A Growing Responsibility For Sustainable Packaging

As consumer demand and global regulations push for increased sustainable packaging, beauty buyers are growing ever more conscious about their choices.

Here, we check in on the 5R’s, material advances from PCR to mushrooms, why transparency is now a must—and new calls for industry collaboration. (And don’t miss the revealing experts’ conversation on this topic,)

If there’s one thing that everyone in the beauty industry can agree upon, it’s that there’s no perfect answer or definition when it comes to sustainability and sustainable packaging solutions. Even the meaning of the now expanded 5R’s (once 3R’s) is interpreted differently—from Reduce, Refill/Reuse, Recycle, Replace, Respect—to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (per zerowasteexchange.org).

Further, “the word ‘sustainability’ has become overused in the industry,” according to Sarah Jindal, associate director-global beauty & personal care at Mintel, “and oftentimes not correctly, which has led to confusion on the part of the consumer.” She says this has resulted in a shift in thinking.

Now, explains Jindal, “With ‘sustainability fatigue’ increasing, ‘responsibility’ is taking over. The concept of responsibility intimates a more personal relationship between the user and their surroundings, driving more active involvement.”

Transparency Takes Control

In general, Jindal says the use of recycled materials for rigid and flexible packaging of any material type will continue to resonate with consumers, “but transparency demands will be greater across the entire supply chain.” Carbon footprint reporting is just one example of transparent tracking that consumers are looking for.”

In March 2021, L’Oréal’s incoming CEO Nicolas Hieronimus emphasized the company’s commitment to transparency and increased sustainability goals—from ingredients to packaging—at the firm’s first Transparency Summit. He also said packaging will include scannable QR codes so consumers can easily learn more about a product’s ingredients.

Hieronimus said: “Consumers expect full transparency from brands and companies,” adding that especially during Covid-19, “Sustainability is more than ever an imperative.”

But while sustainability has essentially become a mandate in Beauty, the challenges are many—and similar to what the pandemic has taught the world—“we’re all in this together.”

Jess Abrams, executive director, sustainable development, Shiseido Americas, says she sees the future of sustainable packaging as a collaborative effort, with Beauty “becoming an industry that brings together vendors, suppliers, and competitors alike… We are all facing similar challenges at various stages of the supply chain so why not share our learnings to better the industry?” (Please see Abrams’ full comments here.)

To move sustainable goals ahead, there will also have to be a change in consumers’ behavior and relationship to the products, particularly in regard to refillables.

Nick Dormon, founder and managing director of UK-based Echo Brand Design, says: “Consumers have to adapt to new behaviors of beauty consumption. Today’s consumer expects so much more when it comes to convenience—personalization as well as sustainability. A new wave of products is beginning to launch designed with refill in mind. These solutions not only prevent excessive packaging waste but are creating new opportunities for a more personalized and inclusive solution.”

A Rise in Refillables

Prior to Covid-19, says Dormon, in-store shopping accounted for 85% of beauty product purchases, “but unsurprisingly, today online revenues for beauty-industry players have risen 20-30%. “The pandemic has nudged our beauty purchasing habits online and therefore the role of packaging has evolved,” he says. “Sustainable refills may capture our desire for a more personalized and streamlined solution and packaging becomes part of a subscription model, much like Nespresso with their variety of coffee pods. The common critique around beauty is that you are spending more on the packaging than the actual product. With this new method of delivery, customers will see greater value in refills with the durable device a one-off upfront cost.”

While there are no Federal level sustainable packaging restrictions yet in the U.S., several other countries have taken steps to deal with excesses.

For example, Nick Vaus, partner & creative director, Free The Birds, says the UK government has imposed a new plastic packaging tax, arriving in April 2022. He says this “will no doubt be a catalyst for positive change in this direction [re-usable, refillable packaging]. He says U.S. consumers already have the chance to purchase durable, sustainable packaging from Loop and Ultra Beauty which can be refilled, limiting the plastic waste from beauty products, and “we might see more re-usable packaging here [UK] for certain products.” The crucial point,” he says, “is that beauty brands not only need to embrace sustainable practices like biodegradable packaging and organic ingredients, they also need to be transparent about their efforts and help educate consumers on how to take care of the packaging after use to create genuine, long-term impact on the sustainability agenda.”

