This past February a report from Greenpeace confirmed suspicions about how few plastics, despite being explicitly labelled as recyclable, are not actually being recycled. Looking at this new data, the facts of how much waste single-use plastic is creating through the ill-equipped US recycling system is more undeniable than ever. With this bleak new reminder I found myself once again looking around my apartment, through the cabinets and closets, taking stock of all the problematic plastic I am shackled to. Distressingly, I found plastics to be plentiful in my bathroom.
Shampoos, ointments, creams, and all sorts of liquid soaps packaged in single-use bottles. Which is why the recent kickstarter, FORGO, is interested in etching out plastic packaging from the cosmetic industry. With its first product, a liquid soap alternative, FORGO cuts out the need for single-use plastic soap dispensers. All that is required is their reusable dispenser, a twelve gram paper-packet of soap powder, and 250ml of hot water from the tap. Give it a shake, and with that you have yourself a bottle of liquid soap that foams when it is dispensed. The space-efficient packets of powder are shipped to those who subscribe to the service in recycled cardboard and recycled paper packaging.
Maximizing functionality and sustainability with this minimal design was the goal of Form Us With Love (FUWL), the Stockholm-based studio that designed the product . This alternative for liquid soap is founded upon one notable fact: liquid soap is pretty much water. As are many liquid "personal care" products. While this fact has not been hidden - and actually seems kind of obvious when you think about it - it certainly isn't advertised.
FORGO saw the truth of liquid soap's simple mixture as an opportunity for minimizing the impact of an often wasteful product. Though there is another obvious way to avoid all the problems associated with liquid soap products—one could use a bar of soap. This is an already existing ecological solution that FORGO is quick to acknowledge but instead of shrugging their shoulders and moving on, FORGO recognized that people still buy liquid soap and it likely isn't going anywhere soon. Acknowledging that reality, FORGO appeases the cultural and market ubiquity of liquid soap and offers their refillable system as sustainable alternative to single-use plastic.
In function and the strictly modern design, FORGO lives up to its name. The utilitarian bottle is almost entirely unornamented. Graphically, it is as sterile as you hope to have your hands after using it and the paper packaging is nearly as brief.
No flowers, no flowing honey, no gradients, no sparkles, no bright colors, nor gushing blue waters adorn this soap dispenser. While I admit that I am sometimes charmed by the comically excessive graphics and scent descriptions of Palmolive (Dial), Unilever (Dove), Henkel AG & Co (Softsoap), P&G (Ivory) soap dispensers—the graphic communication of most of these liquid soap products acts only as hollow marketing for these atrocious industrial polluters. FORGO's soap not only illuminates the fact that liquid soap is basically water but also, through its packaging, it reminds us that so much of visual communication used by soap packaging is as insubstantial as the product it contains.
Soap and the access to sanitation it provides is incredibly important, this has been made brutally apparent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet relying on excessively designed, single-use plastic to store that soap is simply unnecessary and wasteful. While I would advocate for anyone to just use a bar of soap if they can, FORGO's deconstruction of liquid soap is a great example of using design as a means of disentangling elaborate and often ecologically-destructive marketing-myths about the products we use everyday.