How did you come up with the idea of selling plastic-free laundry detergent sheets?
My name is Lennart, I'm one of the founders of OceanWash and I want to tell you how I came up with the idea of selling plastic free laundry detergent sheets.
In November 2021 I traveled to Thailand to get to know the country and the culture. After spending a few days in Bangkok, I was drawn from the busy metropolis to the quieter areas of Thailand.
Source: Own photography
I traveled to the island of Phuket and then went to Koh Phi Phi, a group of islands in the Andaman Sea. I wanted to spend my time there in nature. I had booked a cheap hotel room, which I almost only used to sleep because I explored the surrounding bays with a long-tail boat during the day. During the boat trips, I regularly stopped to snorkel at various famous diving spots and I admired the peaceful atmosphere, the biodiversity in the water and the beauty of nature.
Source: Own photography
But while snorkeling, for the first time I noticed floating particles in the water that I had never seen before at sea and far from shore. I was used to dirt in the water from snorkeling on beaches, but apart from tourism and many people I didn't expect such floating particles in the water. The beaches in the tourist regions of this archipelago were tidy and free of any rubbish. But as soon as I left these regions, a different picture presented itself to me. I saw the most beautiful, idyllic bays with white sand, tall coconut palms surrounded by lush green cliffs, littered with all kinds of plastic waste.
Source: Google Maps: Koh Phi Phi
I saw dragnets, countless flip-flops, fragments of laundry baskets, entire refrigerators and thousands of plastic bottles, buckets and jugs of various colors and shapes lying on these beaches that the sea had washed up over time. You don't see such pictures when planning a trip, booking a hotel or researching diving spots on the Internet. This sight confronted me with the appalling damage that we as humanity are doing to nature. This picture was repeated during the boat trips between the different diving spots. And the beauty of nature has been obscured by plastic waste. In a small bay near Krabi I saw wild monkeys living on the rocky cliffs. As we cautiously approached, they jumped into the water and swam to us on the boat, holding on to the cordage. One of the younger monkeys climbed into the boat with us and calmly sat down next to me at the bow of the boat. Plastic waste was also floating in the water in this bay and I realized that I was also part of the problem.
Source: Own photographs
When I arrived back on the mainland in the evening, I researched my experiences on the Internet. It turned out that the monkeys were cynomolgus monkeys, whose range extends across the whole of Southeast Asia. And the floating particles in the sea are the smallest pieces of plastic that are created by the breaking up of the plastic waste under the influence of salt water and solar radiation . These natural conditions cause plastic waste to become brittle and then break into fragments. When snorkeling, you always see these fragments right in front of your eyes, the water looks impure and when you dive, these particles pass by your eyes, like snowflakes on a night drive. Source: zdf.de
On that day, the first thought processes began in my head, how I as an individual could do my part to stop this development or maybe even reverse it. At that point I was already working in eCommerce and ran two quite successful online shops. One for men's accessories and one for travel and bag goods. So I knew how to reach people with good products, but I didn't know how this would help me to approach my new role.
After I returned from my trip, while shopping for groceries, I realized for the first time how many of the products in our supermarkets are wrapped in plastic and how few good alternatives, especially cheap alternatives, there are to these plastic-wrapped products . I got tired of buying these products and developed an aversion to anything that looked like single-use plastic. We have a deposit system for plastic bottles with drinks. But what happens to the rest of the plastic waste that accumulates in our homes. Is this really all recycled?
These thoughts stayed with me for some time until well into the new year. For this reason, I researched on various trading platforms for everyday products with the motivation to find alternatives for my own consumption that would at least reduce my own consumption of single-use plastic. That's when I first came across laundry detergent in the form of solid sheets in a US online shop. I previously used liquid detergent in plastic cans, which was never really easy to transport after shopping and to use because they are heavy and bulky and the detergent with the cap is not really easy to dose. Usually I used a lot more detergent than actually needed. So I found out more about detergent sheets and I quickly realized that this form of detergent was still largely unknown in Germany. I couldn't find any big, well-known brands that offered such a detergent. In the online shops of German drugstores there was mostly just powder and liquid detergents and detergent pods, which I've never really liked because they sometimes didn't dissolve in the wash and left a slimy residue on clothes. At that moment I noticed a gap in the market for the first time and the idea of OceanWash was born. In a flowing process, an idea became a project and the project became a plan. First, I looked more closely at the technology required for the manufacturing process of the detergent sheets. I informed myself about all the legal regulations that specify the conditions under which household detergents can be sold to private end customers in Germany and Europe. I got to know the chemical components of a heavy-duty detergent as well as their advantages and disadvantages and studied how surfactants work. It quickly became clear to me that I could not carry out this project on my own and that I needed help. So I pitched my plan to a detergent manufacturer, a packaging manufacturer, a bio-chemistry lab, a chemical compliance company, and my business partners with whom I was already doing eCommerce. Everyone was enthusiastic about the idea and together we developed the OceanWash recipe, which not only had to be free of fillers, but also had to be particularly washing-powerful. This was followed by biodegradability studies in the laboratory, proving that the surfactants contained in OceanWash are highly biodegradable. The detergent manufacturer was therefore able to start production. Together with the packaging manufacturer, we determined the best possible type of packaging for the detergent sheets and opted for a recyclable cardboard envelope with a zip fastener. The chemical compliance company provided the legally required hazard labels for the packaging based on the recipe and I was able to finalize OceanWash's packaging design.
It wasn't enough for me that OceanWash became plastic-neutral by avoiding plastic in the value chain as much as possible. I wanted OceanWash to be plastic negative. This means that by using OceanWash, plastic is actually recovered from nature.
So I researched ways to implement this and came across rePurpose Global, with whom I immediately entered into a partnership after the presentation of my project. rePurpose Global is the world's leading action platform against plastic waste, a global system with which plastic waste is first recovered from nature and then fed into various recycling loops. Here jobs are created for people in the most affected regions by setting up sorting stations. There, the plastic waste is sorted according to its quality and cannot be returned to nature through recycling.
Source: rePurpose Global
As part of this partnership, my business partners and I have contractually committed to fund the recovery of 1kg of plastic waste from the oceans for every pack of OceanWash sold. That's why OceanWash washes clothes and sea.
The project started out as a small one-man show packing and shipping orders from a friend's basement. Today we are a real team with our own office and shipping warehouse in the small town of Haverlah.
From the name, to the packaging and the purpose of the project, everything is dedicated to the sea. The more people we can get enthusiastic about OceanWash, the greater the positive effect on nature will be. And with every single pack.
I hope that we can also inspire you to become a part of OceanWash's journey and thus make a contribution to less plastic in the sea.