A Fine Balance: Environmentally Responsible Packaging in the Beauty World
Package optimization, corporate policy and cost factors weigh in on efforts to minimize environmental impact while protecting and delivering the product.
A family of items decorated by Decotech using organic decorating techniques
Outside of the beauty industry, high-performance sport-lifestyle company Puma, which takes great pride in its corporate sustainability efforts, recently announced a line of recyclable and/or biodegradable clothing, footwear and accessories launching globally for Spring/Summer 2013. The collection was designed to help consumers reduce their carbon footprint by eliminating waste at the end of the products’ lifetime—and ultimately satisfying the rigorous requirements of closed loop Cradle-to-Cradle certification. Sustainable materials were chosen for the manufacturing of the athletic goods, and consumers can bring back their well-used products to Puma retailers for recycling, composting or other eco-friendly processes.
Origins has recycled more than 24,000 pounds of cosmetic packaging since 2009, thanks to its collection program.
In the beauty world, Origins’ commitment to eco-friendly practices and packages led to its Return to Origins Recycling Program, designed to help consumers return their empty cosmetic packaging to Origins stores—regardless of brand—for collection, recycling or conversion to energy, in order to help protect the planet. Customers even receive free Origins product samples as a reward for their participation. The program is currently active in North America, the UK, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. Since the launch of the program in 2009, Origins reports that it has recycled more than 24,000 pounds of cosmetic packaging.
Puma and Origins are just two standout examples of manufacturers that are going the extreme distance to satisfy the growing numbers of today’s consumers (beauty and otherwise) who want to feel a sense of social responsibility about the products they are purchasing, as well as boosting their own corporate efforts to lower their carbon footprints.
While efforts toward achieving environmentally friendly packaging in the beauty world have taken giant leaps in the last decade or so, the issues can be more complicated than they are for some other consumer goods. For instance, formula compatibilities and protection of the products continue to pose major challenges for the industry as a whole—not to mention the added difficulty of producing aesthetically pleasing luxe components, which serve as beauty accessories.
While Dr. Benjamin Punchard, senior global packaging analyst, Mintel, says, “Environmentally friendly packaging has certainly grown in importance in beauty and personal care,” he adds that growth has leveled for a number of reasons.
Back in 2007, less than 1% of global launches had any kind of environmentally friendly packaging claim, according to Mintel research; by 2008 that had grown to 8%. Since then, Punchard says, “Things have flattened out a bit—but definitely not declined. It may be that part of the reason for this plateauing is that in beauty and personal care, there is a high focus on image and for these products, recycled materials do not give a high-quality finish, and simplifying the packaging to facilitate recyclability could impact on the brand communication.”
Recyclability, too, says Punchard, which “is the core environmental claim accounting for most of the ‘green’ packs, may come into play, as packaging such as laminated tubes is difficult to recycle and not often collected for recycling.” Similarly, he says that compacts/cases and lipstick mechanisms (injection molded rigid plastics) are rarely collected for recycling and so it is difficult for these packs to make eco-friendly claims.
Still, brands with a “green” DNA have achieved success with an alternative end of life solution to recycling, such as with Origins.
Punchard points to Comfort Zone Sacred Nature in the UK—a premium lip care product in a lipstick case made from biodegradable PLA as a prime example.
Despite the complexities of approaching packaging from an environmentally friendly point of view, the overall concept of sustainability, itself, and its many arms, has worked its way firmly into today’s corporate business model.
David Luttenberger, CPP, VP, packaging strategist, CEB Iconoculture, notes the progress made. “More than a decade into the push toward a total systems approach to sustainability, to including all aspects of packaging, we are at a point where it’s ‘business as usual, not an unusual way to do business.’ It’s as much a part of the conversation as procurement costs and marketing strategies,” he adds.
Luttenberger says environmentally responsible packaging (the term he prefers over sustainable packaging) has become an essential tenet of doing business. He explains that the term “environmentally responsible” connotes elements of eco-responsibility, while not making a sweeping, across-the-board claim of total sustainability. Moreover, consumers understand what it means to be responsible. “They don’t necessarily understand in total, what sustainability means,” he says.
