My name is Michelle, I’m a millennial and I’m the opposite of a domestic goddess. And Facebook can obviously tell, because they’ve been serving me up Zero Co ads. Their branding is pretty much catnip for millennials.
Obviously, I bought the whole set. I’ve now tried them all and I thought I’d review them because I think it’s a cool example of a well thought out environmentally friendly system. Most of the products are household products, but there are also some beauty products in there as well.
(Note: This isn’t sponsored – Zero Co offered to send me products after I reached out to ask a question, but I decided to buy them myself because I wanted to try everything out slowly without pressure.)
Zero Co Overview
Zero Co is a household and personal care product company that focuses on reducing single use plastic.
I’m usually pretty skeptical when it comes to brands that focus on single use plastic. Part of this is because I’m used to reviewing skincare and makeup, and compared to other sources of single use plastic in our lives, skincare just doesn’t account for that much. It takes a while to finish up most products, but a lot of skincare brands make it seem like you’re saving the world if you buy their serum.
Another big reason is that plastic-free brands often make tradeoffs that aren’t necessarily well thought out, and it ends up being greenwashing.
For example, sometimes brands switch to really heavy glass that ends up having a huge carbon cost for transport. They also break a lot in transport which means you end up wasting a lot of product, as well as a container. Sometimes brands switch to bioplastics that might be compostable, but not truly biodegradable. They can’t be recycled and most people don’t compost them properly, so they might have been better off just using a traditional recyclable plastic. Some bioplastics also have a bigger carbon footprint than traditional plastics made using renewable energy.
The final reason is that most eco-friendly brands are also into the whole clean beauty, “scientists are trying to poison you” thing. I HATE this kind of marketing – I’ve talked about why before in my post Clean Beauty Is a Scam and Won’t Give Us Safer Products.
I don’t really boycott this because it’s so hard to find companies that have ZERO clean beauty fearmongering in their marketing. A lot of the time it’s because the brand themselves have been misled, and I try to be nice to people who promote the wrong thing out of good intentions. But I do get really annoyed and if there’s an alternative I’ll usually take it.
But Zero Co make household products, which is something we use a lot more quickly, giving us a lot more single use plastic. Australia is actually one of the worst countries in terms of single use plastic per person.
Zero Co also has a lot more dimension than just taking ocean waste and turning it into bottles. I asked my two favourite sources for environmental science questions, The Eco Well and Waste Free PhD what they thought, and they said it looks like a pretty good idea.
How Zero Co Works
Zero Co is based on a closed loop refill system.
You buy their products which come in refillable pouches. There’s also optional “forever bottles” that come in pretty millennial-friendly pastel colours. I got the starter kit which has one of each thing.
You fill your dispensers with the pouches:
Once you collect 15 empty pouches, you send them back in the prepaid mailing bag – you need 15 to make the carbon cost of mailing worth it. Zero Co then clean and refill the pouches for the next person.
The dispensers are made from recycled ocean, beach and landfill bound waste – there’s a cute tracking code you can use to see where your bottle has come from (all my bottles come from Indonesia).
The pouches are also made from plastic that would’ve gone to landfill. They can be reused “over and over and over for a VERY long time” according to Zero Co. When they’ve worn down, they’re going to be made into something else (not yet disclosed).
As well as being reusable, the pouches are also lighter than proper bottles, so it reduces carbon emissions from transport.
Zero Co’s also recently introduced carbon negative deliveries, where they offset 2 kg for every 1 kg of CO2 produced. Carbon offsetting is a bit of a mixed bag. A lot of the time it’s used almost as an excuse to not actually reduce emissions, but I don’t think that’s what they’re doing here – I think it’s just meant to be a nice bonus.
I’m sure it’s not a perfect system, since I doubt any eco-friendly products are going to beat not using products at all. But I prefer not to live in filth, and this system seems to be way better thought out and covers a LOT more bases than other companies I’ve seen.
Zero Co also ask for suggestions if you work in the environmental space for how they can improve.
Other selling points
On top of being pretty damn thorough in terms of eco-friendliness, these were things that really sold me with Zero Co:
Super convenient and customer friendly
Zero Co have all the products I normally use and more. Getting everything from the one place is a lot more convenient and has a smaller impact than, say, buying laundry detergent from one place and dishwashing tablets from another.
It is mail order only though, and the 15 pouch system might be an issue if you run out of one thing before the rest. They’re looking into getting products into stores though.
There are lots of clear instructions and FAQs on their super comprehensive website. There are videos on how to roll up empty pouches, and tips like removing the tamper ring on lids before refilling containers. As an overthinker, I really appreciate this level of detail!
Their customer service team is also really responsive to questions, through their website chat and social media.
