(Why write about soap on December 31? Perhaps it’s a desire to wash away 2020 and come out fresh and clean in the new year. May you all have a healthy, safe 2021.)
Not long ago, my daughter made me aware that my choice of laundry detergent was wasteful, expensive, and unecological. She had found a company that made earth-safe cleaning products, Dropps. (https://www.dropps.com/?msclkid=1192a6aaf1ba1a589270f960d4aeb922 if you’re interested). I gave it a quick look but didn’t sign up. Nevertheless, she had planted the idea in my mind, so I started paying more attention. I wondered what percentage of a bottle of Tide is water?
It occurred to me that I used to buy powdered Tide in a box.* That product would cut out the extra water content and the plastic bottle. So I looked for it at my local supermarket. Only liquid laundry detergent stocked the shelves. I ended up with pods. These, at least, eliminated the plastic bottle, but the little plastic pods that “dissolved” were now suspect. Most likely they just put more microplastic in our oceans.
Why couldn’t I get powdered laundry soap at the store? The question bothered me enough that I went hunting on the Internet. The first site I found more than answered my question. I had to sift through a lot of information, but here’s what I learned: half the world is still using powdered laundry soap.
The scene is quite different at, say, the giant Idumota Market in Lagos, Nigeria. There, economical powdered detergents dominate. They come in sizes ranging from cheap single-use packets to multikilogram bags. In rural areas, powdered detergents are often sold out of large sacks by the cup to buyers who bring their own containers. Liquids are nowhere to be found. **
If I understood the explanation correctly, it seems that the grease-busting chemicals can be more easily suspended in liquid (water) than in powder. In the U.S., Tide is still the best-selling (and one of the most expensive) products on the shelf.
These are the two ends of the global laundry detergent market. Consumers in the US, accustomed to liquids or newer unit-dose pod products, may not be aware that powders are alive and well in Africa, India, China, Latin America, and elsewhere in the developing world. Powders also persist in highly developed western European countries, where families prize them for their whitening ability.
Apparently, it was a big deal to concoct a liquid detergent with compatible ingredients that didn’t separate on the shelf. Proctor and Gamble took up the challenge
P&G couldn’t ignore the appeal to consumers of a product that is easy to dispense, dissolves quickly, especially in cold water, and can be dabbed on to pretreat stains. No doubt the firm also considered the premium it could charge.
Aha! That sneaky little sentence got my attention.
Lately, the shift [to liquids] is particularly pronounced in Japan and South Korea, according to Corrado Mazzanti, the firm’s sales director for surfactants and detergents. “Ten years ago powders dominated,” he says. “Now they are 10–15%.” It’s also happening in Latin American countries like Brazil, where P&G spent $120 million in 2015 to build a liquid detergent plant and subsequently stopped selling powdered versions of its popular Ariel and Ace brands in the country.
Detergent company executives like P&G’s Cumming say investments in liquids are a response to consumer wishes, yet Mazzanti contends that big companies actively promote them because they are more profitable. “The cost of each wash done with liquids versus powders is much higher,” he says.
Profit is the bottom line, here. Big manufacturers apparently assume no responsibility for the pollutants they add to our burdened Earth. I recommend that you read the full article if the topic interests you. It’s an eye-opener.
Meanwhile, I’m trying out a new product, Tru-Earth Eco-strips: dry laundry detergent in index-card-sized pieces that come in a paper packet. You can choose fragrance-free or fresh linen scent. Biodegradable. Hypoallergenic. Made in Canada.
(Disclaimer: I’m not receiving any compensation for mentioning this product.)
Next time you do a wash, think about your choice of detergent.
*I have since learned that powdered Tide can be bought online.
**all citations are from https://cen.acs.org/business/consumer-products/Almost-extinct-US-powdered-laundry/97/i4