The Eco-Impact of Laundry Detergent in the U.S.

Our original article and infographic on the Eco-impact of Laundry Detergent in Canada proved so popular that we decided to create versions for other countries, starting with this one for the U.S. About 29 billion loads of laundry get washed each year in the U.S. All of those plastic jugs and all of that shipping to stores have an enormous impact. The good news is that there is an alternative: To our knowledge, Dizolve has the smallest packaging and transportation footprint of any detergent. Here are the details of our research and calculations.

A fortune spent (and wasted) on laundry detergent.

According to Euromonitor’s Laundry Care in the US Report, Americans spend $6.7 billion 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 the U.S. alone, that equates to $2.2 billion worth of detergent that is wasted. In other words, a jug that advertises 64-loads worth of detergent actually ends up washing only 42 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.

Dizolve Infographic Eco-footprint of laundry detergent in the US

29 billion loads of laundry washed each year.

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. 38 billion loads purchased, but only 29 billion loads washed. If you start with the total value of detergent sales in the US and divide by the average retail selling price per load, Americans collectively purchase roughly 38 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 29 billion loads per year.

Enough plastic jugs to circle the Earth six times.

One billion plastic jugs. 86% of the detergent sold in the US is in liquid form, based on $5.7 billion in sales (Euromonitor). At the average per load price of $0.18, that translates into almost one billion plastic jugs in the common 32-load, 50 oz. size. Laid end-to-end, that many 10 inch tall jugs spans 160,000 miles, long enough to circle the Earth more than six times. 700 million jugs end up in US 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 about 700 million jugs may be added to American landfills each year. The amount of plastic in Dizolve’s packaging for online sales is zero, completely eliminating the jug pollution problem.

More CO2 than 24 million cars emit in a day.

3.4 billion pounds of detergent are shipped thousands of miles. Today’s leading concentrated powder detergent weighs in at about 3.5 lb for a 40-load box, or 1.4 oz per load. Somewhat surprisingly, the leading concentrated liquid also weighs about 1.4 oz per load, based on a 32-load, 50 oz. jug with a detergent density of 0.885 grams/ml. At that weight per load, the total amount of detergent shipped in the US each year adds up to 3.4 billion pounds. 422 million pounds 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 over 1,200 miles and a CO2 emission rate of 62 grams per tonne shipped each km, over 422 million pounds of CO2 are released into our atmosphere as a result of transporting detergent to stores. 17.5 million gallons of trucking fuel. Converting that much CO2 into the equivalent gallons of trucking fuel at a rate of 0.345 litres per kg of CO2 yields 17.5 million gallons per year.

Dizolve reduces transportation pollution by 94%.

A single-load strip of Dizolve weighs only 0.09 ounces, 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: 395 million pounds each year, equivalent to taking 24 million cars off the road for a day, assuming the average car travels 13,000 miles per year and emits 128 kg of CO2 per 1,000 km. It’s also equivalent to the CO2 absorbed by planting about 8 million trees, based on 22 kg of CO2 per tree per year. Those are just the numbers for the U.S. The global detergent industry is 10 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.

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