This past summer, Williams installed a Generation Conscious laundry detergent refill station in Mission Park, a first-year dormitory and one of three dining halls on campus. Based in New York City, Generation Conscious (GenCo) develops and sells environmentally sustainable hygiene products and works with partners to increase access to these products for low-income and BIPOC communities most affected by climate change. GenCo’s laundry detergent sheets will improve hygiene security for Williams students, reduce the plastic and water waste students generate, and initiate a conversation about circular economies, alternative business models, and environmental justice.
The refill station is plugged into an outlet in the lobby of Mission and dispenses 10 detergent sheets each time a student enters their email address into the machine. Throughout the 2022-23 academic year, all Williams students will have an unlimited number of free refills per the school’s contract with Generation Conscious. In addition, GenCo hires Williams students as interns who will maintain the machine, promote awareness of the company’s products and values, collect feedback on a regular basis, and determine the demand for more refill stations in the future. In particular, GenCo encourages first-generation, low-income, and/or BIPOC students to apply.
In addition to the refill station and detergent sheets, Williams purchased 150 aluminum tins that students can use to carry the sheets. Because more than 150 students are expected to use the machine—and because aluminum is a carbon-intensive product—GenCo wants to identify alternative carrying cases and will run a semester-long contest for the most creative container made from recycled materials. The winner will receive a cash prize, and their container might even be exhibited at the fall Big Art Show.
The Zilkha Center and its campus partners are thrilled to bring Generation Conscious to Williams as we work toward reducing waste on campus and furthering environmental justice.
The GenCo refill station is located in the lobby of Mission Park; upon entering the building, it is immediately on your right.
To use the machine, enter your unix on the touch screen and select “scented” or “unscented.” (In the words of one student, the scented kind smells like “the platonic ideal of fresh laundry.” It’s a fan favorite.) Wait for the machine to dispense 10 sheets, put them in your aluminum tin or recycled container, and store them in your backpack or clothes hamper.
When you’re ready to do laundry, tear a detergent sheet into quarters, throw all four directly into the washing machine, and hit “start.” One detergent sheet is needed for one load of laundry.
- The GenCo refill station and detergent sheets reduce packaging waste and transportation emissions, resulting in a more environmentally benign system than Tide Pods, the current market leader in laundry detergent.
- For a typical university package installation of the refill station, detergent sheets, and 150 reusable aluminum tins, the GenCo station needs to dispense less than 4,000 sheets to reach carbon parity with Tide Pods. Every refill dispensed thereafter saves ~1.36 kg of carbon dioxide from being produced, so after dispensing another 4,000 sheets, the refill station saves 5,440 kg of CO2—the equivalent of 1.1 homes’ annual electricity use or 6,027 pounds of coal burned.
- GenCo’s detergent sheets embody 97% less carbon emissions than conventional detergent pods, and they are 20% cheaper than Tide Pods.
- GenCo detergent sheets are made out of just four ingredients that are 100% plant-based and 99.8% biodegradable. (The ingredients are sodium dodecyl sulfate, fatty alcohol polyglycol ether, deionized water, and polyvinyl alcohol.)
- GenCo stations have been installed at a number of other colleges and universities across the country, including Rice University in Texas, Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and the University of California San Diego.
Williams learned about Generation Conscious two years ago, and the process of bringing GenCo products to campus has unfolded since then. During the summer of 2021, Zilkha Center interns Jacob Chen ’23.5 and Simon Kissam ’23 got feedback from fellow students on two GenCo products, the laundry detergent sheets and toothpaste tablets. Positive feedback on the detergent sheets (the toothpaste tabs were less popular) led to the current effort to install a refill station on campus. (Read about the development of the “GenCo program” in Ali Hashim’s April 2022 update.)
During the past academic year, Ali Hashim ’25, Petra Hinds ’24, and Nick Stefanelli ’23 worked with Mike Evans, the Associate Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, to identify other campus partners. The Office of Campus Life (OCL) and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OIDEI) joined the Zilkha Center in funding the refill station, the Davis Center's Community Engagement Fellows advised on the project, and Facilities/Operations and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) provided logistical support.
GL Genco, the CEO and founder of Generation Conscious, grew up near a waste transfer station in Jamaica, Queens, NYC before moving to Long Island with his Trinidadian-Italian family. Seeing the health impacts of the waste station on his community motivated him to found Generation Conscious, which radically rejects systems that perpetuate racial and economic injustice through emitting carbon, producing plastic, and wasting water. Instead, Generation Conscious creates sustained change by replacing these systems with ones that generate true environmental sustainability, racial and economic equity, and accessibility.
Utilizing ecosystemic design principles to build zero waste infrastructures, Generation Conscious helps everyday people reimagine the culture of the United States as a culture concerned with the well-being of the environment and of economically vulnerable communities. Most importantly, Generation Conscious shows that by acting on these concerns, we can create an equitable and healthy world for all life. Read more about GenCo’s values here.