Ecover packaging – is it really recyclable? (where facilities exist, perhaps)

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ecover packaging recyclable where facilities existI occasionally order online from Sainsburys. When it comes to laundry, I use Ecover because their products are better for the environment than most, both in terms of nasty toxic chemicals and recyclable packaging.

My challenge with online ordering is that product lines are limited. Take my Ecover biological powder for example. I need biological because Little Miss Green gets herself in quite a pickle with tree climbing, stream paddling and at most mealtimes around the table. The non bio stuff just won’t shift her shit so to speak …

At Sainburys my only option in the ecover biological stakes is to buy washing tablets. Geesh I hate those things. They are designed for ‘convenience’ but they are next to useless if you want to wash a half load or would actually like to take control of the amount of detergent you use. These tablets are packed in twos in an unidentified plastic packaging.

What if I WANT to take responsibility for the amount of product I use, rather than have someone weighing out a so-called ‘convenient’ tablet for me? Which, incidentally does NOT dissolve if you put it in the dispenser drawer contrary to the directions on the pack. Please learn from my mistake, dear readers, and put them well into the washing machine drum if you ever find yourself about to use them.

Aaaaaaanyway, I’m now through the whole box of tablets and I’m left with the not-so-pretty box of stuff pictured above. Ecover’s tagline is ‘For People who care‘. They go on to tell us that ‘This unique range offers many environmental advantages that benefit humans, animals and the environment

I am assured, when I eventually find the packaging instructions right on the bottom of the box, that ‘the wrapper protects the tablets against moisture and is 100% recyclable’

There is no mention of WHAT the wrappers are made from, or HOW to recycle them.

So I phone up Ecover and speak to a very nice woman who begins with the heart-sink line we all dread: ‘All materials used for our packaging are recyclable where facilities exist’.

Ya know the line?

But what IS the packaging I enquire?

I’m told it is PVE, which I’ve never heard of, and Google can’t tell me much about it either. Apart from lots of chinese manufacturing sites – Mmmmm, interesting.

When I ask how to recycle it, I’m told ‘The way they (the councils) mould down this plastic is the same as milk bottles, so we advise people to stuff them inside milk bottles and put them in with the plastics recycling.’

Say what?

When I explain that my council are very strict on the plastics recycling and will only take milk bottles and fizzy pop bottles, and that anything else contaminates the load I’m quickly told that Ecover are pushing councils to recycle more.

When I ask her what I should do if my council WON’T accept these plastic wrappers inside a milk bottle, I’m given three suggestions:

1- Throw them in the bin.
2- Make something from them. You can be forgiven for thinking you’re reading an April 1st post, right?!
3- Hold onto them until facilities in my area become available.

But the bottom line advise, reiterated thrice during the conversation, was to put them in a milk bottle and put them with the recycling.

My Green has suggested I make butterflies from the packaging and send them flying swiftly back to Ecover. My suggestions were less lady-like and not really fit for a public forum.

As you might imagine, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
I think we should put our creative heads together and see what I could possibly make from some old, ripped PVE that once held biological laundry tablets.

The person who comes up with the best suggestion wins a plastic clothes peg. Recyclable where facilities exist; naturally.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (30)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    A shocker from Ecover, RTS with a note from a champion of Zero Waste should do the trick. My dealings with the Ecover source, EnTrading, Glasgow,, gave me the same feeling of a deficit of awareness of Zero Waste.

    We just have to bring them into the fold and promote their Zero Waste produce. I will definitely discuss this with them on my next visit.

  2. Elizabeth B says:

    In your shoes I’d probably stuff the @$!^% baggies in a padded mailer and send them off to Ecover with a tart note reading “If you are so confident these are recyclable, how about YOU do it? No love, Mrs. G.”


  3. MrsJ says:

    May I ask if you are washing at 30? I find my non-bio wont shift anything at 30 but does work at 40. Am surprised at this posting though as have just switched over to ecover!

  4. Compostwoman says:

    I don’t use Ecover, I use Bio D powder…it comes in strong paper bags, it shifts dirt well ( I, too get mucky in the woods, paddling in streams and at the meal table(!) )

    and at the end of the powder I compost the bag.. 🙂

    I also use soap nuts and find they work well also on my grubby clothes!

