The American Cleaning Institute (ACI)

Goal: Value Nature

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Our planet and its resources are precious. Having those resources available is critical to maintaining a clean world, while overuse and depletion poses a major risk to every one of us. This is why we collectively must make the shift from linear “take, make, waste” processes toward a more circular economy.

Goal: Value nature by working to eliminate waste and advancing water stewardship.

Wherever possible, seek to reduce, reuse or recycle in order to avoid depleting the planet’s natural resources. At the same time, we must take action to ensure our water supply will be clean and available into the future.

Solving the Packaging Waste Challenge

For many years, our members have continually sought to improve the environmental efficiency of their operations. At the same time, cleaning products have been formulated to take into account that many are disposed of down the drain and residuals could enter our environment. Product packaging and water use have also been optimized over the years through compaction, concentration and other innovations.

We are proud of the industry’s effort to date, but with the increasing awareness of the scarcity of natural resources, we acknowledge the need for a new type of thinking in an effort to move globally toward a more circular economy.

The amount of packaging, and especially the amount of single-use plastics, must be reduced, and the problem of plastic polluting the oceans seriously addressed. It also means taking a fresh look at raw materials, moving toward sources that are renewable or from a source that would otherwise be wasted. Last but not least, more must be done to preserve fresh water, a precious and sometimes scarce resource that is critical to the cleaning process.

The cleaning products industry has a specific role to play in developing innovative solutions and ACI is determined to help our members lead on tackling these challenges. 

Optimizing, Minimize, Eliminate

Product packaging is essential to the safe transportation and storage of products. A package is needed to protect the contents and provide safety and proper use information to the user.

Packaging design is a science in and of itself that aims to strike a balance between the amount and type of packaging materials used with overall performance, convenience and stability. Historically, focus has been placed on optimizing packaging volume and weight, minimizing environmental impacts – including using recycled content – and facilitating easy recovery of the packaging components.

One example of an industry success in this space is with product compaction – the result of more concentrated products, particularly laundry detergent. In the early 2000s, a wave of concentrated products began hitting the market, reducing volume by half or more. In one case, it was estimated the compaction of a laundry product resulted in the use of 43 percent less packaging. Since this time, compaction efforts and new product forms have continued.

One challenge the industry has faced in adaption of previous packaging innovations is that it is critical to ensure that end users find the packaging experience acceptable to their expectations and use patterns. This has historically been problematic with systems like refill packs, as the limits to convenience had made them difficult to be popular and maintained on the market.

Packaging Reimagined

Going forward, the industry must look to design for a circular global economy, which needs to include more material recovery and reuse, and new innovations to minimize waste. Many of our companies are already starting to make real commitments and progress. In 2018, 32 percent of our product formulator members had made recycled packaging commitments, which is an important step forward to achieve this vision. In related efforts, cleaning product brands are supporting those commitments by improving their communications with consumers about how to recycle all elements of the packaging, thereby helping to ensure packaging remains out of landfill and the environment. 

Also related to this effort of packaging recovery is the initiation of efforts to replace virgin raw materials from non-renewable sources in packaging with those that can be sourced with recycled material or are renewable in nature. This is another place where we are starting to see a strong number of commitments, with over 50 percent of our member companies formulating products for consumers having a defined commitment to increase use of recycled and renewable materials within their packaging.

Changing the Raw Material Landscape

Another place where consideration needs to be given to conserve our natural resources is with respect to the production of the chemical ingredients that make up our products. While each of our industry’s ingredients has its own production chain, the U.S. chemical industry currently relies heavily on natural gas liquids, such as ethane, as a hydrocarbon feedstock.

Encouraging trends are starting to emerge as innovation shifts toward the utilization of new raw materials. While biobased chemicals only make up 4 percent of the chemicals industry globally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects growth over the next five years. One example, surfactants, the workhorse ingredient in cleaning products, can be derived from natural raw materials based on plant sources or animal fat. Biosurfactants represented 24 percent of the market in 2012, and it is estimated that this percentage has increased and continues to rise. Advances in biotechnology are also providing new potential for improved processes and innovative biobased products derived from sources like bacteria, yeast and algae. The industry is already utilizing this technology for ingredients like enzymes. At this early stage of development with new raw materials types, it is important that we explore these new options and strive for a robust palette of solutions that can be scaled in the future.

Operational Water and Waste

Maintaining efficient operations, including conserving water and tackling waste, is crucial for combating climate change. While these potential operational impacts may not be key drivers of our industry’s overall water and waste footprints, they are clearly within the control of each individual company and should be managed and reduced to the greatest extent possible.

