For those who've not yet stumbled across this bit of news: By 2050, it's expected that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. It's a thought that should be disturbing to all of us, and a problem caused in large part by the reality that only 9 percent of plastics actually get recycled. But the real problem is human reliance on plastics in the first place. They're impossible to avoid—as a walk down the aisle of any retail store makes clear. But the concept that all eco-friendly products are inherently way more expensive? That's a total myth.
One thing is certain: In order to tackle plastic pollution, we must demand alternatives from product manufacturers, and equally importantly, we must all begin to change our way of living—meaning our daily habits—and begin integrating products into our routines and lifestyle that provide alternatives to single-use plastics. Or at the very least, we need to begin consciously selecting products that significantly reduce plastic waste in some way.
Maybe you've given up plastic straws and plastic grocery bags. Great job! But what about your hair care routine? For many of us, shampoo and conditioner bottles have long been a source of a constant stream of plastic waste (in the U.S., half a billion shampoo and conditioner bottles get tossed every year). But you can bring about change on this front too, by being a more conscious consumer. The good news is there's a growing crop of businesses that want to help with that effort, providing shampoo and conditioner refills in pouches that massively reduce plastic usage and waste. Many of these same manufacturers are also creating bottles designed to be long-lasting, and thus used again and again.
Here are some of the notable new developments to consider when it comes to shampoo and conditioner refills that reduce the plastic waste of your hair care routine—and in many cases, also save you money.
Public Goods has positioned itself to be a one-stop shop for all of the healthy, sustainable, everyday essentials you might ever, ever need. Founded in 2017, the company carries everything from household cleaners to groceries to, you guessed it, shampoos and conditioners packaged in bottles that can be used again and again—as well as refill pouches of their product.
All of the bottles that Public Goods uses to package its products are made from sugarcane-based bio-plastics. Here's why that's specially notable when you're trying to go green: Sugarcane is a form of packaging that does not come from fossil fuels, while traditional plastics, do. (And as such, traditional plastics are not only a major contributor to climate change; they also sit in landfills for decades before decomposing into substances that poison the earth.)
"We wanted to create a healthy product, not just for the human beings using it, but for the planet," says Ninah Jackson, Public Goods product expert. "Sugar cane plastic is considered carbon neutral. In addition to not being made from fossil fuels, sugar cane plastics are made from sugar cane plants grown specifically to create plastic products. So it's not being harvested from the wild. It's also a very fast-growing plant, so it's considered sustainable to harvest."
What's more, these non-petroleum-based bottles break down much faster than typical plastic in a landfill. But you won't want to toss them, because they're meant to be used again and again with Public Goods refill pouches.
"As long as you keep them clean, the bottles can be refilled indefinitely," continues Jackson. "You can refill them forever, and reuse them for whatever you want."
Now on to the refill pouches, and why they're a big step forward for your budget and the environment. The cost for a whopping 34-ounce pouch of shampoo (which is meant to refill your bottle three times) is just $11. The same is true for the conditioner—34 ounces for $11, which will refill your bottle three times.
Meanwhile, by purchasing refill pouches instead of bottle after bottle, the amount of plastic you'll be tossing into landfills will be significantly reduced.
In addition, the refill pouches are made from flexible PET, which consumes less energy, natural resources, and carbon emissions to produce than rigid PET.
The one caveat to note about Public Goods is that it's a membership-based website. You can buy any product on the site with a free, two-week trial. After the trial, the annual membership fee is $79. Membership can be cancelled at any time.
Attitude Living Eco-Refills
Attitude Living is tackling plastic waste by offering cardboard bulk to-go shampoo refills, which carry more than four times the needed quantity of product and use 89 percent less plastic than the company's traditional hair care product packaging.
The cardboard used for Attitude's bulk refills is 100 percent recyclable and eco-friendly. The minimal amount of plastic used for the bag inside the box and the spigot is BPA-free.