One thing consumers do seem to understand—is that they want more products and services they can feel good about in this way—and brands, suppliers and retailers are working hard to measure up to expectations.
According to Luttenberger, corporate compliance is no longer a choice. He says, “Any consumer packaged goods producer today who is not already deeply embedded in responsible processes, including sourcing, production, design, converting, distribution, and end-of-life or second-life scenarios for the packaging it produces, has likely already lost market share.” He says this is due to the fact that pressure from major retailers and consumers is too great. “Consumers shop with retailers they trust, and they depend on those retailers to be taking the lead in delivering eco-responsible products and services.”
While many beauty companies and industry suppliers are operating in a sustainable manner and/or producing innovative packaging components, cost savings has also been a great motivating factor for beauty companies to get on board.
Rosemarie Downey, head of packaging research at Euromonitor International, tells Beauty Packaging: “Across the beauty spectrum from mainstream to super premium luxury beauty products, there is growing evidence of environmentally friendly packaging solutions from the rising use of packaging that is recyclable, in the uptake of refills, in increasing use of bio-polymers, of plant-based materials, of PLA and, of course, continuing packaging design innovation that is allowing more light-weighting to take place. Where the adoption of a sustainable packaging solution also procures cost savings, as we see that it often does, then this can be seen as a real win-win situation.”
Downey says there is also a growing consumer concern regarding the disposal of packaging waste and for the ability of the consumer to recycle the packaging post-use. She says, “Specifically in the beauty industry, the concern for sustainability is certainly coming more to the fore, translated into a greater emphasis placed on reducing water, energy and waste consumption in the manufacturing process. Packaging is included in this with pack light-weighting and increased use of renewable, recycled and recyclable materials.”
Whereas the three R’s—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—have long been the guiding approach to sustainability, and the one that’s perhaps best understood by consumers, there’s been a gradual expansion, a modification in thinking—more to that of an optimal package—and how it best makes its way from concept to consumer in an environmentally responsible and efficient manner.
Joan Pierce, executive director of The American Institute for Packaging and the Environment, an advocacy organization for environmental packaging issues, says, “The past few years have seen a shift in the priority that has been placed on environmental performance. Packages were designed with Reduce, Reuse, Recycle as part of the design brief. Now Responsibly Sourced, Renewable, Recoverable are part of the design brief as well. Phrases like ‘carbon neutral’ and tools such as life cycle assessment are now part of the everyday life of the packaging professional.”
When it comes to the development of more sustainable packaging, a holistic, system-wide approach moves the discussion in a new direction—one of optimization, according to Pierce. She says, “To enhance sustainability, an optimal package maximizes both the effectiveness needed to ensure that products are transported, displayed, purchased, stored, and used as intended; and the economic and environmental efficiency with which these functions occur.”
From this perspective, she says, “We should be thinking more about goals to optimize packaging, not minimize it.”
Pierce says a product goods company or retailer could set a packaging target such as: Optimize packaging to maximize effectiveness related to product delivery and use, and efficiency related to economic and environmental resource consumption.
Optimization of the package and process will provide the greatest results and likely in the shortest period of time, according to Pierce. “What makes this approach even better is the financial reward that goes with it. Most optimization projects will also be cost improvement projects. Optimization provides the opportunity for a win-win project,” she says.
Luttenberger, too, stresses the “O” word as part of a more responsible way of sourcing, designing and converting packaging. He says, adding the “O” word— optimization—to the well-known mantra Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is critical. “If we can optimize both current traditional materials and the entire genre of next-generation bio-materials, and also take greater advantage of the existing recycling infrastructures while we simultaneously develop new recycling streams and build true food-grade-packaging composting facilities, then we are on the right track.”
While Luttenberger’s vision may be highly ambitious and may take years to realize, all of the beauty packaging suppliers we spoke to for this article agreed that the path to sustainable solutions is of growing concern. Similar to what Pierce and Luttenberger have detailed, suppliers note that the solutions are not simple, and a holistic, balanced approach that looks at “the big picture” works best.
