Colgate's Wisp: Two Steps Backward

Colgate's Wisp: Two Steps Backward

While reporting a story on the garbage industry (coming soon), I’ve run across some encouraging statistics about waste. This EPA report [PDF, available for download]  is about a year old but it says that, following year after year of steady increases, total municipal solid waste generation dropped beginning in 2008 and per-capita waste generation has  been falling slightly since 2000.

Why? Well, the economy is the big factor — when we buy less, we throw away less — but other explanations also come into play. We use less packaging than we used to. (See "The Evolution of Laundry Detergent"). More people carry reusable grocery bags around. And, while I’m sad to see newspaper circulation falling, the upshot is that fewer old papers end up in the trash.

Walmart shared some impressive data with me, too. By looking for ways to recycle materials that were once headed for landfills, the company redirected more than 64 percent of the solid waste generated by its facilities in the U.S. away from landfills between February 2009 and January 2010. The company is recycling lots of cardboard, plastic, even food waste.

And then I happened upon this:

It’s a disposable toothbrush made by Colgate. According to Colgate’s Wisp website, Wisp is “a single-use mini toothbrush with a breath-freshening bead that allows you to have a clean fresh mouth anywhere, anytime — no water or rinsing required.” Why did Colgate create the Wisp? Because “it not only combines cleaning and freshening benefits. It’s portable and discreet.” Can I use it more than once? “No. Colgate Wisp is designed for single use. Keep in mind, each pack comes with four brushes, so you can freshen up multiple times during the day.”

Crazy, no?

Wisp isn’t cheap, either. Recommended retail pricing is $2.39 for a four pack, $7.99 for a 16-pack.

Colgate’s a big company, so it wouldn’t introduce a product like this unless it expected to sell many millions of them, all plastic (made from imported oil, when you think about it), all headed for landfills after a single use.

How hard is it to buy an extra toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste and carry them around every day? Too hard, evidently, for Wisp buyers.

Just a few clicks away, you won’t be surprised to hear, Colgate has another web page talking about sustainability and “respect for the planet.” It says, among other things:

Reducing our company’s environmental impact is important to Colgate not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because it makes good business sense.

The company lists a number of environmental goals, promising to reduce energy use, CO2 emissions and water use per ton of production.

Translation: Colgate will continue to make throwaway products like Wisp, but it will do so more efficiently than before.

Respect for the planet, indeed.