The U.S. and Australia have voluntary safety standards, while the EU/EK have mandatory regulations.
- In the U.S., the first safety standard for packaging and labeling detergent pods was approved by A.S.T.M. International.
- ASTM is an international standards organization that helps establish voluntary technical standards for a range of products.
- The recommendations were negotiated over a year with industry representatives, medical and consumer groups, and the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- The agreed-upon standard describes how the pods should be contained in an opaque covering to hide the bright colors of the product. Each pod should be labeled with warning statements. The specifications also provide that child resistance closures should be used.
- During the time that the awareness of the danger of detergent pods was arising, the U.K. was part of the E.U., so the regulations were part of the E.U. process.
- The E.U. Commission led a global awareness activity on the risks posed by detergent pods. During the week of the 16th-23rd March 2015, the E.U. sponsored an international awareness-raising campaign. Safety alerts and messages targeted parents and childcarers as well as for businesses and stakeholders. This campaign used a dedicated website, social media, advertising, and the press.
- On June 1 of the same year, regulations came into effect that stated that "all laundry capsules must be packaged in non-transparent boxes, with warnings and a child-resistant closure. They must also be insoluble for 6 seconds and be impregnated with a bitter flavor so that a child will spit out the tab."
- The first statement in Australia's guideline's states that their content will be "consistent, where possible and relevant, with similar initiatives or actions in other leading markets (such as the E.U. and U.S.A.)"
- Companies can voluntarily choose to follow the following guidelines, which could be progressively implemented.
- Reduce the visibility of liquid laundry capsules via obscure or opaque packaging or any equivalent measure.
- Package the pods in containers with a closure design that "discourages, delays, or otherwise impedes" the ability of young children to open the pack.
- Prominent information on the label which reinforces the need to keep the detergent from children, not to let children handle the pods, to keep the pods tightly closed in their original container, and avoid handling them with wet hands.
PACKAGE DESIGN AND MESSAGING
Because most of the company who market detergent tablets are global, the chemical makeup of the pods and the child safety built into the tablets are similar in all three countries.
- On October 1, 2015, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International approved "packaging and labeling safety standards for laundry detergent pods."
- The ASTM-approved standards included the addition of a bitter taste to the pod's outer covering and changing the composition of the film, so it takes longer to dissolve. Because the pods often resemble candy, ASTM also recommended opaque containers so that the individual pods cannot be seen. The standards also suggested, "child-resistant containers that require a higher amount of strength or dexterity to open."
- The standards did not mention making the products less toxic, nor did they suggest less colorful pods. These packaging and labeling guidelines were not mandatory. The New York Times stated that the Consumer Product Safety Commission might pursue recalls of pods that do not meet the standards. "ASTM said that if poisonings remain frequent, the group will discuss whether detergents should be made less toxic."
- The pictograms suggested for use on the packaging are shown on page one here.
- The U.K. Cleaning Products Industry released graphics to be included on each pod based product.
- The graphics can be seen on page two here.
- The full leaflet distributed by the E.U., including the U.K., can be seen here.
- Australia has no published approved graphics.
- A review of images from Australian products shows they are using two pictograms, keep out of reach of children and keep away from eyes. They can be seen in number four here.
- We assume the reason there are no specific guidelines is that this statement says "Consistent, where possible and relevant, with similar initiatives or actions in other leading markets (such as the E.U. and the U.S.A.)."
The best practices in child safety for detergent tablets are extensive consumer education and mandatory, not voluntary, compliance with the regulations.
Strong Visuals and Targeted Consumer Education
- The EU/UK launched a week-long targeted campaign about the dangers of detergent tablets.
- The campaign used a new website focused solely on this topic, social media, advertising, and stories in the press.
- This campaign was used, according to the E.U., throughout Europe.
- The message continued using leaflets with extensive information remaining available. The brochure can be seen here.
- Extensive warning labels were used, as can be seen here.
- The success of this practice can be seen in the continuous downward slope on graph number five seen here.
- The difference can be seen when one examines the results in the US, where the packaging changes were introduced with little fanfare. According to an article on Webmd.com in 2019, these types of poisonings fell just 18% between 2015 and 2017. "From 2012 to 2017, poison control centers fielded nearly 73,000 calls about poisoning from these pods. That's about one call every 42 minutes, and almost 92% involved kids under 6."
- "The current voluntary standard, public awareness campaigns and product and packaging changes to date are good first steps, but the numbers are still unacceptably high -- we can do better," said lead researcher Dr. Gary Smith.
Regulations not Guidelines
- In the U.S., the Detergent Poisoning And Child Safety Act of 2015 was introduced to Congress in February. The initiative was dropped when the industry committed to working with ASTM on guidelines.
- In the E.U., on the other hand, they did not waste time with guidelines. By June 1, 2015, they had passed a new regulation, making compliance mandatory, not optional.
- The U.K. has completed its third wave the initiative (Product Stewardship Programme 3) to "further improve the safety of liquid laundry capsules with superior and stronger closures on packs, an advertising code of conduct for young children and extended consumer education campaigns."
- Detergent manufacturers continue to feature a standard safety message not only on the product containers but also on their brand advertisements for the detergent tablets, such as on T.V., billboards, and printed ads.
- In the U.S., researchers found that "between 2012 and 2017, exposures to detergent pods among kids six "and over skyrocketed nearly 300%."
- "During that time, eight people died -- two children under age two and six adults 43 and older, the data showed."
- The enforcement of regulations as in the U.K., rather than the optional compliance model in the U.S., has shown significant success in decreasing poisoning incidents.