Products actually sound really good
My biggest worry whenever I switch to an eco-friendly brand is that I don’t end up liking the products, so I don’t rebuy them. That means the reusable dispensers end up as single use plastic, and since the reusable dispensers are usually thicker and more robust than a regular dispenser, it ends up having a larger environmental impact than if I went with my normal brand. And it’s even worse if the products are so bad I don’t even use them up.
The handy thing about Zero Co is that they have hundreds of reviews from customers on their website, so you can easily see people’s experiences. And they’re overwhelmingly positive, with everything getting close to a 5 star rating.
On top of that, they’ve sent some of their cleaning products to independent testing labs for the sorts of comparisons you see from consumer advocacy groups like Choice. All of the ones with published results (stain remover, laundry detergent, bathroom cleaner) measure up really well. For example, you can see their laundry detergent results here:
They also have convenient price comparisons on their website. The prices are pretty comparable to supermarket brands, although sometimes I think they’ve chosen comparisons carefully (but it’s not like they’re comparing to massively expensive brands). Obviously supermarkets have regular sales, so you’re not necessarily paying full price, but I think a lot of people (including me) are happy to pay a little bit more for something if it’s better for the environment.
Their website also has a price breakdown, so you can see their pricing structure and profit margin which is neat.
I posted about my allergy to MI and MCI on my Instagram. These are two preservatives that are commonly found in laundry products and shampoo, and about 1.5% of the population is allergic to them.
Unfortunately a lot of laundry detergents don’t have a complete ingredient list publicly available like cosmetic products do, and don’t even list out their preservatives like drug products in Australia.
I think we hear a lot about how unregulated beauty products are, but compared to household cleaning products it’s a lot more regulated, and you actually get a lot more useful information about them. I’ve had a lot of instances where I’ll try a laundry detergent then start itching. It took me a long time to work out that it was the MI and MCI, because it was so hard to track down ingredient lists.
Zero Co have ingredient lists for products, so you can easily look for allergens. I think the only thing missing is the vague “solubiliser” in the air freshener. But you never see ingredient lists for air fresheners so this is already infinitely better, plus this doesn’t really get on your skin.
Limited fearmongering ingredient claims
This is super frustrating for me and other scientists – eco-friendly often goes hand in hand with fearmongering marketing claims about toxins that make no sense with basic principles of toxicology. This makes me doubt the brand’s ability to make science-based environmentally friendly claims that aren’t just greenwashing.
Related post: Clean Beauty Is Wrong and Won’t Give Us Safer Products
I was pleasantly surprised with the relatively weak fearmongering here! There’s a little bit but it’s not too loud, and it’s at the bottom of the page so you have to scroll before you see it.
They state that “Most [insert product name] that you buy from the supermarket contain harmful chemicals that aren’t great for you, your family or the planet,” which is a bit eyeroll-inducing. There’s also a mention of “no nasties”, but they don’t go into detail into the pseudoscience of how specific ingredients are bad for you.
I’d prefer if they didn’t have that at all, but this is some of the least fearmongering I’ve seen from an eco-friendly brand.
They do have a cringey moment where they say they have “no sulfates” on their body wash and hand wash, but they clearly have sodium coco sulfate in them. (There isn’t anything wrong with sulfates, if you’re wondering.)
Zero Co Product Reviews
I was genuinely surprised by how much I liked the products! I’m used to products from eco brands being a bit lacking in performance, but these are great.
The products smell really nice. The fragrances are based on essential oils but they’re very fresh and light. Unfortunately there aren’t any fragrance-free options yet, and there’s only one fragrance option for each product, but they’ve said they’re working on it.
This was the product I was most concerned about because of my allergy. I’ve had to change my sheets in the middle of the night when I started itching a lot and realised they were washed with the wrong detergent.
I messaged Zero Co to ask if they recommended their detergent for people with sensitive skin before buying. They said didn’t know, but sensitive skinned people had given it good reviews, and I really appreciated the honest answer.
The detergent smells nice and leaves a light scent. It works well, and there’s no itchiness for me. The forever bottle has the handy measuring cup lid and pouring spout which is standard in a lot of supermarket brands, but not in all eco brands.
I was a bit scared to use their stain remover since it’s one of the few products with MI and MCI. The main products I use stain removers for are my reusable cotton pads, and I didn’t want to risk getting stuff I’m allergic to in my eyes.
I did use it on one once, and it seemed to work decently well with no reaction, but I’m still a bit cautious.
My biggest issue is that the forever spray bottle doesn’t have instructions on it (although there are instructions on the pouch). I guess it’s fine if you’re going to use it long-term, but so far I haven’t gotten familiar with it.
