Assocasa, the Italian Association of Detergents and Specialties for Industry and Home Care, has issued a detailed survey on the impact detergents sold loose and in containers have on the environment. The method used was the Life Cycle Assessment, a technique created to assess potential impacts associated to a process or product intended as a system. That is, a cradle-to-grave analysis of a product’s life, not just the methods used and time needed to make the product and dispose of its waste, but also other less evident factors such as the distances covered to reach its final destination, the number of times a package is reused, the manufacture of empty bottles and tanks for transporting the product, the distribution of full tanks and the collection of empty tanks after the set use cycle.
As regards energy consumption, a reusable bottle (made of very thick plastic in general) needs to be reused at least 3 times so as not to pollute more than what a disposable bottle does. If a one-way bottle is made of 100% recycled material instead, the refill bottle (as the container into which the bulk product is poured is called) is to be reused 6 times to obtain a clearly advantageous effect on the environment.
Another factor to bear in mind is distance: The farther the distributor’s facilities are from consumers and the manufacturing company, the bigger the impact of the refill system is. If 1,000 km apart, a bottle has to be reused 10 times so that the refill is profitable. And since manufacturers in general are located in the north, to have the bulk material in the south is not convenient and, in fact, it is much less common.