Cleaner and greener: Cleaning products, sustainability and packaging

Improving sustainability in packaging is challenging enough for food and beverage products, for example, but the goals and options to do likewise for cleaning products is more complicated.ACI-Cleaner-Future-Cover-Graphic

However, a pathway to improved sustainability has been formulated by the American Cleaning Institute (Washington, D.C), which called into action more than 140 members in September with the release of the organization’s 2019 Sustainability Report. The report detailed a new strategy calling on the cleaning products industry to take bolder, collective action to achieve a cleaner world. ACI’s strategy aims to unite industry efforts for greater impact across four critical goals:

  • Increase Transparency;
  • Reduce Emissions;
  • Value Nature; 
  • Contribute Positively.

“We’re pushing our members to think bigger, be fearless and implement ever-more innovative solutions,” says Melissa Hockstad, ACI President and CEO. “Our new strategy combines our core strength of collaboration with a commitment to doing our part as an industry to address the sustainability challenges facing our globe.”

ACI’s 2019 Sustainability Report details these new goals and how members are already taking action, for example:

  • Helping consumers choose products that are best for them by sharing more information about their products and practices through digital means;
  • Joining global alliances to clean up our world and limit plastic waste;
  • Utilizing new circular approaches to packaging and simplifying the consumer experience;
  • Managing and reducing the use of hazardous chemicals through approaches like chemical footprinting;
  • Setting operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets that support the Paris Agreement; 44% of ACI members have set targets to reduce GHG emissions and in 2018, 54% of ACI members reported GHG emissions results while their renewable energy use increased 19%.

ACI-goals-graph-summary-PTPlasticsToday connected with Melissa Grande, ACI’s Director, Sustainability, to learn more about the market, the packaging and the plans, starting with what is meant by digital.

“We understand that it can be difficult to identify and comprehend the varying types of information available for products found on store shelves today,” explains Grande. “For instance, SmartLabel makes it easier for consumers to have detailed information on thousands of products at the press of a button, in a uniform and consistent way across brands.

“The app works with any smart device and contains far more information than could fit on package labels. Simply by scanning the QR code on the product, people can access useful product and ingredient information to help them make informed choices about what they buy. At time of report publishing, 30% of ACI household product formulators use SmartLabel, and more are expected to join in the coming months.”

And what about chemical footprinting?

Responds Grande, “just as a carbon footprint measures the amount of GHG emissions within a specific operation, a chemical footprint strives to understand and measure the amount of potentially hazardous materials within a specific operation to aid in reduction.”

Sustainability and packaging

Packaging programs and initiatives are fundamental to members’ sustainability plans, especially regarding the use of plastic packaging for cleaning products.

“Product packaging is essential to the safe transportation and storage of products,” Grande tells PlasticsToday. “A package is needed to protect the contents inside over a long period of time and provide safety to the user. Plastic has often been a preferred material due to its ability to withstand degradation from the chemicals within, potential ability to be recycled across the U.S., and because of its lightweight nature.”ACI-generic-bottles-group-PT

Plastics are foundational to ACI members’ packaging portfolio.

“When it comes to our ambition to optimize the use of natural resources and eliminate waste, packaging needs to be a major priority,” continues Grande. “Not only do members need to reimagine packaging to limit waste, but recovery rates also need to be improved. That means helping consumers understand what to do with an empty package, as with initiatives like the How2Recycle program.”

Members have been proactive on their own, according to Grande.

“We’re seeing many of our companies make commitments to improve the recyclability of their packages—32% of ACI product formulators—and move toward more renewable or recycled raw material sources—35% of ACI product formulators,” she says. “As these commitments come to fruition through collaborations with packaging suppliers, I expect more tactics on implementation will be shared.”

As referenced earlier, cleaners have specific challenges from a packaging sustainability view.

“Cleaning products often contain chemicals that can degrade packaging over time, so the packaging must be designed robustly enough to withstand such conditions,” Grande explains. “Packaging for foods and other less aggressive products typically do not face this challenge.

“And unlike foods that are often consumed quickly after purchase and therefore must only contain the product for a relatively short time, cleaning products are typically kept for much longer by the consumer and therefore the packaging must be designed to last much longer.

Next: Polymers, PCR content and Loop

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