What it really comes down to though, is a difficult balance: between being eco-friendly—and protecting the product. For instance, light-weighting may have many advantages, but, brands must weigh the outcome of reducing materials versus the protection and delivery of the product. Above all else, suppliers agree that protection of the product has to be the priority. So most decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
Mike Warford, national sales manager, ABA Packaging states the criteria that ABA and its manufacturing partners follow in this regard: “All available packaging material options must be able to provide adequate containment, product protection, good functionality, and an acceptable level of compatibility with the product they contain and dispense.” He says that this cannot be taken lightly and product testing, which is always recommended with any packaging materials, is a must-have when considering many of the eco-friendly options. “Where recycled content materials are considered, it is important that they come from known, approved, and repeatable waste streams and that the properties and usage levels are consistent from batch to batch,” he further explains.
At RockTenn, Jessica Kimbrough, VP, marketing, consumer packaging, agrees. “Product protection and overall packaging functionality are still paramount, as the package has to perform through production, filling, distribution, retail shelf and consumer use. Selecting materials that are appropriate for the product is a fundamental aspect of packaging development, thus the weight of the materials for both the primary and secondary packaging have a major impact on product through the life cycle.”
Dr. Gerald Rebitzer, sustainability leader, Amcor Flexibles Europe & Americas, says, “Protection, shelf-life, functionality, etc., are the basis for any sustainability efforts.”
Any package that compromises product protection or delivery to the consumer cannot be considered as beneficial, according to Dr. Gerald Rebitzer, sustainability leader, Amcor Flexibles Europe & Americas. “Protection, shelf-life, functionality, etc., are the basis for any sustainability efforts, since in most cases the impact of losing or wasting a bit of the product has a much higher environmental impact than the packaging itself.”
Not to mention turning consumers off to repurchasing.
What are some of the main initiatives brands and suppliers are taking to produce packaging that protects the product, but also adheres to an environmentally responsible mission?
ABA Packaging’s Warford notes a general request for moving in an eco-friendly direction. He says that ABA is receiving a growing number of requests from new and existing customers for “the most eco-friendly packaging options.” He says, “These requests are always quite challenging as the solutions vary greatly for each type of product that our customers are looking to package. In every application there is always a balance that must be achieved between providing the best eco-friendly packaging options while ensuring at the same time that those choices provide adequate containment, product protection, compatibility, functionality, acceptable aesthetics, and are of course affordable. For some products there are many eco-friendly packaging options available while for others there are few, if any.”
Many suppliers and brands target source reduction in order to improve their carbon footprint.
Rebitzer tells Beauty Packaging that the strongest trend continues to be source reduction (down gauging and general material reduction), followed by a focus on recycling.
Scott G. Booth, chief operating officer, Envision Plastics, agrees that the biggest sustainable push is still to reduce waste.He says, “Since beauty care packaging has the highest frequency of change of any packaging, there is always the potential for waste due to discontinued, obsolete and restaged products. Use of recycled content is still a primary strategy, though, due to the significant savings in energy to produce recycled plastic. This energy savings provides a fantastic and measurable carbon footprint reduction for companies tracking and reporting on their carbon footprint.”
But recycling can also be difficult depending on what programs are offered in various communities and regions of the world.
Rebitzer says, “Recycling is specifically challenging and important in markets where there is a lack of suitable recycling infrastructure for many materials, such as in the U.S.” Apart from these environmental criteria, he says, “There is also an emphasis on social requirements in the supply chain. Brands want to be assured that there are no hidden risks in the supply chain, e.g., related to unfair labor practices. Suppliers, who can demonstrate effective policies and procedures have an advantage, since these aspects protect brand value.”
At RockTenn, Kimbrough says, “The macro trends of the past several years are continuing.” She notes a shift toward using recyclable substrates, a focus on consistency of branding and a consolidation of the packaging footprint along product lines, as well as a move toward “right-sized packaging,” where packaging is designed around the product, and elements that make packaging larger are eliminated. She says they are also seeing interest in one-piece carton designs and/or insert card designs that limit the use of poly vac trays.
Kimbrough says RockTenn continues to see strong interest from customers who desire packaging with a lower environmental footprint, but do not want to impact the package’s on-shelf and in-store appeal. She says that customers are particularly showing increasing interest in utilizing recycled material for their paperboard packages. “Paperboard is well positioned to meet the rising demand due to the availability and lower overall cost of 100% recycled paperboard compared to other substrates, such as plastic,” says Kimbrough.
