packaging in the cosmetics industry

Wasted beauty
packaging in the cosmetics industry
In the second instalment of our analysis of the cosmetics and personal care industry,
Rachel England examines its problem with packaging and considers measures
being taken to turn the sector a more attractive shade of green
24 resource NOV-DEC
SEP-OCT 2010
aking care of ourselves is hard work. Diet, exercise,
our psychological health... And then, in our
appearance-centric world, our looks, too. Not as vital,
many would argue, as ensuring good overall wellbeing,
but certainly something that plays a role in everyday life.
However, our desire to look (and smell) groomed to socially
acceptable standards is not without its environmental
consequences. The dozens of bottles and tubs adorning our
bathroom shelves are made of increasingly scarce resources,
and despite our best intentions, many of them are destined
for landfills.
Even the most basic personal care products, toothbrushes
and razors, for example, pose an environmental headache.
Around 23,000 tonnes of toothbrushes end up in US
landfill every year (a figure that would be higher if more
people changed their toothbrushes every three months
as recommended), and each year two billion disposable
razors are thrown away in the US. Razor company BIC
introduced the ‘BIC Ecolutions Shaver’, a supposedly ‘green’
disposable razor that helps to counteract the environmental
issues inherent in the product by utilising bioplastics,
recycled materials and a
commitment to a lower
CO2 footprint, but even
this cannot be recycled.
As the website states, the
razor ‘has to be thrown
away in the same garbage
bin as other shavers.
Shavers are very difficult
to recycle because they
are too small and too light
to attract the recycle [sic]
industry’s attention.’
Foraying into the world
of lotions and potions that make promises to de-wrinkle,
soften, illuminate, glossify, plump and so on, it becomes
apparent that this market is creating a lot of ugly waste in
the name of beauty. Euromonitor reports that in 2008, the
cosmetics industry created 120.8 billion units of packaging.
Forty per cent of this was, as you might expect, rigid plastic
(of varying plastic types, serving only to confuse consumers
who would actively seek to recycle it). In the UK, this figure
stands at around 55 per cent. There has been some progress
with bioplastics in this area, but they’re often confused with
regular plastics and can gum up recycling works if put in
the plastic stream, and high water sensitivity means they’re
not suitable for many products. Furthermore, companies
looking for sustainable packaging alternatives are wary of
the ethical implications of bioplastics: many reports suggest
the crops used can drive up food prices and deplete supplies
in developing countries. However, from early 2011 Procter
& Gamble plans to package a range of its leading brands in
a sugarcane-based plastic ‘sustainably’ grown in Brazil, “in
order”, the company says, “to make the most meaningful
improvement to our footprint that we can”.
Still, while there are a number of drives in ‘greening’
packaging, the majority of companies seem slow to
embrace environmental packaging strategies. Organic
Monitor recently released a report stating that ‘cosmetic and
ingredient firms are focusing on green formulation, resource
efficiency and life-cycle assessments of their products when
developing sustainability plans. Although companies are
aware of the environmental impact of packaging, they have
been slow to embrace sustainable packaging solutions.’
Indeed, Jane Bickerstaffe, Director of INCPEN, the Industry
Council for Packaging and the Environment, illustrates this
mentality: “I think to pick on a particular product group like
cosmetics is meaningless”, she says. “It’s part of our lifestyle
and it’s really for the government to decide these things.
If we’re allowed to have [cosmetics], then packaging is the
enabler that allows us to have them.”
However, some pioneering companies take a more
productive approach to the packaging issue. Plant-based
toiletries company Aveda is the largest user of
post-consumer recyclate plastic in the beauty industry, saving
over 450 tonnes of virgin plastic each year. The company
has also recycled 37 million polypropylene caps through its
‘Recycle Caps with Aveda’ campaign. Similarly, natural skin
care specialist, Origins, runs ‘Return to Origins’, a recycling
programme inviting customers to return Origins packaging
in exchange for a free product sample. So far, over seven
tonnes of cosmetic
packaging have been saved
in North America alone.
Lush is another company
striving to eradicate the
environmental damage
that looking good can
do. It’s able to ‘get away’
with minimal packaging,
incentives and, crucially,
highly recycled/recyclable
packaging because, as
Ruth Andrade, Lush’s
Environmental Officer, says, the company has its own shops.
As such it’s able to manage the entire cradle-to-grave (or,
in Lush’s case, cradle-to-cradle) process with environmental
concerns at the forefront. “Our basic premise is this: We use
the cheapest, safest, lightest packaging we can find, or we
use no packaging at all”, she says, referring to Lush’s range
of ‘naked’ bath bombs, shampoo bars and solid shower
gels that come entirely unpackaged. “We use recycled pots
and bottles where necessary, and have a returns policy that
encourages customers to bring their packaging back.” Any
of Lush’s trademark black pots recovered in the north of the
country are sent to Remarkable, responsible for the ‘I used
to be a...’ range of stationery, while any recovered in the
south are simply recycled and reused again as black pots.
