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How Cabinet Health Aims to Rid Your Medicine Cabinet of Single-Use Plastic

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 09/12/2022 | 6 Minute Read

If you open up your bathroom cabinet—or someone else’s if you’re over for a party and snooping—you’re probably going to find single-use plastic bottle after single-use plastic bottle. Plastic is the norm in the pharmaceutical industry since it’s inexpensive, waterproof, and will keep those pills safe and effective. Last year, the pharmaceuticals plastic bottle market was valued at $8.08 billion, and it’s only expected to grow.

Of course, that's not if the sustainable healthcare company Cabinet Health has anything to say about it.

Cabinet wants to change the way the pharmaceutical industry works. No more boring ibuprofen bottles and no more amber prescription bottles in your medicine cupboard or recycling bin. They’ve innovated to create something that’s practical, pretty, and helps out Mother Earth.

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“I wanted Cabinet to be a ‘social problem first, business second’ company,” said Russell Gong, co-founder and president at Cabinet Health. “That’s fundamental to how we look at our brand, packaging, and team. It’s an experience because of the way my parents raised me and my professional experiences leading up to Cabinet.”

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Before founding Cabinet Health in 2018 with Achal Patel, Russell spent years working in state and federal legislatures, helping congress draft laws about curbing plastic production and making community services more inclusive. After working on mission-driven brands around the world, he assisted with healthcare clinics in Guatemala, nonprofits in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Syrian refugee camps. At the age of 26, Russell enlisted in the US Army with the goal of helping with natural disasters. Around that time, he wanted to combine his experience with policy, entrepreneurship, and the commitment to addressing manmade disasters and disasters created by climate change.

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Above: Russell Gong.
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Above: Achal Patel (left) and Russell Gong (right).

“Myself and a team of industrial designers went to every single person we knew and looked in their medicine cabinets, purses, and travel bags,” said Russell. “And truth be told, it’s the last place in your home that actually has any pride. So we created a system that was fit for storage refills and accessing health.”

The refillable bottles that customers receive have a “squircle” shape—something that feels organic when held but stacks easily. The frosted glass adds an elevated aesthetic, protects meds from UV rays, and reflects the kind of transparency that Cabinet has as a company. A removable magnetic label pops into place on the childproof lid that not only includes drug facts and directions, but a QR code that enables customers to talk to a pharmacist 24/7.

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Refills are a breeze, too, arriving in a 100% compostable packet that can get disposed of in a household compost. Determining which materials to use for this packet, however, was not so easy.

“We scoured the earth of the packaging world to define what materials fit best,” explained Russell. “It became a bit of a catch-22 between what is the most sustainable and what is also applicable for medicines. For every single medicine, we researched every molecule and the specific qualities they require from a packaging standpoint.”

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Cabinet Research Factory
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Aside from its eco-friendliness, Cabinet is a massive improvement on what medications tend to appear like on drug store shelves or what you'll find after having visited a pharmacist. Because of the constraints associated with this being a pharmaceutical brand, Russell explained that they had limited real estate—so every small design choice on the packs mattered.

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The brand aimed to have a contemporary color palette that spoke to their high quality. They wanted the colors to subtly nod towards nature as well as the ailments the medicines cure while shedding the preconceived color associations consumers have from other brand names. The sans serif font, Messina Sans, further highlights the values of Cabinet and gives the brand a confident, reliable pharmaceutical company.

“At the end of the day, we wanted it to be modern and sustainable but build confidence that this is still a medicine you put into your body,” Russell said. “This is still built with medical experts behind it, so there's less playfulness. When it comes to medicine, we want to be very clear, very direct, and very human.”

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Cabinet still got to have a little fun, though. After all, healthcare can sometimes feel like a heavy, serious topic, so it was important to remind consumers that being sick is sometimes a part of life. Illustrator Jay Cover created adorable drawings for the website highlighting diversity and inclusion—critical values for Cabinet—that make the brand feel more personable.

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Early prototypes.
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Concept sketch.

Cabinet is not some theoretical brand—it's one consumers can buy right now and one that, hopefully, more retail and distribution partners will begin to offer. Russell said that the biggest hurdle they encounter is raising the awareness of how sustainability in healthcare matters just as much as it does for other industries.

“The average American does not wake up and think about the sustainable crisis for medicine,” he explained. “When we think of sustainability, we'll think of climate change. It's difficult to bring that consciousness all the way through to all the important decisions people make today, all the way to medicine. The public awareness of sustainability and medicine could not be lower. We need to help educate people that, yes, this issue matters. Yes, there is something you can do about it. And this leads to a variety of other decisions that we make on sustainable health care.”

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In the future, Cabinet aims to expand to prescription medicine and retail shelves in pharmacies. Russell hopes they’ll not only be able to educate consumers and suppliers about sustainable meds but also that they’ll inspire other brands and designers who care about this issue. He doesn’t need every prescription or over-the-counter drug branded as Cabinet Health; instead, he’s most concerned with making change and turning the world into a more sustainable, eco-friendly place.

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“I think the single purpose of Cabinet is to dispel the myth that we have to choose between our health or the health of the environment,” Russell said. “That’s the biggest tragedy. That healthcare and medicine force you to choose between those two. So if Cabinet does anything successfully, we provoke that question. We force not just ourselves to be more sustainable but other brands, retailers, and larger healthcare players. That starts the process with product and packaging innovation.”


Images courtesy of Cabinet.

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