With Less Plastic Packaging to Reduce Waste, Concentrated Cleaners from SC Johnson Make the Case for Refilling

SC Johnson launched Windex® refills and other concentrated cleaners to get consumers interested in products that can reduce plastic waste.
“We want to crack the code and figure out what would make concentrated refills an accepted – even demanded – choice.” - Fisk Johnson
Around the world, it’s not uncommon to see cleaning products sold in concentrated refill packages. In fact, in many places it’s a more common format than large-size cleaning containers, due to limited family budgets and minimal shelf space in shops and markets.
 
But in America, where many families have ample storage space and stores are used to stocking large and even extra-large packages, convincing people to try refills can be a challenge. 
 
It’s a challenge worth taking, because of plastic pollution. Millions of plastic bottles end up in landfills each year in the U.S., and we know if we can convince people to refill rather than toss, we can help limit that waste.
Refilling with a concentrate is an example of a very small behavior change that could make a real difference in minimizing waste.
Fisk Johnson, Chairman and CEO of SC Johnson
In 2011, SC Johnson launched a concentrated refill pilot with Windex® Mini, a pouch-style refill that used 90% less plastic packaging than a traditional 26 fluid ounce trigger bottle. 
 
As our Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson said at the time, “Refilling with a concentrate is an example of a very small behavior change that could make a real difference in minimizing waste. But many people don't want the inconvenience. We want to crack the code and figure out what it would take to make concentrated refills an accepted – even demanded – choice.”
 
The Windex® Mini pilot included gathering input from consumers online and in focus groups, which led to insights about pourability and the importance of recyclable packaging. 
Windex Refill
In 2012, we launched the next phase – a line of Mini concentrated cleaners from five of our trusted brands: fantastik®, Pledge®, Scrubbing Bubbles®, Shout® and Windex®.
 
The new products come in small, easy-to-pour bottles made of the same recyclable packaging as a milk jug. They also address a wide array of cleaning needs, from bathroom to kitchen, cleaning wood to marble to carpet.
 
The concentrated refills are an easy and responsible choice for everyday cleaning. Consumers simply combine one bottle of concentrate with regular tap water in a reusable trigger bottle. A handy provided label helps identify what’s in the bottle for future use.
Choosing to refill with a Mini concentrated refill requires less plastic and avoids transporting up to 23 fl. oz. of water.

Many of the spray bottles for the concentrate brands were already produced with at least 50% post-consumer-recycled content. Choosing to refill with a Mini concentrated refill has an even greater positive impact: 

  • Requires 79% less plastic than the standard bottles
  • Avoids transporting 19 to 23 fl. oz. of water, depending on the formula
  • The refill bottle can be recycled in most community recycling programs

And that’s just the beginning. If just 20% of the 320 million cleaning products sold in trigger bottles in the U.S. were refilled each year, it could:

  • Save more than 7 million pounds of plastic – more than 50 million one-gallon milk jugs
  • Avoid using 3.5 million pounds of virgin plastic – that’s the equivalent of about 230 adult elephants weighing 15,000 pounds each
  • Avoid transporting nearly 11.5 million gallons of water – enough to fill about 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools

When we launched each phase of our concentrated refills program in the U.S., it created dialogue about plastic waste management.

The Wall Street Journal highlighted Windex® Mini, and explored the challenge of changing behaviors of American consumers, who prefer the convenience of pre-mixed products. Green media outlets debated how to overcome consumers’ habit of buying a new bottle every time. 

We don’t have all the answers, and sales of the refills have, frankly, been disappointing. But we want to continue the conversation. Even back in 2011, we had evidence that 75% of Americans feel good when they take steps to help the environment. And, interest in the environment and sustainable choices only continues to grow.

So, we’ll keep experimenting. And we hope you’ll keep joining us. Together, we can make the case for refillable containers, lower-waste options and better choices for generations to come.

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