Hate Buying Cleaning Supplies? There’s a Pill for That

The war on straws may have captured our eco-imaginations, but plastic bottles of household cleaners are worse, says Don Hawken. Enter the OneTab

Photo: OneTab co-founder, Don Hawken

PARADOXICALLY, HOUSEHOLD CLEANING can be a pretty wasteful act. Think of all the half-full bottles of Windex stashed in the back of a cupboard somewhere, or all the emptied bottles that make their way into the trash once they’re finished off.

Don Hawken, one of the co-founders of the OneTab cleaning system, wants to change all that.

“Everybody’s talking about one-time-use plastics, and the first one they picked on are straws,” he says. “I get it — but think of the number of one-time plastics in the household that fall back onto cleaning.”

OneTab is a clever little solution to this problem. Instead of selling the complete package — cleaner and spray bottle — OneTab offers chemical tablets that drop into any standard 750 ml cleaning bottle. Give it a quick mix with warm water, wait a few minutes and voila: you’ve got a new bottle of cleaning product, one that creates nowhere near as much waste as replacing it with a store-bought bottle and one that saves you money, too.

“We’re now looking at the end results when we throw something away. There’s a huge environmental impact, and the biggest impact is in the plastics” —Don Hawken

The concept isn’t all that new. Rather, it’s mostly an adaptation of technology that has existed in the industrial sector and in more environmentally conscious European markets.

“We’ve got some very large companies here in North America, and their business is selling old technology,” Hawken says of current cleaning solutions market. “It’s very simple for them to create new products rather than create a whole new system.”

The OneTabs are formulated and produced in Europe, a process being overseen by two additional European business partners with industrial chemical backgrounds. Right now, there are seven products in the OneTab residential line and six in the industrial line. Tabs range from disinfectants to bathroom and kitchen cleaners, as well as tabs that clean appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines. “We’re looking after 90 per cent of the problems you have in a typical household,” Hawken says.

A look at the cost comparison offers some hints as to the origins of this reticence to change. A normal bottle of ­household cleaner might cost between $5 and $7. Four OneTab tablets, on the other hand, retail for around $10. “We’ve been told that maybe we should raise our price,” jokes Hawken.

To Hawken, a consummate entrepreneur who has been involved in one business or another “since ’76,” (he also operates surface coating and cleaning supply firms GardGroup Inc. and SurfaceScience), the OneTab represents not only an improvement on existing technology, but a potential quiet revolution in household cleaning.

Hate Buying Cleaning Supplies? There's a Pill for That  Environment

Photo: Hawken with marketing vice president, Crysta Hammond, and account manager, Sarah Brooks

“We’re creating a paradigm shift here,” he says. “It’s just the whole consciousness of consumers. We’re now looking at the end results when we throw something away. There’s a huge environmental impact, and the biggest impact is in the plastics. Our timing was right with the anti-plastic movement.”

OneTabs are currently available online as well as in a select few retailers across the province. The goal for Hawken is to get the products onto the shelves of big retail chains — something they’re making progress on, he says, but which moves slowly when you’re ­competing against multi-nationals with massive distribution deals.

Credit the environmental movement for making any of this possible. “We couldn’t have done this five years ago,” says Hawken. “There has to be demand for any product to sell. Now, the general public — as we keep seeing — is sensitive to what we’ve been doing over the years. Now, we want to correct those problems.” Hate Buying Cleaning Supplies? There's a Pill for That  Environment Kieran Delamont

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