    S x

  5. ruth_dt says:

    I buy my Ecover washing powder in big paper bags from Wigglies. I’ve just checked, though, and that seems to be non-bio only (which is the only one I can use because of my sensitive skin).

    My other half uses a bio powder called eco-smart, which comes in a No 1 (PET?) plastic tub for which they are now also advertising refills. I haven’t seen the refills though.

  6. Flippa xXx says:

    Admittadly I don’t have any kids who get very grubby, but I use the Faith in Nature washing liquid (in fact I use their products for almost everything…) and find it brilliant at getting out stains at 30 or 40. They are completely natural and they have a breakdown of what material the packaging is on their website (Bottle = HDPE 2 and Cap = PP) which should be recyclable by most councils.
    If you haven’t tried their products already you really should…they are absolutely brilliant :o)

  7. I don’t know if this is any help but Sainsbury’s own dishwashing tablets come in dissolvable wrappers, so it might be that there washing tablets do the same.

    I must admit that I hardly ever use washing powder unless things are really grubby then it is usually some Tesco Borax and some Washing soda, I put a squirt of eco washing up liquid onto any really heavy stain and brush in with an old toothbrush.

    We don’t have allergies so I could use any old washing powder but choose not to use any unless I have to.

    Add into this the Co-op eco softner and things are usually pretty clean.

  8. Sandra Pearson says:

    Have you investigated Amway products? I believe you can order them on line these days. I have been using their cleaning products for years and find them brilliant, particularly the laundry system. They don’t put in what isn’t needed but there are products such as the pre-wash spray that you can use to get out stains and a brilliant oxygen bleach. The company has won a UN award for Environmental stewardship, it was some years ago but I think they still take their responsibilities in this direction seriously. They do their best to reduce packaging too. I don’t sell the products by the way. I used to but still buy them as I can’t find anything better.

  9. Sadie Ramm says:

    Hi everyone

    I’m Sadie and I work for Ecover. I just wanted to clear up a few things that you’ve been discussing and apologise for the experience that you’ve had with our careline. Our wrappers are actually made from polypropylene (PP) and you were mistakenly told PPE. I’ve followed this up to ensure our call operator has the correct information.

    Recycling, as you and the followers of your blog know, is a big issue in the UK. There are such a wide variety of plastics and difference amongst council policy that it is sometimes frustrating as a manufacturer too. We do try to ensure that we’ve made the best choice for our customers. Because facilities differ everywhere and we’re sold nationwide, we do have to say the dreaded ‘where facilities exist’ because we can’t be sure that everyone buying our product has a council that has appropriate plastic recycling facilities.

    You may be asking why we wrap our tablets at all – we have to protect the tablets from moisture otherwise they would fall apart and start to dissolve before they get to your washing machine. It’s the same for our dishwasher tablets. Somebody has also mentioned dissolvable wrappers – actually these are really bad for the environment because they don’t ever disappear. The plastic they are made of dissolves, but the resulting solution contains persistent chemicals and this is a no go area for us because of the ecological implications. Basically, what’s left after the wrappers have broken down gets into our water systems and remains there. It’s a bit like all the rubbish left in space from space missions – the rockets break up and the bits are left floating around. These persistent chemicals can be dangerous to the environment, they build up in sludge at water treatment plants and then have to be removed by either burning or sending to landfill. So actually further along the chain this is not a great option either!

    So in terms of what we do use: our wrappers are made from polypropylene (PP), which is considered by Greenpeace in their Pyramid of Plastics (
    It should be easy to recycle for most councils – we suggest putting them inside milk bottles (or empty Ecover bottles) because they are the same grade of plastic and therefore are recycled together. Our bottles are made from polyethylene and the caps are made from polypropylene, again, both are 100% recyclable and can be recycled together.