Similar to Kimbrough, Dr. Rebitzer says that customers looking for environmentally responsible packaging solutions possess increased knowledge and specific requirements. A few years ago, he says, “Demands were often based on perception of sustainability or single issues such as the desire to use renewable materials, while today the discussion is much more fact-based and related to clearly defined performance criteria based on life cycle assessment as well as international social standards.”
He says this has been triggered not only by an enhanced level of knowledge in the industry, but also by standardization efforts such as the global packaging project that defines a global language for packaging sustainability and that defines metrics and procedures on how to measure sustainability in packaging (http://globalpackaging.mycgforum.com/).
Rebitzer also points out that it’s of utmost importance that any claims of sustainable practices or environmentally responsible packaging stack up. He says, “With increased scrutiny and influence of social media, it is more critical than ever to be credible and to base claims on facts that can be backed up with data and international standards/consensus. On the specific product level, this means that packaging sustainability has to be measured just like cost or technical quality—realizing that a one-size-fits-all solution or a silver bullet does not exist.”
Anthony Gentile, director of art and marketing at sample and single dose manufacturer XelaPack, says he has also noticed customers looking more at the entire process and package when examining the sustainability of a project rather than just looking at the package itself as many companies tried to do in the past.
“Today,” says Gentile, “product companies that are environmentally minded know that the process by which a package is produced often outweighs the simple environmental claims of the package itself. Buying a recyclable bottle from an overseas company that does nothing to respect the environment and claiming that your packaging is recyclable is not enough anymore.” He says that the entire footprint of the project needs to be taken into consideration to understand the full environmental impact.
Environmentally responsible packages are evidenced throughout the beauty industry—whether subtle or touted—both in corporate practices and in materials from plastics to cartons, glass to metals. One area in which a lot of progress has been made is in plastics packaging.
Warford says that a number of ABA’s manufacturing partners offer innovative approaches toward providing eco-friendly packaging options in plastics. For instance, the Promens Airfree “bag-in-bottle” ECOsolution airless packaging line (which is offered exclusively by ABA Packaging in the U.S.) “combines a simple eco-conceived design with high performance.” It features only plastic components—no metal or glass parts. In some areas, Warford says the package has been certified as being 100% recyclable (without being disassembled) and has attained an Ecocert stamp, “which is an uncommon achievement for any airless package.” According to Warford, it has about 50% less parts than classic piston-type airless packages. Because the product is contained within a protective inner pouch, there is greater opportunity to use higher levels of recycled content materials in the external bottle without fear of contamination.
Promens’Airfree “bag-in-bottle” ECOsolution airless packaging line (which is offered exclusively by ABA Packaging in the U.S.) features only plastic components—no metal or glass parts. The bottle and dispenser are 100% recyclable in the HDPE recyclability stream.
Promens has also designed a refillable Natura Pack option for a number of its stock plastic jar packages. Their Opal, Ruby, Crystal, Eco-Crystal, Anfora and Gaia 50ml plastic jars are now available with a plastic cup that can be removed when emptied by the consumer and replaced with new product allowing for the possibility for re-use of the mating outer jar shell and cap.
Envision Plastics’ Booth says his company, which provides post-consumer recycled resins to the industry, has increased production and upped sales of EcoPrime, its proprietary, FDA-approved, food-grade HDPE (high-density polyethylene plastic) resin. Booth says the company has procured, recycled and kept more than a billion bottles from reaching landfills in 46 out of 50 states. Envision works with a number of consumer product companies, including L’Oréal and Estée Lauder, in the beauty industry.
Envision supplies EcoPrime for L’Oréal’s Pureology hair care product line.
Pureology shampoo and conditioner bottles impress consumers with a clear sustainability message embossed on each bottle.
Booth explains, “Pureology has a strong commitment to the environment and wanted to use only the purest post consumer recycled resin available. They chose EcoPrime and use it at a 50% content level in all their hair care product packaging. They even emboss the recycled content level on each bottle.
As discussed earlier in this article, light-weighting is one popular approach for brands adopting environmentally responsible packaging.
