At Après Avant, we love discovering small, lesser-known companies that are making the world a better place in their own ways. We also love clean, simple product packaging, which was the first thing that caught our eye about Common Good.
Based in Brooklyn, New York, the brand offers clean, biodegradable hand soaps and household cleaners. Devoid of fluff marketing claims and indecipherable ingredient lists, their range is refreshingly absent of bells and whistles in the form of dyes and strong fragrances. They are even safe to use around children and pets.
Not content with ticking that #environmentalgoal off their list, founders Sacha Dunn and Edmund Levine took things one step further by making a conscious decision to bottle their products in both refillable glass and plastic packaging. They even created refill stations placed all around the world so that consumers can reuse their containers.
Impressed yet? So are we.
By definition, common good means “the benefit or interests of all”
Tell us about Common Good’s philosophies and how your initiative to recycle plastics began.
We founded Common Good out of a growing concern over the amount of plastic products we were bringing into our home. This was most evident with household cleaners and laundry detergent, where single-use plastic dispensers are the norm. Growing up in Australia, where buying refills for laundry detergent is commonplace, we looked around our neighbourhood for anyone carrying refills. Finding none, we decided to create our own. Thus, Common Good was born.
What are some harmful ingredients you found in non-biodegradable materials, and what impact does each have on Earth and our environment?
Comparable non-biodegradable items are typically made from petroleum-derived surfactants. As these substances aren’t sustainable, we choose to use surfactants derived from plants such as coconut, potatoes and corn.
Phthalates are another conventional ingredient usually present in any “fragrance” you see listed on a product. They are known endocrine disruptors and should be kept from use around children, in particular.
There are countless other harmful ingredients found in biodegradable and non-biodegradable products and it is time that governments do more to regulate harmful chemicals for household use.
The first thing that attracted us to the lifestyle brand was its minimalist packaged products
We love that Common Good formulas are green, biodegradable and safe for children and animals. What were the challenges in ensuring that all the products met the brand’s philosophies?
At Common Good, we work very closely with our chemists to ensure the safest, most effective formulations. When working at the forefront of an industry that doesn’t have governmental regulations in place about sustainability or safety, we monitor our supply chain to make sure that all ingredients and manufacturing standards comply with our brand philosophy.
What are the considerations in deciding the ingredients that go into Common Good’s products, and how exactly are they sourced?
Each ingredient must meet our standards of being safe for babies, pets and people with sensitivities. They must also be 100 per cent readily biodegradable, non-GMO, sustainably sourced (with proof from organisations like the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil), from renewable resources — and of course, they must be effective for cleaning. Many ingredients have been around for a long time and are well tested. When a new ingredient is developed, we have to research and test it to make sure it’s truly safe for people. Generally, ingredients are sourced in conjunction with our chemists and manufacturing team.
“When working at the forefront of an industry that doesn’t have governmental regulations in place about sustainability or safety, we monitor our supply chain to make sure that all ingredients and manufacturing standards comply with our brand philosophy.”
What are your top ingredients, and how are they environmentally friendly?
The first that comes to mind is actually a collection of ingredients: pure essential oils. We use pure essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances for a few reasons. Firstly, synthetic fragrances are often made from a combination of different chemicals, some of which contain hormone disruptors like phthalates. Such chemicals don’t have the track record of testing that essential oils have. Essential oils, like lavender, also add more to the formulation. Lavender soothes and acts as a sleeping aid, so adding it to a linen spray or laundry detergent could have other homeopathic effects.
Another favourite is equally simple: citric acid, which has been used for centuries to preserve foods. It naturally helps stop the growth of bacteria and serves as a natural cleaning agent and preservative. Our citric acid is derived from non-GMO corn.
What does it mean to create and use reusable plastic, and why are these plastics better?
Most people know that wasting plastic is bad, but we’re so used to the disposability of product packaging that many people just throw away empty containers without thinking about it. PET (water bottles), LDPE (milk bottles) and HDPE (laundry bottles) are easily recyclable plastics. They can be recycled into more bottles. But it takes a lot of resources to pick up, recycle and re-manufacture these bottles, so we believe it’s better to just keep the bottle and refill it.