Between 2008 and 2017, product formulators reduced water use by more than 25 percent. However, chemical producers have not shown a discernible trend. Between 2012 and 2017, no clear trend was apparent with waste reduction per unit metric ton of production. We are,  though, starting to see a shift toward increased internal recycling and recovery, especially from product formulators, striving to send less waste to landfills. Although we have seen advances, there is much room for improvement as we drive for the most environmentally efficient operations.

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  • Plastic Bank

    Several ACI members have partnered with Plastic Bank, an award-winning social enterprise that aims to help prevent plastic reaching our oceans by monetizing waste while improving lives. Plastic Bank enables plastic to be exchanged for money or items, boosting recycling, especially in areas with high levels of poverty or plastic pollution.

    Henkel initially partnered with Plastic Bank to construct three collection branches in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, resulting in a total of more than 100,000 kg 
    of certified social plastic, which Henkel uses in the production of its laundry and beauty product bottles.

    Plastic Bank partner SC Johnson has opened nine collection branches in Indonesia, including the first mobile branch, to increase recycling rates in impoverished communities. Local collectors can exchange plastic for digital currency that enables the purchase of needed goods and services with a reduced risk of loss or theft.

  • How2Recycle

    Improving Recyclability by Simplifying the Consumer Experience

    Making sure packaging can be recycled is only the first step in preventing more plastic from reaching our oceans. People need to know what can and cannot be recycled, as their decisions are critical to the success of our recycling systems. But for most of us it can be extremely confusing.

    Alongside their recyclability commitments, our members are working to be more transparent about how people can recycle their products. The How2Recycle label is transforming this by providing clear on-package labels to help all of us understand what we should be placing in the recycle bin. Among our formulator members, 35 percent have joined How2Recycle labeling, including AlEn, Church & Dwight, The Clorox Company, Colgate-Palmolive, Georgia-Pacific, Henkel, Kao Corporation, P&G, RB, SC Johnson, Seventh Generation and Unilever. ACI members Cargill, The Dow Chemical Company, Eastman and Lonza are also supporters.

  • Global Alliances

    Joining Global Alliances to Clean Up Our World

    A number of organizations are leading the effort to tackle the problem of plastic pollution.

    The Alliance to End Plastic Waste aims to find solutions by bringing together people and organizations from across the value chain. Among these are 11 of our members: The Dow Chemical Company, BASF, Clariant, ExxonMobil, Henkel, Mitsui Chemical, P&G, SABIC, Sasol, Shell and Veolia

    The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment for a New Plastic Economy aims to eliminate problematic  or unnecessary plastic packaging and ensure 100 percent  of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled or composted by 2025. Member companies Colgate-Palmolive, Graham Packaging Company, Henkel, L’Oréal, RB, SC JohnsonUnilever and Veolia are among more than 400 signatories who have already made the pledge to eradicate plastic pollution at its source.

  • Loop

    Utilizing New Circular Approaches to Packaging

    Loop is a global circular shopping platform designed to eliminate the idea of waste by transforming the products and packaging of everyday items from single use to durable, multi-use designs. Consumers can shop for waste-free products of leading brands by paying a small, fully refundable one-time deposit to “borrow” the package. Products arrive in the specially designed Loop Tote, eliminating the need for disposable single use shipping materials like cardboard boxes and bubble wrap. Once the product has been used, empty packages go back into the Loop Tote for collection from the customer’s home. Back in the Loop system, state-of-the-art cleaning ensures the empty packaging is ready for reuse, and the circle begins again.

    A number of our members are teaming with Loop to reimagine packaging and help drive the circular economy: The Clorox Company, Colgate-Palmolive, P&G, RB, Seventh Generation and Unilever.

  • Biopreferred

    Encouraging Renewable Materials

    With people and businesses increasingly looking to move away from using fossil fuels, BioPreferred promotes biobased alternatives. Managed by the US Department of Agriculture, the BioPreferred program helps to increase the use of renewable agricultural resources and reduce reliance on petroleum. USDA estimates over 40,000 biobased products are available in the United States. Within ACI’s membership, 12 chemical suppliers make bio-preferred ingredients, and 14 formulators have bio-preferred cleaning products available.

  • Together for Sustainability

    Together for Sustainability (TfS), founded in 2011, is a joint initiative of 23 chemical companies. It has developed and implemented a global program to assess, audit and improve sustainability practices within the supply chains of the chemical industry. With this in mind, TfS has established a standard approach for evaluating and improving the sustainability performance of this industry’s suppliers. Assessments and audits are conducted to  a predefined set of criteria and then shared across  TfS members, improving efficiency for all involved. A number of our member companies participate in the TfS program, including: Arkema, BASF, Brenntag, Clariant, DuPont, Eastman, Evonik, Henkel, IFF, Solvay and Wacker.