Just add water...This simple phrase describes a growing trend of products that are made to be “waterless”. Depletion of freshwater sources, air and land pollution are the consequences of some of the most prevalent environmental concerns we face today. One way some companies are striving to make a significant environmental impact is to assess wasteful tendencies along their entire logistical track from production to transportation. In the United States, 37% of freshwater is used in the consumer packaged goods industry. Additionally, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the transportation sector, which includes people and goods. All this being said, a solution some companies have adopted is finding ways for them to make their products waterless by using classic techniques to create dehydrated products in the form of powders, tablets and bars that are simply activated with water. While we continue to face the effects of climate change will waterless products become the new normal?
How Waterless products work
You may be wondering how this works and it’s actually pretty straightforward. In short, companies aim to create a very concentrated solid product like a tablet that is activated by adding water. For example, instead of purchasing a bottle of juice, you could purchase a juice powder mix, and mix it with water from your home in your own container. This way, consumers are only purchasing the necessary dehydrated active ingredients. By adopting this method there is huge potential to have a positive impact on the environment and potentially save water. The Ellen McArthur foundation reported that over 90% of a typical bottle of cleaning solution is just water.
Water as an additive increases the overall volume, weight, and amount of packaging that is necessary for any given product. When you can eliminate the need to have water in with the product you can reduce the overall amount of boats and trucks required to transport the product because the overall product volume is smaller since it is just the active ingredients. Water also adds a lot of weight to the finished product, with the water removed from the product it would require less energy to transport which in turn would reduce the carbon footprint. Leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) company Unilever reports that by selling a dehydrated product that consumers dilute, 97% less water is transported, 87% fewer trucks are on the road and there are also reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The packaging requirements for just-add-water products is less than that of traditional packaging. Considering there is no longer the need to use additional packaging to packaging the water, about 20% of disposable packaging waste could be eliminated by just sticking to the active ingredients. Water conservation is another potential significant benefit of waterless products. Water is used in various ways for just about every stage of product and packaging production. By lowering the amount of packaging required to package the product there will inevitably be some water conservation. However, this benefit is largely dependent on the way consumers approach using their waterless products.
With any shift in consumer products, the biggest concern is if consumer behaviours will follow suit. Traditionally, consumers can be hesitant to change their daily routines, however in an effort to become more sustainable 68% of shoppers are likely to make lifestyle changes that limit their use of single-use plastics. Waterless products could fit seamlessly into the lives of people with those goals, but it is imperative that consumers are using the products as they are designed to truly reap those environmental benefits. Although consumers are generally enthusiastic about making environmental changes, there are still some barriers.
Many waterless products come with reusable containers so that the consumer would just need to repurchase a refill of the active ingredients and they can reuse the given spray bottle, tubs, dispenser etc. A major test in the sustainability of these products lies with whether or not consumers are consistently using them. For context, let's look at plastic containers vs Styrofoam (Polystyrene) containers. Most people would automatically think that the reusable container is inherently better for the environment than the single-use Styrofoam container but depending on size, it would take the reusable container being used 16 to 208 times for the energy impact between the two containers to breakeven. Circling this back to waterless products, if consumers are not completely aware of the need to maintain using the same product they may find themselves creating the same if not more harm to the environment by purchasing additional products.
Water conservation is another element that is highly dependent on consumer behaviour, especially in regards to waterless beauty and personal care items. Everything from serums to toothpaste is being made in a waterless form and for good reason, concentrated formulas are extremely sought after in the beauty world. Using smaller than usual amounts of product and water to activate the given formulas can result in being able to use a product longer and using an overall lower amount of water in comparison to traditional products where water is an additive. As mentioned before, the success of this comes down to consumer behaviours.
Waterless Brands to watch!
Blue land is a company that specializes in creating several kinds of cleaning products that come in a tablet form and are activated by water. Their most popular products include a trio of reusable acrylic spray bottles that easily allow consumers to drop in a tablet and add water to create a cleaning solution. Blue Land has also added laundry detergent and laundry booster tablets that are housed in steel tin containers and can easily be refilled with more tablets once they have run out.
Oral hygiene products like mouthwash can take up a lot of counter space, require a lot of plastic for the bottle and of course a lot of water. The brand HumanKind has created mouthwash tablets that are about the width of a penny and can be dropped into a cup of water to dissolve into mouthwash. The mouthwash tablets are stored in a reusable container. Similarly, Bite sells toothpaste bits that come in a glass jar, to use this the user simply bites down on a toothpaste bit and uses a wet toothbrush to continue brushing their teeth as normal.
The beauty and cosmetic industry is also beginning to make waves in the “waterless” products market. Proctor and Gamble, Unilever and L’oreal have all pledged to lower their water footprint. L’oreal in particular is testing out a shampoo bar in Europe through their brand Garnier that comes in a paper box, similar to a bar of soap. Instead of the traditional liquid shampoo that comes in a plastic bottle. Many in the beauty community are also embracing waterless products because of the higher concentration of ingredients.
Truthfully, we already use many “Just-add-water” products and a lot of us use them every day, just think of instant foods like prepackaged ramen noodles. The question is, are we willing to extend this to other parts of our lives. All studies point to consumers' willingness to adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly products, but with most things education and dedication are key. Over the years waterless products have crossed over into many aspects of our lives, as news major outlets rave about their environmental desirability it’s important to note that limiting excess buying and consistency are what can create this profound impact on the environment.