WATERLOO REGION – The small plastic containers for shampoo and body wash in hotel showers cannot be recycled so a Wilfrid Laurier University business major launched a startup to create eco-friendly alternatives.

EarthSuds, based in Laurier’s tech incubator, Launchpad, developed a tablet that turns into liquid shampoo in the shower. It also has tablets for conditioner and body wash.

“So then it can be packaged in more environmentally sustainable options like paper,” said founder Marissa Vettoretti, who is in her third year of business studies at Laurier.

The small plastic containers typically used in hotels are a big problem. They are too small to be recycled and made out of the lowest grade of plastic available so nobody wants to recycle the containers anyway. So they are thrown into the garbage by cleaning staff. An estimated 750 million are trashed across Canada every year.

“There is no real way to recycle that plastic or make sure it doesn’t end up in a landfill,” said Vettoretti.

Vettoretti, the startup’s chief executive officer, entered a contest two years ago run by OpenIdeo that was all about getting products to consumers without producing plastic.

One of the contest scenarios involved replacing plastics for travel toiletries. Her idea for the just-add-water tablets did not win, but a professor convinced Vettoretti to pursue the idea with her own startup.

“I sort of fell into it by accident, but it was a happy accident,” said Vettoretti.

The startup took the ingredients used to make commercial shampoos, conditioners and body washes and made solid versions that look like tablets. That work was done at a campus laboratory at Laurier by volunteer students studying chemistry.

“You take a tablet into the shower, and when you add water to it, it starts to dissolve and foam up, and it basically becomes just normal liquid shampoo,” said Vettoretti.

“It’s not like using a bar of soap in your hair. It will completely dissolve.”

Getting rid of the plastic containers was the first goal. But then Vettoretti decided to get rid of all the single-use packaging associated with hotel room toiletries.

“They are going to be packaged in reusable metal tins,” she said.

Cleaning staff would simply refill the metal tins with EarthSuds tablets.

Vettoretti said the startup is in negotiations with The Inn of Waterloo to test the product. If all goes well, it will then market EarthSuds to big hotel chains.