no new use of packaging (circular), but if people can’t or won’t, this carton presents a better (read, smaller) environmental impact than other materials.
Reason 5: The Refill Carton was the result of research, not assumptions. There are many trends about what packaging materials are best for the environment. However, we were not guided by those assumptions. We wanted to see the true impact of materials. The findings of this research is shown here in this Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) where you can see the environmental impact of single-use packaging options. An LCA is an analysis of the potential environmental impacts of products or services during their entire life cycle, including production, distribution, use, and end-of-life phases.
The results were conclusive though surprising. Glass scored the worst with aluminum not far behind. The paper carton, made with FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) and containing 82% less plastic than our plastic bottles, was the clear best option. Our course was set.
Reason 4: The carton defies the trends. Perhaps this is the rebel in me, but I appreciate that the Refill Carton represents Dr. Bronner’s continued willingness to defy trends in order to achieve real progress. The packaging trends for aluminum, glass, bioplastics, compostable plastics did not prove to be best. Despite their popularity on the market for their claims to solve the plastic problem, they don’t. Or at least in the case of bio- and compostable plastics, they don’t yet. Dr. Bronner’s is not going to put forward a pseudo-solution merely to check a box that says we’re doing our part. Instead, we are going to move forward with solutions that actually combat the problem, even if our path requires debunking a lot of assumptions.
Reason 3: The Refill Carton gives us the opportunity to educate. This is my particular hilltop. Embarking on an educational campaign means that we believe people are hungry for real information and are willing to learn. We are eager to have all the conversations needed in order to educate. We’ve done this before, back when we added the best-for-skin hemp seed oil to the soaps in 2001, a move which involved a plethora of consumer, media, and even policy conversations about whether hemp seed oil is psychoactive. (It’s not. I think we all know that now.) We did this with our All-One Toothpaste, knowing that we would need to camp awhile on the lesson that reduced foaming (due to no synthetic detergents) does not mean reduced effectiveness, and that bubbles don’t equal cleaning power. Now, we will do this again, as we communicate the rationale behind our new package.
Reason 2: This Refill Carton is only PART of Dr. Bronner’s strategy to combat the problems of plastic. The company is not bringing this carton to market as our only effort to corral plastic. This is not our checkmark that says, “Yep, we’re doing our part.” Rather, this carton is part of a comprehensive approach that also involves supporting and creating refill stations, establishing plastic offsetting and insetting programs, and advocating (both with our influence and with our financial resources) for policy changes around the regulation of manufacturing and processing of plastic.
And the #1 reason I love our new Refill Carton… Dilute! Dilute! OK! (As my grandfather would say.) The carton emphasizes the concentration and extreme versatility of the Pure-Castile Soaps, which has always been our core message around this iconic product. If you put this paper carton in the shower, it will disintegrate. It is paper. The very substance of the carton is a reminder that you are not supposed to keep it in this container but rather you are to dilute the soap into other containers and that there are many uses you can dilute it for: the foaming pump beside your sink, the bottle in your shower, your All-Purpose Spray, your Plant Spray, and to add to all your GIY recipes* for mopping and laundry and carpet cleaning and GIY Sugar Scrub and GIY Soft Scrub and housecleaning wipes…
*GIY = Green-It-Yourself
Where to next
This is a journey and we’re not done. We have many more steps to take to bring solutions. You have a part to play, as well. Consumer demand is a powerful force for change. Request that your local store bring in these cartons. Request that your local store have refill and bulk size options. From each mountaintop, we see the next. We continue the journey towards ever more sustainable and low-impact manufacturing. There is more to be done.