Four Years In The Making, A Tough Cardboard Jug For Laundry Soap

Plastic is usually so hard to replace because it performs so well. Which makes a new cardboard bottle by Ecologic Brands a little bit of a miracle.

Chances are, you've thrown out some plastic already today. And you're going to throw out a lot more. In fact, Americans generated 30 million tons of plastic waste in 2009. That's more than 12% of our total waste. Try as you might to lessen your contribution to that giant pile of plastic, though, and you might find it difficult. A bottle of water here or there, sure, but most of what you consume comes in plastic, and there aren't many alternatives.

One major one is the new cardboard bottle with an internal plastic pouch from Ecologic Brands. Though it looks like your standard bottle, its outside is made from entirely recycled cardboard and its inside pouch--which uses 70% less plastic than a plastic jug--is fully recycleable. After four years of development, you may see it soon, holding Seventh Generation detergent.

"Having this not look like crap was the hardest part."

Plastic is so hard to replace, says Julie Corbett, the founder and CEO of Ecologic Brands, because it is often the best packaging option possible. "You think it's easy to replace plastic. It really isn't. America is a big country. We're a global world. Things are shipped in the harshest environment; things are dropped. The thing about plastic is that it performs." Even when you think you're using something other than plastic, it can sneak up on you. Containers for dry goods like, say, powdered laundry soap, might look like cardboard, but to keep moisture in, that cardboard has been coated with plastic, making it unrecyclable.

But Corbett's company is working to change that, by designing a bottle made from recycled paper that features as little plastic as possible. She was inspired after buying her first iPhone and seeing the impressive shapes of recycled cardboard in the packaging. If cardboard could be made into those shapes, why not a bottle?

Corbett is Canadian, so she also knew what few Americans understand: A plastic pouch is the best way to store a liquid. In Canada, you see, milk comes from the store in plastic bags. "That simple milk pouch is the most ecological packaging on the planet," says Corbett. "Your product to packaging ratio is at the highest level if it's in a very thin polyethylene pouch. It uses 95% less packaging than any other liquid."

After a test with a small milk company in which Ecologic's packaging blew competitors out of the water, the company landed Seventh Generation's detergent. "Large brands--like Seventh Generation--need that when a bottle shows up at a target in Alaska, it's not going to look like crap. That was the hardest part." In January, the bottle will be available to more brands and then, given its current success, the idea of a plastic bottle might become a little less ubiquitous.

Add New Comment


  • Mokshnahar


  • DD Ra

    like the infant of an an eggbox and a classic detergent bottle.
    Should be named Eggtle or Botox (already taken). Viva the Eggtle
    ! ^_^

  • Design Details

    I hate to sound like a wasteful American, but I don't think refilling containers from bulk will not work for most people. Gasoline works that way because the point of sale and the point of use are the same. Waiting for a container to be empty, cleaning it, and transporting multiple containers to the store takes time and space that many people don't have.
    Lush & 7th G have got the right idea. We don't need bulletproof blister packs, and boxes inside oversized boxes. We need better and less complicated packaging ideas, like those from our Canadian friends, and more research into recyclable materials. 

  • Ejw

    There is already a Minnesota company providing a refill station.  It is called "Restore."  The refill stations are in most of the coops in the Twin Cities and suburbs.  If there is not a refill station, there are refill containers located in the bulk areas of the coop.  Checkout  I have used the products for over five years and I am still using the same jugs!  Elise

  • Artur

    I do remember the consuming habits with fondness, yes.
    Basically, that's how it used to be in most places. Except with the invention of brands, shelf-space, marketing, delivering luxury experience, etc... there became an artificial need to package things individually and ship them half way (some times 3 times) around the world. What my comment alluded to, is that there is a way for post-industrial-revolution consumers to still have options (as mentionned by   )

    You wouldn't want to start buying petrol in 20L jerrycans, would you? is it because we're poor or just because we're conditioned that it makes sense to us.

  • madh

    I want to know what the eco credentials are of processing this cardboard to make it into a recycleable product? I agree with jbezerk, in Australia we don't have places that allow you to buy from bulk bins with reusable containers

  • Turingtest

    @sherif == Recycling this bottle is a snap. The cardboard shell breaks away from the inner pouch, spout and cap. Community recyclying centers will have no problem with this product. We can only hope that more producers of household products will license the technology and reduce the unit cost. For now, it increases the cost of this detergent to the consumer. That said, it's still a great product and more sustainable than the one it replaces.

  • Adesigns

    I agree with jbezerk.... I've many times thought that they need to create refill stations for laundry & dish soaps just as they do for water and grains. I only wish I knew what direction to take to get this idea going! 
    I think this design is a good start in the direction we need to head in to create less waste.

  • jbezerk

    If we as Americans want to start going really green, then we need to look at purchasing more things at our markets from bulk bins and reusing containers to fill them.  

    There are already bulk bins at Whole foods for grains, nuts, spices, etc.  Even olive oil and honey near mine.  Why not start adding other liquids like soaps, detergents, etc. to the mix?  If we all start requesting that then maybe more markets will carry items like this in bulk bins.  

  • jbezerk

    I saw this new packaging in person at the Anaheim Natural Products Expo West earlier this year and it is made of three major parts.  The cardboard box comes right off like a shell to be reused for another plastic bag filled with detergent.  So in essence you only need to purchase the plastic bag of detergent.  Not sure if they are going that way.  

    You don't have to rip the plastic out of the shell, it's not really attached to it, so it's pretty easy to replace.  

  • Jri3

    You remember Soviet times with fondness? Every last bit was used because everyone was poor. Why does being environmentally sound have to come with a subsistence living price tag? You will not get much traction offering hair shirts to the public in exchange for their comfort and convenience.  If environmentally sound products are going to work in the marketplace they have to be better. According to the article, making liners of plastic bags saves on plastic used and to my mind scores high in the "better design" category. 

  • Artur

    "America is a big country. We're a global world. Things are shipped in the harshest environment "
    - perhaps that's the problem right there, no?
    Lush cosmetics has pretty much eliminated packaging for most of their soaps and shampoos. And yes, it's a luxury brand and hand-made, but can't we follow the same process and save on transport/handling/abuse of products? Can't we re-design them so their appearance is part of the charm? 
    I remember in Soviet times, where we brought our own bags to the store, and our own glass jars to be filled with milk, and soda fountains had glasses that the customers washed and used and put back; and where we were using very similar format soaps as Lush and every last bit was used (damaged or undamaged packaging (if there was one).) 

  • Sherif

    This does not replace plastic. It looks a lot like an over grown tetra pack. How are you supposed to recycle it is supper hard separate into it's constituents ?

  • Ecologic Brands

    The bottle is not a complete plastic replacement, that's hard to avoid when holding liquid products, but it does reduce plastic produced by up to 70%. The outer shell is made from 100% recycled cardboard and newspaper, and is not laminated or layered like tetrapaks. The outer shell is re-recyclable with paper (compostable where no recycling facilities exist, and the inner pouch is #4 HDPE plastic, also recyclable!

  • Olde English

    Maybe you can just rip the plastic out of the inside? It sounds like it's really only three pieces - the cardboard exterior, the plastic bag, and the plastic top.