Dear Umbra,

Why can’t I find environmentally friendly products (laundry soap, shampoo, etc.) in bulk packaging? It seems like there are many companies that make products that are not so hard on the planet, but they are only sold in little tiny containers, which of course increases packaging. I would love to find eco-friendly laundry soap in a five-gallon bucket … after all, if I think clean clothes are important today, why wouldn’t I think so next month?

Sharon
Socorro, N.M.

Dearest Sharon,

Maybe next month you get sick of doing laundry and join a nudity cult, or next month you move to a tropical Pacific island, where swimsuit and flip-flops are all you need. Laundry detergent manufacturers are concerned about weighing you down and hindering your ability to quickly end the laundry-filled lifestyle. They think only of you.

I launder as I wander.

If you have abandoned all hope of moving to Vanuatu and eating only coconuts, though, the detergent folks and their shampoo-ey friends will provide. Two ideas from me, and I’m sure many to follow from Grist readers.

Natural food stores, co-ops, and health food stores should be able to sell you bulk supplies. Maybe you’ve seen the kind of bulk buying where you fill your little bottle of detergent off the spigoted five-gallon container in the store. You can buy that exact five-gallon container by using the health food store’s wholesale supplier. In Seattle, for example, all the natural stores are supplied by United Natural Foods Western Region. At my co-op, I can look at the UNF product book and ask the co-op to order any bulk product on my behalf. Your store will charge a minimal fee plus wholesale, or charge 10 percent off the suggested retail price of the item, so you’ll come out a little ahead and won’t need to pay for shipping.

If you have storage space, browsing through the wholesale catalog is a little like going to an eco-Costco. Why not buy all the toilet paper you need for the rest of your life? No one can argue against it. And who doesn’t need 12 bottles of organic lemon juice? They’ll last six months, after all. Shampoo doesn’t seem to come in five-gallon tubs, but I have seen one-gallon jugs.

If you have no access to a friendly health food store, the internet will eventually yield some riches. I found online resources for you by knowing a few of the brand names for bulk eco-detergent (from my days trolling the United Natural Foods product book, of course). Naturally, the stuff is for sale on Amazon. Now, I don’t really want to get into recommending certain detergents (or shampoo, for that matter). I haven’t evaluated them, I’m not a chemist, and I’m terrible at cleaning clothes. I am going to tell you the brand name of one detergent I found on Amazon so you can see the price, the shipping costs, and the search terms necessary to bring up any other hiding buckets o’ suds: Biokleen. You can search on the web for other brand names familiar to you, with the terms “five gallon,” “bulk,” etc.

In other words, the bulk packaging is out there, you will realize your dream of less waste and cleaner clothes, and if you move to Bora Bora you’ll be able to wash your one sarong for the rest of your life using the same bucket o’ suds.

Surfactantly,
Umbra