Whether you shop online or at the local store, for common variants of FMCG products and their organic alternatives, there are now a bewildering array of choices. One colorful bottle after another promises to make you or your home look, feel and smell terrific. And one thing that most personal and home care products have in common is the dominant ingredient: WATER.
This wasn’t always the case though. If you are old enough to remember some common Indian FMCG products from the 90s, you would know about powdered shampoos and laundry detergents, and bars for everything from bathing, shaving, dishwashing and handwashing. Face masks were mostly pulses and spices ground at home and the only cleaning liquids commonly found were for floors and toilets. But still, far and few.
The change may have been driven by different specific reasons for personal care and home care products. But one theme has always been central to the marketing and communication around these products i.e. convenience
Why did products become liquid?
For personal care products like shampoos, facewashes and bathing gels, much of the transition can be traced back to developed economies in the post second world war period. As soldiers returned home, they brought back the strict hygiene habits from their war-front days. Product companies saw an opportunity to grab the civilian market through elaborate marketing campaigns highlighting the importance of intense grooming routines. And bottles were so much more aesthetically pleasing and convenient for bathrooms – relative to bars getting soggy and smaller with use. Introduction of these products to India was just a matter of the markets opening up.
On the home care front, larger and better constructed spaces required larger quantities of cleaning liquids and bigger, discounted packs certainly appealed customers. Laundry powders were almost all-pervasive in India before liquid detergents gained popularity with increasing washing-machine use and marketing focused on their superior performance .
Enough of the history lesson though right? We were going to talk about why ‘water-less’ is now gaining popularity. And we will.
Why the move towards ‘water-less’?
Let’s get this straight – recycling is severely limited across the world. In the BEST case scenario, about 10% of the discarded plastic gets recycled – which is also technically downcycling. Eventually, all plastic ends up ‘thrown away’ and accumulates in the environment.
Liquid products present a huge packaging challenge. Glass and metal may seem like obvious options, but they are not, considering production resources, weight and probability of damage. Plastic is durable, versatile, cheap and hence the most common choice of material used for packaging liquids.
In a world drowning in plastic waste – nearly 40% of which comes from consumer products packaging (yes, our shampoo bottles, facewash tubes, detergent containers etc) – it does seem like a good option to go water-less, if that can help reduce plastic. Dry products need much less packaging to begin with, and can make do with non-plastic alternatives as well since they don’t need a heavy moisture barrier.
Liquids are heavy. And if we may argue, pretty unnecessarily so. It wouldn’t surprise you that up to 95% weight of liquid products is just water – something we all have at home. Yet we ship it across thousands of kilometers in bulky vehicles, spending millions on fuel – adding to cost and wasting precious resources. Seems wasteful right?
Whether it is bars for personal care or dilute-at-home concentrates for home care, water-less products are an elegant solution to this problem. All they need is a little extra effort and some habit change at our end.
Just like us, most microbes love water. Hence, preservatives are imperative for any liquid formulation. Water also has biases; it dissolves some ingredients very well but not all. This results in separation of constituents and solubilizers or stabilizers are often added to avoid that in consumer products. They may be completely safe and non-toxic, but are certainly synthetic chemical entities that a growing number of people now want to avoid. And water-less products offer a simple solution.
What do you think? Aren’t these great reasons to make a switch?