    Unfortunately, as you’ve found out, Sainsburys don’t stock our Bio Powder. There are other places online that you can buy it from though – there’s a list on our website at

    Sustainability really is at the heart of what we do – every choice we make is considered against a variety of criteria from product development to transport of our products and how they are used in your home. We strongly believe that this isn’t just a tick box exercise, and view it more as a journey so of course there are still options that are not yet available to us to make the perfect product. Plastic wrappers and the issue of recycling does fall into this – we’re using the best possible option at the moment but will continue to research and pioneer new options as they become available to us.

    Please let me know your thoughts – either on here or by contacting me directly [email protected]

  10. greenlady says:

    Well done Sadie for your brilliant response ! as a long time Ecover user I can vouch for the thing about the tablets when exposed to air, as sometimes I have to break a 2 pack in half in order to use just one tablet. But I wonder why some kind of paper/card packaging cannot be used that could exclude air ?

    I use the tablets because I don’t own my own washing machine ( a deliberate choice although one I am reconsidering ) and use a local launderette, I have experimented over the years with using liquid/powder and taking it in my own containers ( as it is hard for me to carry the big containers to and fro ) but there has been one loose lid/spillage scenario too many in my book, hence the tablets.

    As I said in an earlier post, I think one of the answers really is for more companies, shops ( and customers ) to support refilling stations a la Ecover, for cleaning products initially and then for other things – as per Mrs Greens use of reusable containers to go to the butchers – because what do you all think we did in the good old days of commercial grocery before the proliferation of plastic, we took our own containers or the goods came wrapped/contained in paper, card, wood, wicker, earthenware, tin, glass etc etc.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: Hi John, let us know how the conversation unfolds. It’s important that we share our new knowledge.

    @Elizabeth B: now, now Elizabeth (although I did feel the same way LOL!)

    @MrsJ: Hi Mrs J; I do not find 30 degrees to be sufficient, sadly. I use 40 degrees, which, interestingly, is the Economy setting on our machine …

    @Compostwoman: I’m trialling soapnuts now, Compostwoman. I never got on with Bio D, but I will try it again as people change their products and they can become more effective.

    @ruth_dt: Hi Ruth; yes it is only the non bio available in the big paper bags to my knowledge. where does eco smart come from? Or is that the one that contains phosphates that I checked out some time ago??

    @Flippa xXx: Faith in nature; I haven’t tried them. I was put off by their awful shampoos but I shouldn’t let that sway my laundry decisions. Another brand for the list to try – thank you!

    @maisie dalziel: Hi maisie, I intend to experiment more with washing crystals and the like. I have to admit I bought some of the co-op softener and I used it once and gave it away. I have a very sensitive sense of smell and it was way too overpowering for me. I ended up rewashing everything 3 times and I never really was able to wash out the lingering scent 🙁

    @Sandra Pearson: Hi Sandra – oh my; Amway; that takes me back to pyramid selling network meetings of my youth! I’ll check them out online – thank you!

    @Sadie Ramm: Hi Sadie, thank you for taking the time to visit and clear up the information we were given. It’s good of you to take the time to do this. It’s great that you have answered all questions and given us some facts from your side of the equation. I’m looking forward to your guest post on the site next week 🙂

    @greenlady: Hi Greenlady; good to see you again. I can see that in your situation of travelling to a laundrette, the individually wrapped tablets would make an excellent choice to avoid spills and waste. Having a machine at home, I hadn’t thought of that situation – thank you for helping me see things ‘outside the box’ as it were 🙂

  12. MrsJ says:

    @Mrs Green: LOL The comment about amway made me chuckle as that’s what I thought too – not even heard anything about them since and it was over 15 years ago. I tried soapnuts and found they were ok on those clothes that you just want to rinse but not the mud encrusted trousers you get from boys playing football. Maybe we should just keep our kids locked in the cupboard and then wash at 30 lol.

  13. Layla says:

    Interesting discussion!!

    /& yeah I love the butterflies idea! :)/

    Well, I’ve just seen on TV a commercial about dishwasher tablets in a plastic box AND NO individual wrappers!!
    (Did I see it right? Dunno!!)
    It was a conventional dishwasher tablet manufacturer..

