Before becoming "the Soapmaster" (as one of my brothers calls me), I worked for a big box retail food chain managing the deli & bakery operations at their flagship store. I was always surprised how much material and eventual waste it took to keep the operation running. There was always a tight system around recycling cardboard as it could be sold for profit but the amount of food waste, plastic waste, and enormous quantity of water and cleaning chemicals it took to keep our customers stocked up on deli meats, birthday cakes, and gourmet cheeses was remarkable and a bit discouraging.
As Whispering Willow has grown I've noticed the same challenge, it takes a lot of resources to make these products for our amazing customers. We've always used the familiar phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle as a blueprint for how to be more eco-friendly in our operations and while we have taken steps to reduce the use of plastic and we recycle all the cardboard and plastic we can, we know that in order to make progress we have to embrace that second principle: Reuse.
Enter closed loop manufacturing. A closed loop manufacturing process reuses materials from the creation and delivery of a product to make new or additional products. Our desire to embrace this philosophy was encouraged by many of the refilleries we've been working with who buy our hand soap and body wash in 2.5 gallon containers.
Our refillery partners wanted to return their containers so we could reuse them and we were happy to oblige. However, we soon realized that the cost of shipping these large plastic bottles made this process unsustainable plus the containers were not made for that level of wear and tear. We needed a better solution.
One thing you may not know about Julia, my business partner and much better half, is that one of her super powers is researching any topic on the internet. It may not sound like the sexiest super power in the world but it sure comes in handy (and it is a little sexy). She was able to find a local supplier that makes collapsible containers for storing and shipping liquids.
With this last piece of the puzzle in place, we launched a new product and a new process. When a refillery orders our hand soap or body wash in a 2.5 gallon pouch we include a return shipping label in the box. Once the refillery has emptied the pouch they rinse it, tuck it back in the box, and return it to us. We then wash and sanitize the pouch, hang it to dry, and ready it for another batch of soapy goodness. And with that final step, we have closed the loop. Because of the collapsible nature of the container, the refillery can save up several pouches and return them all at once in single box, making this a more efficient, and cost-effective process.
While we are currently only offering this process with our 2.5 gallon size for our wholesale customers we hope to expand it to our 64oz refills including our hand soap and body wash. The more folks we can get closing the loop, the better it will be for everyone!