At GreenBlue, an arm of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), Olga Kachook, senior manager, sees the pluses of refillables for brands, consumers and retailers. She says, “Reusable and refillable packaging is an opportunity to build. Beauty brands can consider offering inserts or refills for products, while retailers might consider offering in-store refill stations.” (See more on how to reduce packaging in Kachook’s Expert’s View at BeautyPackaging.com.)

Refillable packaging is an emphasis at clean beauty retailer Credo. Mia Davis, VP of sustainability and impact, says, “Packaging is going to get much more sustainable, and that is great news…companies like Credo are establishing industry-leading sustainability policies, which we hope and expect will create positive ripple-effects through the entire beauty space. One big sustainability opportunity: refillable packaging.”  

Jay Bolus, senior advisor of MBDC, a firm co-founded in 1995 by architect William McDonough, tells Beauty Packaging, they are currently assessing all of UK-based cosmetics company Beauty Kitchen’s products and packaging for Cradle to Cradle Certification, which includes working with the entire supply chain to evaluate materials down to parts per million. All of Beauty Kitchen’s products are sold in reusable packaging, with options for in-store or mail-in refill programs. Bolus explains, “They chose aluminum for most of their packaging because of its durability and ease of sanitizing, which is critical right now.”

“Reusability will be key for cosmetics packaging in the future,” says Bolus, “and the challenge is creating these products that are easy and accessible for customers to use while ensuring they feel safe doing so.”

Refillables at the Ready

Suppliers in the beauty industry have been hard at work on an impressive array of refillables for brands looking to make a sustainable, impactful statement with their packaging.

Josh Kirschbaum, CEO of WWP Beauty, says the company helps educate their customers on all of their options when it comes to sustainability. “Using our Eco Analyzer tool to generate real and validated eco claims can help customers identify the sustainable impact of their packaging selections, as well as educate and inform their customers of this impact.”

WWP’s new Refillable Body Stick features “a versatile and sustainable design that can be used for solid antiperspirants, skin care, color cosmetics, body care, sunblock and so much more.” In addition to being refillable, Kirschbaum explains that the outer body of this component can be made with PCR content and the refillable cartridge features a mono-material design that also has the ability to be made with PCR content. “This gives brands looking to increase their sustainability impact more options with one component. The refill can be easily removed and replaced. This component pairs well with our other new sustainable sticks including our ColorVue Lipstick and Refillable Cheek Stick.”

At ICS, CEO Sue Nichols, says, “Being sustainable and eco-conscious are core principles,” and options continue to grow—currently including mono-material and recyclable packaging, PCR and PCR ocean plastics, refillable packaging, ICS exclusive biodegradable packaging, glass, aluminum and paper packaging, sugarcane, bio-resins, and eco-friendly decoration options.

 Nichols says, “Adapting a pack to make it refillable or reusable is a highly innovative solution to make a product sustainable. The simple concept of refilling and reusing is a great way to replace single-use plastic and help reduce waste on our planet.” ICS offers a variety of refillable packaging options, including new, sleek, refillable single- and duo-end pencils, available with a variety of applicator and tip options. “Simply unscrew the tip of the pencil and swap out the empty cartridge once all the formulation is used up, and then replace with a new pencil bullet cartridge.”

Berry Global’s Infinity Quartz PET jar has a number of sustainable advantages, according to Vali Braselton, the company’s marketing manager, Consumer Products NA. She says the jar offers a lightweight, refillable and customizable option as an alternative to glass. “The modern, premium thick-wall design comes in PET and rPET and can be paired with our matching PET closure,” says Braselton. “The 50ml removable inner pod, available in multiple colors, includes a refillable option, and turns this already-sustainable package into a reusable solution that aligns well with beauty brands’ sustainability goals. It’s customizable thanks to a wide range of color options…

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