Compression has emerged as another. Premiering in the household industry with laundry detergents from brands including Method and Tide, this strategy has now entered personal care and beauty.
Euromonitor’s Downey comments on the most recent initiative in this area—Unilever’s range of compressed metal aerosol cans for its Dove, Vaseline and Sure women’s deodorant brands, which premiered on store shelves in the UK (and throughout Europe). “This has really been quite a big launch thus far, already supported by some strong marketing and attractive pricing campaigns,” says Downey. “The aerosol is 75ml in size rather than 150ml, containing less than half the gas volume meaning that each aerosol can contains about 25% less metal than its 150ml aerosol can predecessor and likely could be the start of a new trend for compressed deodorants.”
“Lasts as long with less packaging” is the phrase that is positioned tograb consumers attention when they eye Unilever’s new condensed deodorant packages (from Lindal) on store shelves.
According to Lindal Group, the company that was involved in the development of the new compressed aerosol system for Unilever, the smaller cans last as long as the old product, use 50% of the propellant, are half the size and reduce the overall carbon footprint of the product through 28% less aluminum and further transportation and stocking gains (e.g., more packs stacked per pallet).
Philip Brand, Lindal Group’s global marketing director, shares his optimism for the trend. “There will be an initial period of consumer education, followed by comprehensive acceptance of, and demand for, the new aerosol platform, based upon what we witnessed regarding end-user behavior with the new concentrated laundry detergent conversion.”
He continues: “We anticipate that this Unilever launch represents a game-changer for a huge product category—and that means good news for retailers, consumers and us at Lindal Group. We can expect other brands to look to Unilever’s lead and launch their own versions of ‘compressed’ personal care products.”
Due to its eco-friendly characteristics, glass has seen a renewed popularity, not only for fragrance use, but also for cosmetics and personal care.
ABA’s Warford says, “We’ve seen increased activity in the use of glass bottles and jars due to their sustainability and ease of recycling.”
At Decotech, Richard Engel, executive vice president, Decotech, Inc., tells Beauty Packaging: “Glass is, by its nature, an environmentally friendly material.It is inert and can be easily recycled. It does not contaminate the environment with degradation. So in our case, the focus is on the processes used to decorate the package. Our goals regarding sustainability have all arisen from our own initiatives. In that regard we have been told by many clients that we are well ahead of the curve compared to others in our industry.”
A move toward flexible packaging has also proved to be environmentally responsible in many cases.
Euromonitor’s Downey says that refill pouches represent a substantial savings in packaging material consumption over their rigid plastic bottle equivalent. She says global consumption of stand-up pouches in beauty and personal care amounted to 470 million units in 2012, with sales forecast to rise by a further 3% in 2013.
Downey offers the Sanex brand as just one such example, where the 500ml pouch represents a 73% lighter alternative to the rigid plastic bottle. She says this brand is seeing additional country launches, so can definitely be regarded as another eco-friendly pack.
Amcor’s non-foil sachet material is suitable for retail and hand distribution sampling sachets similar to 3-ply foil options.
At Amcor, one of the focuses is on non-foil sachet material, which Rebitzer says can be challenging.
“The primary challenge in developing a sustainability-focused solution is to develop a product that meets the applications requirements (i.e., barrier, burst, chemical resistance, etc.),” says Rebitzer, “with a significant positive impact on the environmental footprint.” The real challenge, he says, is to balance raw material manufacturing and selection as well as processing to maximize the product’s overall performance. He cites Amcor’s development of the non-foil sachet as an excellent example of this accomplishment. “The material provides a superior level of product protection as well as improved chemical resistance while delivering a reduced environmental impact.” He says Amcor’s non-foil sachet material is suitable for retail and hand distribution sampling sachets similar to 3-ply foil options.
Xela Pack produced samples of BROO in its Coupon Top Pack, which allows the brand to print a coupon directly onto the tab portion of the packet rather than needing to upply an additional coupon to the sample.
“Samples with a conscience” are a top priority at Xela Pack, where Gentile says, “Brands today are looking to reduce the amount of packaging material used for their samples while not reducing the impact of that sampling opportunity.” He says, “The goal is to get the best possible product sample into your potential consumers’ hands, while minimizing the environmental impact of that process as much as possible for environmental and economic reasons alike.”