Multipurpose spray and bathroom cleaner
These work as well as my other products. They smell OK, although they they still are a bit punch-you-in-the-nose with alcohol (and lactic acid for the bathroom cleaner).
I’ve used the multi-purpose spray on most things, including plastic bins, induction stove top, stone kitchen benches and a wooden dining table with no issues. The bathroom cleaner can be used on tiles, grout and glass.
This was the one product I didn’t think I needed. Like every other millennial in Australia I have the Aesop Post-Poo Drops, which are essential oils you drop into the toilet after a poo.
But I’ve ended up really liking this! It’s a spray air freshener, and it can destink the whole bathroom a lot faster. It’s also useful in other rooms if someone lets off a really bad fart.
This is the other product that has MI in it, so I just try not to breathe in too much and I haven’t had any issues yet.
These are optional, and there’s a starter kit without them in case you don’t have a dishwasher. The tablets come in a cardboard box and are individually wrapped with dissolving wrappers.
These tablets work better than my normal tablets, but they’re a bit more expensive. They don’t leave droplet marks on my glasses, although I saw some people complain about these (it could be a winning combination of these tablets and my dishwasher).
I’m a little worried about the cardboard box though, since it’s not moisture -proof. It might be just as good to have this as a bottle of powder instead of individual tablets.
The dishwashing detergent is decent, but not quite as good as my regular Morning Fresh. I would’ve preferred a pump top on the forever bottle, but I have a pump bottle that I refill anyway.
I would’ve preferred a bottle with pointy nozzle and smaller hole for directing around the toilet bowl instead of a disc lid for this, but it works OK. Like the bathroom cleaner, this is chlorine-free and lactic acid based.
Body wash and hand wash
These come in handy pump bottles. They smell really nice, with a fresh unisex scent. I think it might be a bit strong for some people, and again they’ve said they’re looking into developing fragrance free versions in the future.
They work well, and use sulfates (I am a big fan of sulfates).
Upcoming Body Products
Since I bought this box, Zero Co have also announced 4 personal care products: shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and body lotion. This is convenient since they can be shipped with everything else, and getting everything from the one place is a good way to save on carbon emissions (again, assuming that the products work for you).
Unfortunately there are a few “clean beauty” claims that have come in with the personal care products. They claim to be free from silicones, SLS, SLES, EDTA, dyes, parabens, phthalates, TEA, DEA, dimethicone, formaldehyde and triclosan.
Related post: Silicone Mythbusting (with Video)
It’s a bit silly because the shampoo has sodium coco sulfate, which actually contains about 50% sodium lauryl sulfate. “Lauryl” refers to the fatty acid in the surfactant, and coconut oil has lauric acid as the main fatty acid. That means sodium coco sulfate is actually a mix of about 50% sodium lauryl sulfate, 16% sodium myristyl sulfate, 10% sodium palmitoyl sulfate and a bunch of other similar sulfates.
Related post: Why Has the FDA banned Antibacterial Soap?
Overall the products look like pretty decent formulas. The conditioner doesn’t have silicones, so I don’t think I could use it regularly.
I’m actually a little surprised they didn’t come out with bar products. It’s possible it was too difficult to formulate them at the moment, or they didn’t quite fit into their current operations.
Bar products can be really great if they work well, and hair products are one area where they’ve been getting more popular. Water makes up a large percentage of products, so removing water can really reduce carbon emissions. For example, one bar of Ethique shampoo is equivalent to three bottles of shampoo. (Ethique is probably the least fearmongery eco brand I’ve seen so if you’re interested check them out! Unfortunately their conditioner bar also won’t work for me because of the lack of silicones.)
I’m most excited about the deodorant. A lot of people have complained to me about how they can’t find aluminium-containing antiperspirant deodorants that aren’t in single-use plastic. This is a refillable roll-on antiperspirant deodorant, with aluminium – apparently a world first.
Interestingly they have a page that nicely explains their decision to use aluminium despite the fearmongering, with references to the opinions of the SCCS and health organisations. I wish they did the same for their other products instead of talking about nasties – for example, something like “FYI we don’t have these ingredients in our products, but we don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.”
The body lotion looks pretty standard, which is a good sign, and comes in a handy pump bottle.
Overall, I think Zero Co is really promising in terms of how they address being environmentally friendly, and there’s a lot less greenwashing than I usually expect. They still have some gimmicks in there to hook people in, but they’ve implemented some pretty solid ideas. They’ve also successfully gotten around a lot of pain points that often stop environmentally friendly brands from having a larger impact.
They’re currently only available in Australia. You can get them here – I rarely ever use brand-specific referral links, but I do really like this brand and genuinely think this is a great idea.