March 22, 2009

Green is the theme for housewares

The economy may be in the red but the trend in the U.S. housewares industry is green.

Everything from eco-friendly packaging to environmentally conscious cleaning systems and natural fiber towels and dishes were on display for the International Housewares Association trade show at McCormick Place in Chicago.

The trend is not just something bubbling up from the consumer end. Dennis Salazar of Salazar Packaging Inc. of Plainfield, Ill., said manufacturers are realizing going green isn't just good for the environment but for the bottom line as well.

This isn't a trend that's going away, Salazar said. And the interest isn't sudden. It's been building since the '70s and the generation coming out of college now is the greenest ever. They grew up with Earth Day.

Salazar said the housewares industry was slow to embrace environmentally friendly products because so much of the manufacturing is overseas.

Among the products debuting on the 13-miles of show floor was the Green Garmento, a combination hamper/carryall/ clean-clothes-dry-cleaning-bag.

We throw away 300 million pounds of dry cleaner plastic every year, said Rick Siegel, who came up with the idea.

The bags are made of polypropylene and come in three colors.

Outdoor clothes lines are making a comeback, with several distributors featuring the umbrella style -- either permanently installed in ground or the fold away variety. Whitney Design's Sunline brand also features bracket mounted styles that fold up when not in use.

The electric dryer represents 6 percent to 8 percent of any household's energy usage, said James Schmidt, vice president of marketing and new product development. Families are looking for ways to cut back.

The units retail between $59 and $119. Schmidt said the company saw a 40 percent increase in sales last year and is on track for a similar increase this year.

Bissel is using the eco-trend to reintroduce its steam mop, which came out several years ago but was shelved due to lack of consumer interest. The new version features a more secure microfiber cover that won't come off during use or shrink in the dryer. Also on display was a new series of brooms and mops with cleaning-friendly handles that make it easy to get under furniture.

O-Cedar unveiled a line of microfiber mops it says can clean a floor using just water and numerous distributors touted cleaning products made from plants and boasting about being non-toxic.