The company has even set up its own recycling scheme.
“Our aim is to collect all our own feedstock”, says Andrade.
“So in addition to our own returned material, we’re now
looking into partnerships with schools and councils, to use
their discarded plastics for our packaging.”
However, while Andrade recognises that operating
entirely independently is an advantageous position, she’s
always surprised by the reception the company receives
from others in the industry: “Lots of companies think it’s
quaint, almost amusing, that we do these things.” Indeed,
Lush is admired for its naked products like bath bombs and
shampoo bars and while other companies have taken to
Although companies
are aware of the
environmental impact of
packaging, they have been
slow to embrace sustainable
packaging solutions
SEP-OCT 2010 resource 19
emulating the company by stocking these items, they have
not yet emulated the admirable packaging stance: Holland
& Barrett also sells shampoo bars, which are packaged in
cellophane and a cardboard box, and The Body Shop sells
bath bombs, wrapped in shrink wrap.
Nonetheless, Lush’s success does prove that the
consumer is prepared to rethink cosmetics packaging.
“Companies need to reassure
customers that it’s okay to
buy differently-presented
products”, says Andrade.
“My vision for the future of
cosmetics is refill.”
But some industry heads
remain sceptical about
the potential of refillable
packaging. Bickerstaffe, for
example, believes that the
practicalities of it are “just
crazy”. She says: “I know
The Body Shop used to
offer a refilling service some
years ago, but it meant five
minutes hanging around and a sticky bottle back. Even with
a 10 per cent discount, only two per cent of customers took
advantage of it, so it wasn’t worth having the clutter in the
back of the store. It’s a nice idea, but in today’s lifestyles,
people are living fast.”
Indeed, Bickerstaffe has highlighted some problems of
refillable packaging: time constraints, availability of refills
and dexterity required are but some of the concerns of the
consumer market, and extra shelf space, additional staffing
and increased logistics present problems for companies,
too. However, Dr Rhoda Trimingham, Lecturer in Industrial
and Product Design at Loughborough Design School, is
confident these factors can be overcome, and indeed,
refillable packaging is present across virtually all markets
in the Asia-Pacific region. “Understanding the relationship
between the delivery mechanism, the consumer, the
manufacturer and the brand allows the developer to custom
build a refill system for the scenario in hand to avoid these
potential problems”, she says. Indeed, Trimingham and her
colleagues worked closely with the UK’s leading pharmacy,
Boots, to develop a refillable packaging concept (in this case
a sachet of concentrate mixed in a pump bottle with water,
which Boots is currently finalising), which proved successful.
“It was a hit with consumers”, she says. “It was perceived as
high value and a number of testers said they would give it as
a gift as it was packaged so nicely.”
This idea of ‘gifting’ is crucial, and underpins the prevailing
challenge the cosmetics industry faces in this area:
the consumer mindset towards the appearance
of a product designed to improve one’s
appearance. As Bickerstaffe notes:
“You could buy a basic-looking pot with a nice moisturiser
in it, but it’s going to look fairly foul on your dressing table.
I do think that it’s an emotional thing – that if you’re buying
something to care for yourself you’re putting yourself down
if you buy it in a brown paper bag.”
Not everyone will agree with this view, but it does
demonstrate the need for both consumers and
manufacturers to change
their perceptions towards
beauty packaging.
“It’s important to
include designers who
understand the personal
care market when
developing packaging”,
says Dr Trimingham.
“Value and ‘the gift
experience’ can be
designed into sustainable
packaging just as it can
be with any other sort of
packaging. But there is
always a point at which
you have to hand responsibility to the consumer.”
Encouragingly, though, some major cosmetics retailers
are beginning to pay more attention to the packaging
issue. Estée Lauder, for example, which owns Origins
and Aveda, has a number of other accomplishments
under its belt, including standardising the post-consumer
recycled content of its shipping packaging to 90 per cent,
reducing the size of Clinique’s promotional cartons by
15 per cent and using 80 per cent recycled content in
all of its matte and satin anodised aluminium parts. Chief
Environmental Officer at Estée Lauder, John Delfausse, has
spoken out about the need for joined-up thinking between
manufacturers, retailers, government and consumers,
saying: “Manufacturers must adopt a totally different
thought process at the design stage. It is the responsibility
of industry and government working together to create an
infrastructure that ensures that materials can be recaptured.”
Let’s hope, then, that the thousands of beauty products
that promise to slow down the aging process will eventually
be packaged in such a way as to slow down the wasting
process, too.
Value and ‘the gift
experience’ can be
designed into sustainable
packaging just as it can be
with any other sort
of packaging
20 resource NOV-DEC 2010
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