This article first appeared in our Love issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 09 April 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
The shift to plastic-free packaging is as trendy as ever, but re-packaging toxic products in more ethical containers is not the solution.
When Mahira Kalim founded Spruce non-toxic cleaning products, she had the bigger picture firmly in sight. ‘I don’t see the human health problem as a separate problem from the planet’s health’, she tells us. ‘Harsh chemicals are toxic for the planet’s health, and the plastic pollution that is destroying the planet is also damaging for human health.’
Like many ethical business owners, Mahira founded Spruce because she wasn’t satisfied with the options already available. She struggled to find cleaning products that didn’t contain harmful chemicals, and felt there was no convenient way to switch to effective, eco-friendly alternatives.
‘I was also greatly disillusioned by the massive amount of greenwashing in this industry’, Mahira tells us. ‘I wanted to build a brand that stands against greenwashing and also educates customers on how to detect it.’
Mainstream cleaning products that boast a 99.99% kill rate for bacteria often contain pesticides or harsh chemical disinfectants, which are detrimental to human health. They destroy our microbiome by killing the friendly bacteria necessary for our health.
It took Mahira a year to perfect non-toxic multipurpose and bathroom solutions she believes are as effective as toxic alternatives – and she was determined to package them ethically.
The bottles are aluminium, meaning they are light and durable and can be infinitely recycled. They arrive empty; customers simply add a refill and top the bottle up with water at home. This slashes the carbon footprint, as each refill weighs 140 times less than the finished water-filled product.
This is becoming an increasingly popular way to buy and deliver cleaning products, which are typically 90% water and sold in single-use bottles. When the bottle is empty, you simply buy a set of refills – bathroom, multipurpose or both – and top your bottle up again. For added ease, the refills can be ordered as a subscription.
Spruce refill packs are made from certified sustainable packaging that is compostable and biodegradable. Throw the empty refill pack in your compost with the rest of the food waste and, under ambient conditions, it will break down into fertile biomass in a matter of weeks.
‘Sustainable packaging experts have confirmed our products are low impact and have a long life’, Mahira tells us. ‘We only use cosmetic- and food-grade ingredients, plus organic essential oils. We are strictly against artificial colours and fragrances, which typically hide over 300 chemicals.’
For every Spruce starter kit sold, Spruce collects the equivalent of 25 500ml bottles – the number of single-use plastic cleaning and personal care bottles a typical UK household can use in a year – through a partnership with social enterprise Plastic Bank. ‘The way Plastic Bank works means it empowers the people collecting the plastic’, Mahira explains, ‘a community that is grossly undervalued.’
Through Plastic Bank, Spruce ensures fair prices for the plastic collected, with any profits from sales of the plastic invested back into the community.
Everything at Spruce has been designed with a conscious intent to prevent further damage and promote regeneration. ‘Signing up to become a B Corp from the start meant we could design our business processes to do the right thing when it comes to people, our employees, partners and customers, as well as the planet’, Mahira explains. ‘For us, B Corp is the ultimate representation of intersectional environmentalism: the belief that there is no environmental justice without social justice.’
Although dubbed ‘a beauty product for the home’ by its customers, Spruce’s beauty is clearly more than skin deep.