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Bye, bye waste: zero waste champions @ Dr. Bronner

Bye, bye waste: zero waste champions @ Dr. Bronner

I don’t think I have been this excited to feature a zero-waste champion in a while. I’ve had the absolute pleasure to sit down with Lisa Bronner, the granddaughter to the founder Dr. Emanuel Bronner.

I first learned about the Dr. Bronner brand, it’s values and the amazing history when I started my zero waste journey. Not only I love the products and would recommend them in a heartbeat, but I am also passionate about their messages on sustainability, organic and fair trade ingredients. If I keep gushing, we’ll never get to the interview. Without further ado…

What sets Dr. Bronner products apart from other soap/cleaning product suppliers?

 At Dr. Bronner’s, we follow our “Cosmic Principles” which define our most important relationships and guide us in everything we do, from soap making to peace making.  Through them we are able to carry out our mission to make socially and environmentally responsible products of the highest quality, and dedicate our profits to help make a better world.

They are:

  1. Work Hard! Grow!
  2. Do Right By Customers.
  3. Treat Employees Like Family.
  4. Be Fair To Suppliers.
  5. Treat The Earth Like Home.
  6. Fund & Fight For What’s Right!

There is a deeper explanation on our website: https://www.drbronner.com.au/pages/mission

We take our organic, fair trade and sustainable credentials seriously to ensure not only that we have the best products possible but also that we are creating them in the best possible way with minimal impact to the environment and maximum benefit to the people involved.

The 100% Pure-Castile Soap recipe used for Dr. Bronner’s soap is a simple, ecological, plant-based formulation, named after the Castile region of Spain, where olive oil soaps were invented long ago. The high foaming lather of the soap is from its high coconut oil content, which makes a more luxurious and rich lather compared to any detergent formulation commonly found even in “natural stores.”

We superfat our soaps with organic hemp and jojoba oils for a milder, smoother lather and use natural plant-derived vitamin E and citric acid to protect freshness.

Our soaps have also been certified by the Vegan Society UK. This certification assures the growing population of vegans that no animal testing or animal ingredients are used in Dr. Bronner’s products that carry the certification.

Tell me more about the fascinating origins of the brand.

The manifesto written on the labels of the soap packaging comes from my grandfather, Dr. Emanuel Bronner, a third-generation master soap maker who spent his life renouncing hate and war on a personal mission to unite mankind. He was born in 1908 to the German-Jewish Heilbronner family, which had been practising the traditional local craft since 1858.

In 1929, my grandfather, then aged 21, immigrated to the United States working as a consultant soap manufacturer. But following the death of his family in the Holocaust, he embarked on a mission to spread this message of world peace and the dangers of war by giving public lectures on these subjects.

His strong views landed him in a mental asylum in Chicago but he escaped and fled to California and continued to lecture in public about his peace plan. He also began making peppermint liquid soap under the “Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps” brand, officially established in 1948.

He gave away the soap during his talks.  When he realized people were taking it without listening to him speak, he started writing his philosophy on the bottle in tiny script. These eccentric labels, featuring musings on everything from Hillel to Confucius, are still used today.

In the early years, the soap enjoyed a small but loyal following. With the emergence of 1960’s counterculture, sales rocketed through word of mouth about the quality, as Dr. Bronner’s does not advertise. The soaps spread into health food stores across the United States, and in recent years into mainstream retailers.

Having always used natural ingredients, Dr. Bronner’s became officially certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2003, branching into other organic personal care products in 2005. Today, our products are the top selling organic soap brand in North America and are distributed worldwide.

Although my grandfather passed away in 1997, the company continued to flourish through our family. In a time where CEO compensation can reach as high as 500 times the average worker’s wage, we remain true to my grandfather’s philosophy of sharing profit with the workers and the Earth from which it was made by capping the salaries of the highest paid executives at five times that of the lowest paid full-time employee.

How exactly does the 18-in-1 solution work?

The Castile soap is a perfectly simple soap, balanced for mild skin cleansing, but effective enough to clean a vast range of things.

The 18 uses include laundry, dishes, carpets, and dogs.  Generally speaking, soap molecules (Castile soap molecules included) have one end that is attracted to water and another that is attracted to oil. When soap is combined with water, it creates free-floating charged atoms that attract and capture dirt and other types of non-water-soluble molecules. This grease-grabbing quality makes Castile soap useful on slick oven hoods, greasy pots and pans, and hard-to-clean oily spills — and really pretty much everything else.

Where can your products be purchased?

All products are available in the UK at leading health food stores nationwide, Urban Outfitters, Next and www.drbronners.co.uk to name a few.

What are Dr. Bronner’s environmental responsibility goals?

All of our major raw ingredients are certified organic and fair trade and are biodegradable. Our soap bottles are made with 100% post-consumer plastic and our packaging is recyclable.

This year, we’ve focused a lot on raising awareness of Regenerative Organic Agriculture through our global “Heal Earth” campaign, which includes setting up a regenerative organic agriculture accreditation standard.

We recognize the importance of our small-scale farming partners using regenerative organic agricultural practices to increase soil fertility and revitalize farming communities in making the ingredients of our famous soap! We hope that through educational events, in-store demonstrations and promotions, product giveaways, and social media campaigns, we can educate the public about the collective need to “Heal Earth!”

What would you say have been the biggest challenges in encouraging waste reduction? Has it been difficult finding the right suppliers? Meeting customer needs or other?

The biggest challenge we face is finding an alternative plastic for our soap bottles.  We currently minimise our impact by only using 100% recycles bottles but are researching and trialling other materials.  We have some great partners who are investigating advances in packing innovations so that when a “better than plastic” option is available, we can utilize it.

What are some of the victories of Dr. Bronner’s responsibilities towards the environment?

One cause we supported was a 20-year battle to help legalize hemp farming in the United States. Hemp is a low impact crop, requiring low water and weed control, and has astonishing versatility, producing everything from paper and fabric to food, plastic, and skincare.

We started by reformulating our soap to include hemp seed oil, and sued the U.S. government alongside other companies in the hemp industry for the right to include it as an ingredient in food, health and beauty care products.

My brother, David Bronner, who is our CEO, was even arrested at one point after planting hemp seeds on front lawn of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Museum to demonstrate how important it is to grow hemp! Finally, in 2018, hemp farming became legal in the U.S. when legislation was passed and signed into law.

We have also funded studies with the Rodale Institute that verified hemp’s role in improving soil health.

What is your biggest advice to those looking to reduce food waste in their lives?

A great way to reduce food waste is to plan your meals ahead of shopping in order to buy only what you need. Also, use a surplus of veggies in catchall dishes like stir fries, salads, pasta sauce, and pizza toppings – almost anything can go on a pizza!  You can also toss fruit into smoothies or frozen yogurts and then freeze for later use.

Some examples would be using bananas for smoothies or breads; sliced apples for pies or applesauce; pureed tomatoes for sauces; blanched green veggies for soups or steaming; stale bread for croutons or breadcrumbs.

And don’t discount those onion skins and carrot tops! You can collect and freeze veggie scraps to make broth.  Fruit peels, cores and citrus rinds make a lovely simmering stovetop potpourri.  Then, compost the rest to start the food cycle over again.

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