In bigger cities, people do recycle but rates are very low — in 2013, the US EPA’s recycling of HDPE plastic was 28 per cent. We’ve discovered that people retain glass bottles that are screen printed because they feel like a permanent product that deserves to be refilled. But we’re also happy that consumers are willing to refill our plastic containers.
Given our company philosophy, we care deeply about which containers we produce, sell and recycle. The strong belief in reuse led us to create our refill stations, [which are] five gallon units of hand, dish, all-purpose cleaner and laundry detergent. Customers can bring their Common Good glass dispensers (or any container they have on hand) to their nearest refill station, thereby greatly reducing the amount of plastic involved.
We also highly encourage our customers to refill their plastic bottles too. All of our cleaners come in HDPE (high-density polyethylene) containers which are strong enough to be refilled again and again. HDPE is also one of the most commonly recycled plastics and is therefore widely accepted in city curbside recycling programs. This means that Common Good containers are recycled and reused to make furniture, clothing, tote bags and more.
Common Good’s refill stations are an easy, economical way to reuse your bottles
What are the foremost short- and long-term concerns of using chemical-based household products?
Just to clarify, not all chemicals are harmful. For instance, salt is a chemical and so is water. What we try to avoid are chemicals that are harsh and detrimental to animals, plants and the environment.
The short, immediate concern of using products with undisclosed and potentially harmful ingredients is the uncertainty associated with bringing these ingredients into your home and subjecting you and your loved ones to them.
While you can probably tell that chlorine and ammonia are harsh chemicals by the way they stick in your throat and have big warnings on the labels, many products that are calling themselves “natural” or “green” have hidden chemicals that can be very harmful to humans. Some good examples are phthalates and parabens which are found in many household cleaners — as well as personal care products. These ingredients are known to cause hormonal problems, especially in kids. The longer and higher the exposure, the more dangerous they can be.
The long-term concern, especially within the US, is ensuring there is appropriate transparency and ingredient vetting within the household cleaner and other comparable industries. Raising awareness about the murkiness of ingredient listings as well as the harmful qualities of some of the chemicals used ensures that consumers raise the bar for what they demand of these industries. Subsequently, the industries must then evolve to meet these demands.
With increased transparency, the consumer then has the choice of what to bring in their home, which results in an increased reciprocity between consumer and manufacturer. A great example of this is the recent legislation regarding the labelling of foods as non-GMO/GMO in numerous states in 2016.
“Each ingredient must be 100 per cent readily biodegradable, non-GMO, sustainably sourced, from renewable resources — and of course, they must be effective for cleaning.”
Are there healthier and eco-conscious alternatives one can use as home cleaning products?
Lemon juice, vinegar and salt go a long way. From cleaning wooden cutting boards to disinfecting bathtubs, they are a magic, natural alternative to non-biodegradable cleaners.
The Woolen Dryer Balls are such a unique item. How did it come about?
In a perfect world, we would all hang our laundry out to air dry in the backyard field. Unfortunately, Common Good’s home is in Brooklyn, New York, and we need to use the dryer occasionally. We saw a craft project and made our own. They worked so well that we decided to make them for our customers. We wanted to eliminate synthetic dryer sheets containing chemicals from laundry day. We also wanted to reduce the amount of time it took to dry clothes and linens in order to save on energy, resources and cost. When considering the options for materials, all-natural wool was the best way to make the product both sustainable and effective.
What is your idea of conscious living?
We need to think more about how we use the tools we need to live in our busy, modern world. So much disposability is not sustainable. Taking a reusable bag to the supermarket is becoming the norm and we’re sure that one day soon, people will think about ways to reduce all the unnecessary plastic we use.
The quirkiest product of the lot:
Lastly, tell us about Common Good’s upcoming brand and product development plans.
Our mission for 2016-17 is to increase our distribution of refill stations and refillable products. To reduce the amount of plastic packaging that isn’t being recycled, we need to make refilling a viable option for all.
“Many products that are calling themselves “natural” or “green” have hidden chemicals that can be very harmful to humans.”
Per Common Good’s philosophy, consider your
consumerism habits and what you bring into your home
Images courtesy of Common Good