    Would plastic boxes be better for the environment? hmm..
    – they are reusable
    – ideally, they could be refillable, & returned to manufacturer (?) – easiest if returned in a shop where bought, no?
    On the minus site: if there is no recycling going on, the wrappers may still mean less waste in landfills/incinerators than a big plastic box. Not sure about energy needed for recycling in both cases, how it compares? Or toxics emitted when burnt?
    would be interesting to see some comparisons..

    we’re still searching for the ideal eco-friendly solutions..
    have tried soapnuts, they wash not-so-dirty clothes okay, Mum didn’t give ’em a ‘full blessing’ yet though.. (some stains remained & we were warned things might not stay ‘fully white’)

    Maizie, what are you using?

  14. Layla says:

    Oh, and the Almawin dishwasher tablets, while not ideal, do have the # of plastics (I forgot, #5 or 6) & a recycling sign nicely printed on each packet… – still not sure if they’re really recyclable over here, at least if facilities existed they could be, cause people would know what they are!

  15. Peter says:

    2- Make something from them. You can be forgiven for thinking you’re reading an April 1st post, right?!

    FWIW – ecover uploaded their range a while ago to the site, and even went to extent of hiring some design students to kick-start the ideas:

    Little acorns, but it’s a principle I am sure we all endorse.

    I guess, unlike some I accept some packaging is inevitable (logistics, protection… even design), so I figured it might be worth working with what we’ve got.

    At the moment we’re looking at 99.9999% trying to find small, fun ways of not throwing it away after it has fulfilled its first use, but my dream is to try and push for sensible, pragmatic, cost-effective, sensible enviROI ways to build second use designs in, so they can become a complement to recycling (or at the every least encourage same-material segregation which can only help),

    Oh, and Layla…

    Or maybe an adapt of …

  16. Carole Blake says:


    I have been using these: or something very similar for a while now. Not brilliant on extremely mucky stuff, (like my sons’ jeans when they’ve been tramping around mucky fields) but certainly adequate for most of what we produce!

    I’ve used them countless times and there’s still plenty of life left in them. They come with a stain remover for stubborn stuff and some refill stuff for the balls.

    I’m waiting for someone to tell me that they’re not so eco-friendly as they seem…;)


  17. Mrs Green says:

    @MrsJ: Kids locked in cupboards, mrs J – after my morning, that sounds like a very good idea LOL! Oh but wait; there’s no room for her because it’s such a MESS in there 😀
    I’ve packed her off to the farm for the afternoon, so I have a couple of hours R&R…

    @Layla: sounds like you are thinking things through as ever, Layla – I’m still trying the soapnuts, but just not sure yet. I’m remaining open minded however…

    @Peter: Ooops, I forgot the King of Reuse was resident at zero waste towers. I’ll send you some butterflies, Peter for you to adorn your walls 😀

    @Carole Blake: Hi Carole, I have some of these to try as well, but am going to go for a full month on the soapnuts before swapping, to give them a fair try, I’m quite sure in your lovely soft water area they will be fine; my skin is amazing when I’ve been in Cornwall for a week; it makes so much difference 🙁

  18. Carole Blake says:

    It is a very soft water area here, everything lathers up well, so it certainly saves on soap and shampoo.

    I’ve heard that for drinking tho’, hard water is better for you.


  19. Peter says:

    I’ll send you some butterflies, Peter for you to adorn your walls

    Ta. And a welcome addition to my ‘Make a stand…stand’ that I tout around they will be I’m sure.

    I think we should put our creative heads together and see what I could possibly make from some old, ripped PVE that once held biological laundry tablets.

    See you’re thinking positive reuse solutions already! Upload the idea to the site and others can share and, who knows, get enough recommendations and we can approach the manufacturer to consider a thank-you incentive for steering at least some of their waste from the landfill (or gumming up council recycling efforts) to fluttering across some walls as art. And, as we do, make them ponder alternatives to not having them at all.

  20. @Layla: Layla, if the clothes just need freshening rather than cleaning but still need a wash then I just use water as it is the oxygen in the water that helps get the clothes clean. Along with the swishing about.

  21. @Mrs Green: My machine has a “super-eco” setting which takes 4 hours but is supposed to only use half the energy of a normal wash and that can be either 20,30,40, or 60 degrees.

