The Life Cycle of Plastic Laundry Detergent Jugs


Plastic pollution is a problem plaguing the environment at a rapid pace. High-density polyethylene plastic jugs line grocery store shelves but are rarely recycled properly. The toxic impact of plastic pollution starts before these plastic jugs are even manufactured and lasts long after they've been emptied and throw away.

Walking down the laundry detergent aisle at your local grocery store is plastic central. Everywhere you turn there are bulky and colorful plastic containers and jugs demanding your attention and your money. Not only are these containers inconvenient to carry home and store once they’re in your laundry room, but they’re also incredibly harmful for the environment and contribute to a very large portion of our household plastic pollution. In fact, a shocking 68% of high density polyethylene plastic jugs are not properly recycled after being used. But the problem doesn’t start at the end of a plastic jug’s lifecycle, it starts at the beginning. 

1. Manufacturing Factories  

From the moment plastic is created, its negative impact on the environment begins. Oil extraction is typically the first step needed to formulate plastic. Crude oil is a non-renewable resource, meaning its quantities are extremely finite and it’s being used at a much faster rate than it can be replaced. Petroleum for plastic manufacturing is extracted from in between layers of the Earth’s crust, running the risk of oil spills or oil fires that contribute to waste and pollution. 

Once the oil is extracted, it’s shipped to a refinery for distillation. The high demand for plastic means that there is also a very high volume of transportation needed to ship these large quantities of oil across the world. This burns fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gases, creating more waste and pollution before the plastic has even been formed yet. 

In order to create the high density polyethylene, a process called cracking creates the ethylene gas, which ultimately attaches to form polymers that create the sturdy polyethylene that can be molded to take the shape of a laundry detergent jug. 

After the HDPE plastic is formulated, the plastic is shipped yet again to a factory that specializes in bottle manufacturing and packaging. Once the jugs take form, they are sent off to be filled with the laundry detergent and then they’re off to the shelves where we see them in the grocery stores. 

2. Your Home  

Once you purchase the HDPE plastic jug of detergent, it’s used until empty and then discarded making room for you to buy another one. Although HDPE plastic is 100% recyclable and you may think putting them in the recycling bin solves the problem, even then only 30% of these jugs are properly recycled. 

3. Recycling 

In 2018, 68,000 shipping containers filled with plastic recyclables were sent to underdeveloped countries, where waste management is poor. Not only are these developing countries facing obstacles to manage their country’s own recycling, they are being overwhelmed with over one million tons of American plastic waste every year. In 2015, only 9% of America’s plastic was properly recycled and anything that wasn’t was sent to landfills to decompose for hundreds of years. 

4. Landfills, Oceans, and Incineration 

For the jugs that skip over recycling, their final stop is one of three places: the ocean, the landfills, or incineration. Plastic within each of these three stops pose an extreme environmental threat. 

  • Oceans: Eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean every year, accounting for over 80% of all marine debris. Once plastic is dumped into the ocean, it sticks around for a very long time. Over time, the plastic jug will break down into tiny pieces of micro-plastics. These micro-plastics enter our ocean’s marine life, injuring many species and contaminating our food sources. Covering our oceans with plastic, also has a major impact on our climate as plastic traps sunlight to make our oceans warmer and accumulate toxic pollutants that attach to its surface.
  • Landfills: Once plastic jugs end up in landfills, they can take up to 500 years to properly decompose. That means piles and piles of plastic jugs will be sticking around for a very long time. While they are sitting in landfills, plastic jugs will also leak pollutants into the soil and groundwater, running the risk of contamination.
  • Incineration: Some of the plastic jugs will end up in incinerators to be burned. Although this process is thought to release less greenhouse gases than landfills, toxic pollutants, such as carbon dioxide and mercury, are still emitted during the process and the process uses energy that is non-renewable.  

What Can You Do? 

It’s clear that the lifecycle of a HDPE laundry detergent jug is a long one for a product that is only used for a very small fraction of its life. It’s also clear that recycling isn’t the answer. So what can you do to reduce the plastic waste of your laundry room? 

Dropps is a solution for making laundry day more eco-friendly. Our packaging is designed with the intention of reducing single-use plastic. Our detergent pods are shipped directly to your door in recyclable, biodegradable, and repulpable boxes. Our packaging also doubles as the shipping container, so there is no excess waste. So far, we’ve helped to keep over 1.2 million single-use plastic containers from ending up in our oceans. 

For the plastic jugs you already have at home, repurposing them is the way to go. You can easily reinvent these plastic jugs into a myriad of things around your home so that they stay out of our oceans. Think of a garden watering can or storage for leftover paint or a pet food scooper. This could be a fun way to get the family involved in DIY projects that will make your lives easier and eco-friendly.