Like many of the trailblazers in this space, Attitude has set out to change the daily habits of consumers everywhere, and is focused on creating "clean products, less plastic, more trees."
"We believe that change starts with our daily choices and that together we have the power to lead to a better future—one product at a time," says the company website. The only downside? Attitude does not offer bulk-sized, eco-friendly conditioners.
Texas-based Puracy was started by two best friends focused on making effective, eco-friendly, plant-based cleaning and personal care products.
When that mission was applied to hair care products, and especially conditioner, Puracy aimed to develop offerings that give your hair the same silky feeling as salon-level competitors on the market, without harming the environment.
"The ingredient that gives your hair that slick, frictionless silky feeling, and which is used in 95 percent or more of the conditioners out there—while not bad for you—accumulates in the environment, in water, and in oceans, and does not break down or biodegrade. So, we set out to solve for that," says Puracy founder and CEO Sean Busch.
In addition to removing the environmentally harmful ingredients Busch is referencing (silicone and dimethicone) from its formulations, Puracy offers plastic pouch refills for its shampoos and conditioners, which has translated into major reduction of plastic waste. The company has crunched the numbers to track just how big an impact they are making.
"By introducing pouches over bottles, we saved over 300 tons of plastic waste from hitting on landfills. That's since we introduced the first pouch...up through the beginning of this year," says Busch. "That's a huge number, and it's accurate. We ran the numbers a few times to make sure it's correct."
In fact, Puracy's emphasis on refill pouches, as well as reusable glass bottles and biodegradable formulas, is having a major impact—to the tune of more than 5 million bottles prevented from entering the environment, 1.4 million hectares of forest protected, and four tons of CO2 offset every month.
The price of Puracy shampoo and conditioner is also worth a bit of praise. Customers who opt for subscribe-and-save get not only a 16-ounce bottle of shampoo or conditioner, but also a 64-ounce refill pouch, all for just $39. That's a lot of eco-friendly hair care product for a very budget-friendly price.
It doesn't end with refills...
Shifting to shampoo and conditioner refills represents a significant step forward in reducing plastic waste. But it's really just one of the ways to begin reducing the plastic associated with our hair care routines. A variety of additional eco-friendly options are rapidly becoming available, including shampoo and conditioner bars that eliminate plastic altogether.
For those who may be ready to take another step forward, HiBAR's shampoo and conditioner in a bar, for instance, has zero plastic packaging. And the company has created bars for all hair types, meaning those with color-treated hair, or dry hair, or greasy hair don't have to sacrifice in order to go green. Product options include: Maintain, Volumize, Moisturize, and Soothe.
Each bar costs $13.95, which is a bargain compared to how much some of us drop on high-end brands like Kerastase, Oribe, or Kevin Murphy, many of which set you back anywhere from $30 to upwards of $70 to $80 a bottle.
And finally, like many of the other laudable companies already mentioned, HiBAR's founders are on a mission to help save the planet by changing our daily routines for the better.
"We started this thing because we really, truly wanted to make an impact, and by impact we mean not just having an option out there that's maybe available only in natural food stores, or only available from our website," says HiBAR co-founder Dion Hughes. "Those options are terrific, but we wanted to create a product that has the potential of being popular and widely available—not just because we want to have a successful business, but really because that's the only way we could see it having a meaningful impact on reducing plastic waste."
Hughes is alluding to what has become widely understood by many of those fighting the battle against plastic pollution: The only way to make a big difference is through critical mass and widespread adoption. And the only way to accomplish that is to make these eco-friendly products readily available.
HiBAR is currently sold at Whole Foods, Sprouts, REI, and Kroger, among other locations. However, the company has its sights set on significant expansion.
"At your local CVS, Ulta, or Target there are hundreds of different brands in plastic bottles. In 10 years' time, we want that to be hundreds of brands not in plastic. We want non-plastic to be the norm—and plastic to be the niche," says Hughes.