    I use this overnight using the timer delay if I have muddy football gear, otherwise it is just a normal wash but still done overnight to take advantage of the cheaper electricity, on economy 7.

  22. If nothing else Mrs green your PP wrappers from your Ecover tablets could now be sent to STM Polythene for recycling, as per the srticle on Monday.

  23. Layla says:

    Maisie, thanks for the info!!
    I thought so too, as someone at Treehugger commented in this direction, yet to try it though!!

    My Mum’s coventional powder really smells BAD to me!!

    We tried the soapnuts & they were okay for not-so-dirty clothes, didn’t remove some of the stains..
    Now a shop assistant in a health food store said to put some vinegar on the stain &/or in the compartment instead of fabric softener.. yet to try it though..
    Has anyone tried soapnuts+vinegar yet?

    The ecoballs.. hmm.. They seem a bit iffy to me.. What are they made of? Is it known yet?
    I saw similar eco balls named Glosion here – supposed to last 3 years if you wash 1x daily & supposed to wash real well.. that shop assistant said a doctor whose husband is allergic even to soapnuts uses them..

    Ingredients: ‘ecological polypren’ (?) online it says ‘environmentally friendly Polypropilen’, inside: ceramic little balls? (says the box) When I asked if they can be recycled, the clerk had no idea – nothing on the box, so I wonder..
    Wikipedia says it’s plastics #5 which is often recycled(?)
    But apparently certain stuff can leak from it…
    “Researchers in Canada recently asserted that Quaternary ammonium biocides and oleamide were leaking out of polypropylene labware, affecting experimental results.[11] Since polypropylene is used in a wide number of food containers such as those for yogurt, the problem is being studied.[12]”
    So apparently it’s not necessarily so great/still in research?
    And ceramics goes into ‘mixed garbage’ here..

    Now in comparison to powders/gels/liquids and their packaging (& whether it does get recycled or not).. hmm..?

    Peter, not sure what you meant to show me – the links come up empty/show the upload page-?

  24. Layla says:

    Oh, and this is the link to the eco balls: does anyone have these?

    I do wonder if they really produce ionized oxygen etc or do the things leached from the plastics provide the ‘sanitizing’ effect? hm..?

  25. Peter says:

    ‘Peter, not sure what you meant to show me – the links come up empty/show the upload page-?’

    Apologies. You need to register before you can access some pages. Basically agreeing not to sue me or the manufacturers if your kids make a A-bomb from a washing-up bottle and some sticky-back plastic.

    The links are to two ideas, one using an ecover pack, and the other a plastic box similar to those that carry washing tabs.

  26. Layla says:

    Peter, I did register (a while ago already) & I did log in (I think)..
    Do you have to tick the agreement every time you log in?

  27. MrsJ says:

    @Layla: I use vinegar on my nappies but not soapnuts.

  28. Peter says:

    Layla, No, you shouldn’t. Don’t want to tie up the Green’s blog. email info[at]junkkdotcom and I’ll try and help resolve.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    @Carole Blake: yep, the water hardness certainly makes a difference to the amount of cleaning products required.

    @Peter: One more thing to add to my ‘pending’ list then, Peter. You’re too kind.

    @maisie dalziel: Yes, we have one of those economy settings too. I’ve never worked out how a cycle that can take so long is less to run – but it really does. It’s good that you can take advantage of economy 7.

    @Layla: Layla, i can’t stand the smell of conventional laundry products either. I’ve tried soapnuts and vinegar, but it didn’t do anything to boost stain removal. Vinegar is supposed to make things softer though.

    Not sure about the ecoballs – these are next on my list to try, but I’m not at all sure about the landfill aspect of them.

  30. With the amount of washing I get from the 3 muck magnets is just as well that I can wash overnight and if I time it right even get a second load in whilst still on the cheaper electricity.Summertime Economy 7 is 1.30am to 8.30am.

    I also run the dishwasher overnight to take advantage of the cheaper electricity as well, and the bread machine is set on its timer function so that the dough is ready when I get up at 6.30am and can be cooked before 7.30am, usually along with a batch of cakes to utilise the oven.

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