There are a lot of eco-friendly cleaning products out there, but even those still ignore the problem with the packaging itself creating another kind of environmental hazard, that of waste, and in particular, plastic waste. I discovered a Welsh company, Splosh, that aims to eliminate as much waste (or any kind) from its products as possible. I spoke with Angus Grahame, the founder of Splosh, and he told me how the whole idea came about:

In 2010 he was throwing out his perfectly good plastic cleaning bottles into the recycling bin at a local grocery store when he had a sudden thought — why were so many bottles produced to transport cleaning products? It seemed highly inefficient — especially from a business perspective. He has spent the time since, working with chemists and other specialists to develop a line of products that is as close to zero waste as is physically possible at the moment.

How The Splosh System Works

Angus believes that Splosh is the first company of its kind to address the packaging waste of cleaning products.  A customer buys the starter kit for each of the cleaning products which includes a bottle and cleaning product. Depending on the product, it is either packaged in a sachet that dissolves once in contact with water, or a pouch containing the product which you pour into the bottle. Refills are ordered online and shipped in a package that is designed to fit through a UK-sized mail slot (at this time the products are only available in the UK). Angus wanted to make sure that the products were as easy and convenient as possible for customers.

The Biggest Challenge was Getting the Packaging Right

I asked Angus if he was ever tempted to just develop the cleaning products and put them into easily recyclable bottles, but he responded that the whole point was to develop a product with as little packaging as possible. “The trickiest part was getting the chemistry just right. The sachet that protects the cleaning liquid had to remain intact until water is added, then it has to be able to dissolve once the water is added, and the new liquid has to maintain its stability over time.” Through trial and error they discovered that the sachet method wasn’t right for all products, and so, they developed a second system, that of shipping some of the products in reusable pouches. “Our washing up liquid [dish soap], is sent in plastic pouches to the customer. All the customer has to do is empty the pouch into the container and send the pouches back. We will reuse them and recycle them once they’ve reached the end of their useful life.”

The system involves a certain amount of customer participation as the pouches aren’t recyclable in the municipal system so they need to be sent back to Splosh to make sure they get reused and recycled. Splosh has partnered with Terracycle to recycle the old pouches properly. It’s a brand new system for Splosh, so there aren’t any numbers on how the system is working yet, however, Angus said, “All our customers are waste and eco-minded – it’s one of the reasons they’ve tried our system in the first place — so we’re expecting a good return rate of pouches.”

On that front, as with ordering refills, they’ve made it as easy as possible for customers to return the pouches. Four pouches can be sent back the cardboard box the pouches were delivered in, Splosh includes a return mailing label and even a piece of tape to secure the package closed. Postage is prepaid, so all the customer has to do is pop it in a mailbox.

Durability and design are important for zero waste goals

When you are designing a product for zero waste, every facet of the product is examined. In the case of the spray dispensers, Angus uses  dispensers aimed at the industrial market. He said, “I asked our supplier how many sprays the bottles were designed for and he said that no one had ever asked him that question before.” They also looked at using bottles with flip caps for washing up liquid, but discovered that after several on and off flips, the caps broke off. Instead they decided with a pop-up version. All bottles are fully recyclable at end of life, and can go in a municipal recycling program.

Splosh Products Available Online in the UK

So far, business has met expectations. “We’ve kept our business deliberately small as we work out any issues that might emerge in our system. We believe we’ve managed to overcome the challenges we had initially, and we’re ready to expand our network.” On that front, Splosh is targeting appearing on shelves in smaller supermarkets and independents, stocking both starter kits and refills.

Unaccountable side benefits

Splosh is a trailblazer in many ways. While benign cleaning products are the norm now in the EU, packaging clogging up landfill is as much of an issue in Europe as here. With less packaging produced there are common benefits that aren’t recorded on the balance sheet. Fewer transportation emissions and less packaging waste produce significantly fewer greenhouse gases and less waste in landfill. These side benefits are not accounted for, but are benefits for the commons.

Creating any new business model is a challenge that most companies are hesitant to take. Angus believes that any business focused on reducing its packaging will see benefits accrue on their balance sheet. Splosh is demonstrating through its model that customers are far more open to new models than companies may imagine.