The Eco-Impact of Laundry Detergent in Canada

Posted in: Sustainability  ¦     ¦   9

Infographic Dizolve laundry detergent environmental impactCollectively, we do one heck of a pile of laundry. In Canada alone, we wash almost four billion loads each year. All of those plastic jugs and all of that shipping to stores have an enormous impact. This eye-opening infographic was developed to raise awareness about the unsustainability of the status quo. The good news is that there is an alternative: Dizolve Ultra uses zero plastic in its packaging and reduces transportation pollution by 94%. To our knowledge, it has the smallest packaging and transportation footprint of any detergent. Here are the details of our research and calculations.

We spend (and waste) a fortune on laundry detergent.

According to Euromonitor’s 2012 Laundry Care in Canada Report, Canadians spend $890 million on laundry detergent each year. Euromonitor estimates the global total is a whopping $61 billion. 33% is wasted, so what you buy is not necessarily what you get. Hard-to-read, over-sized liquid measuring caps and powder scoops lead to widespread detergent over-use by consumers. The issue has been reported in the Wall Street Journal, and this TreeHugger article pegs the average over-dosing amount at 33%. In Canada alone, that equates to $294 million worth of detergent that is wasted. In other words, a jug that advertises 72-loads worth of detergent actually ends up washing only 48 loads of laundry on average. That also means the effective price per load you pay is 33% higher than you may think. That leading-brand 32-load jug of liquid that is on sale for the apparently fantastic price of $5.99 (about $0.19 per load) will actually cost you over $0.25 per wash load – no bargain.

We wash 3.8 billion loads of laundry.

That works out to about two loads per person per week, and 500 loads per year for a family of five. That may sound high to some, but P&G, the makers of Tide and other leading brands, was quoted as saying that the average family washes 600 loads per year. If you think about it, two loads per person per week can be generated by one load of clothes and one load of sheets and towels, less for sedentary adults, more for active children. 5.1 billion loads purchased, but only 3.8 billion loads washed. If you start with the total value of detergent sales in Canada and divide by the average retail selling price per load, Canadians collectively purchase roughly 5.1 billion loads worth of detergent per year. Most of us look for those yellow promotional price labels in grocery stores and buy detergent on sale at a 25-40% discount from the regular price. A price survey of liquid and powder detergent reveals that the actual purchase price per load varies from $0.12 per load for bargain basement brands to over $0.25 per load for leading brands. Taking into consideration the prevalence of discounting and the market share of the various brands, the averages are $0.18 for liquid (a typical 32-load jug selling for $6 on a major promotion) and $0.14 per load for powder (a typical 40-load box sells for under $6 on special promotion). The new uni-dose tablet and pod detergents are much more expensive (up to $0.40 per load), but we didn’t include them in our calculations because they do not have much market share yet. Since 33% of the detergent purchased is wasted on over-dosing, the number of loads actually washed is 3.8 billion loads per year.

Enough plastic jugs to circle the Earth.

134 million plastic jugs. 87% of the detergent sold in Canada is in liquid form, based on $774 million in sales (Euromonitor). At the average per load price of $0.18, that translates into 134 million plastic jugs in the common 32-load, 1.47 litre size. Laid end-to-end, that many 26 cm tall jugs spans 35,000 km, long enough to circle the Earth more than once at the latitude of any place in Canada. 94 million jugs end up in our landfills. Since the stuff virtually never biodegrades, that much plastic is bad enough. The real kicker is that the recycling rate may be less that 30% for HDPE plastic, according to the The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. That means that 94 million jugs may be added to Canadian landfills each year. The amount of plastic in Dizolve’s packaging is zero, completely eliminating the jug pollution problem.

More CO2 than three million cars emit in a day.

205 million kg of detergent are shipped thousands of kilometres. Today’s leading concentrated powder detergent weighs in at about 1.6 kg for a 40-load box, or 40 grams per load. Somewhat surprisingly, the leading concentrated liquid also weighs about 40 grams per load, based on a 32-load, 1.47 litre jug with a detergent density of 0.885 grams/ml. At that weight of 40 grams per load, the total amount of detergent shipped in Canada each year adds up to 205 million kg. 25 million kg of CO2. Detergent manufacturing plants are few and far between. In fact, many of the familiar brands are imported from the US or from as far away as China. That’s a long way from factory to store shelves. Assuming an average trucking distance of 2,000 km and a CO2 emission rate of 62 grams per tonne shipped each km, over 25 million kg of CO2 are released into our atmosphere as a result of transporting detergent to stores. 8.7 million litres of trucking fuel. Converting that much CO2 into the equivalent litres of trucking fuel at a rate of 0.345 litres per kg of CO2 yields 8.7 million litres per year. That’s enough to power a small car that gets 6 litres/100 km for 145 million km, equivalent to drive the 40,000 km distance around the world over 3,000 times.

Dizolve reduces transportation pollution by 94%.

A single-load strip of Dizolve weighs only 2.5 grams, or 94% less than a single dose of liquid or powder. That translates directly into a 94% reduction in transportation fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The potential CO2 savings are enormous: 23.8 million kg each year, equivalent to taking 3.2 million cars off the road for a day, assuming the average car travels 21,000 km per year and emits 128 kg of CO2 per 1,000 km. It’s also equivalent to the CO2 absorbed by planting over 1 million trees, based on 22 kg of CO2 per tree per year. Those are just the numbers for Canada. The global detergent industry is 60 times larger, meaning the overall plastic and pollution impact is mind-boggling. Have some additional insights or data on this serious problem? Please let us know and we will refine our calculations.

9 Responses

  1. Sarah McBride says:

    Looking forward to trying your product!

  2. […] Click here for a neat infographic about the eco-impact of laundry detergent in Canada. […]

  3. Kathleen Jordan says:

    How accessible is this product and where can I buy it instead of what we are using now? Do I have to purchase over the internet or is it more accessible than that?

  4. Dizolve says:

    Hi, You can purchase on this website or over the phone by calling 1-855-201-1920. When you purchase those ways, money goes to the Sierra Club or other cause of your choice. Dizolve is also available in some Canadian retail stores, mainly in Atlantic Canada. Retail sales do not contribute to fundraising. We will be expanding retail availability over the next few months. By the way, Dizolve is sold in over 10,000 stores internationally.

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  6. Suraj Nair says:

    Can you please tell me how eco friendly your packaging is? I understood that the use of plastic jugs are reduced considerably, but how does your packaging material contribute to the eco-friendly tag of your product?

  7. Dizolve says:

    Hello. Our 64-load boxes of Dizolve are packaged entirely in recyclable cardboard, eliminating the use of plastics. Eliminating plastics is important because only about 30% of plastic jugs are actually recycled – the remainder end up in landfills where they do not bios degrade for thousands of years. Additionally, the fact that Dizolve is much more compact that traditional detergent means there is less packaging material and reduced CO2 emissions from transportation.

  8. Suraj Nair says:

    Hi, thank you for your reply, but just one more question, is the pulp used virgin pulp or recycled pulp for the cardboard?
    Sorry for any inconvenience…