Xela Pack recently produced samples of several different types of shampoo, conditioner and body wash for Microbroo, the makers of the BROO brand. The samples are constructed using approximately 75% paper, and all paper is SFI and FSC certified. The paper is then converted into a paper/foil/poly laminate that uses about 92% less plastic than same-sized bottles and tubes, offering a large reduction in plastic by simply using the Xela Pack sampling pack. Xela Pack also produced samples of BROO in its Coupon Top Pack, which allows them to print a coupon directly onto the tab portion of the packet rather than needing to supply an additional coupon to the sample.
The term zero waste has been cropping up more when companies tout their environmentally responsible programs and corporate practices.
Procter & Gamble recently announced that 45 of its facilities have now achieved zero manufacturing waste to landfill, which the company says, “marks a major step toward its long-term vision of sending zero manufacturing and consumer waste to landfills.”
Specialized glass decorator Decotech also has a significant zero waste policy to boast about.
Engel tells Beauty Packaging: “Everything we do here takes account of our environmental commitment. In fact, we have been recognized by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Stewardship Initiative for our ‘voluntary and proactive measures taken to go beyond compliance in an effort to improve the environment and ensure a sustainable future.’ ”
Engel says Decotech has actively reduced and eliminated any environmentally problematic processes over the years and today “we can proudly say we are a zero-waste-to-landfill facility. We re-use and recycle as much as possible, and the waste that can’t be recycled is converted to energy in a partnership we have with local waste management companies.” He adds: “Your home literally contributes more waste to landfills than our entire factory does.”
As previously noted, beauty and personal care packaging suppliers are making environmentally sustainable choices throughout the supply chain.
At RockTenn, for example, Kimbrough says they have “a supply chain approach to packaging development that involves early collaboration with our customers to identify opportunities for innovating through the lens of sustainability, from material selection and design to next generation packaging solutions.”
A new $400 million recovery boiler makes it possible for the Iggesund Mill to become nearly self-sufficient in terms of energy. It also paves the way for the mill to largely free itself from the use of fossil fuels in production.
In 2012, Iggesund Paperboard’s production of Invercote in Iggesund, Sweden surpassed all previous environmental achievements at the mill, according to Anna Mårtensson, environmental manager at Iggesund Mill. She says that despite record-high manufacturing levels, emissions of environmentally harmful substances were lower than ever before.
She says that over the years, Iggesund has taken a variety of steps to reduce its emissions. The mill began separating out the leftover fibers that had passed through the pulping process with the aid of mechanical purification in sedimentation basins. In the 1970s another step was taken with the construction of an aerated lagoon, where microorganisms clean the wastewater to a higher standard. In 2009, the mill added a third stage, chemical purification, in which the wastewater is treated in the same way that drinking water is treated.
“Now we can clearly see the effects of the third stage,” Mårtensson says. “The oxygen-consuming substances have been greatly reduced and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, which are so harmful to the marine ecosystem in the Baltic Sea, have been almost halved.”
According to Mårtensson, Iggesund’s new $400 million recovery boiler makes it possible for the mill to become almost self-sufficient in terms of energy. It also paves the way for the mill to largely free itself from the use of fossil fuels in production.
While the many paths to environmentally responsible packaging can be quite complex, in the end, Luttenberger says the approach is rather straightforward.
“It may sound over simplistic,” he says, “but brands need to share with consumers exactly what they can do with a package when they are done with the product.”
He says, “This doesn’t mean, ‘recycle where facilities exist.’ It means providing actionable information about what consumers can do with each component of a package, in their local municipality. This goes back to a more responsible way of sourcing, designing, and converting packaging: Adding the ‘O’ word—optimization—to the well-known mantra Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”
Perhaps most important, says Luttenberger, is not to stop when you reach your environmentally responsible goal. “There is always a new area to explore,” he says. “New materials, new packaging machinery that uses even less energy, or any number of elements that can earn your brand social equity points among loyal consumers.”
His other advice: Hire students from the major package engineering and design schools, such as Michigan State, Clemson, and the Brand Packaging Design School at NYC’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “These students have grown up in and have been educated in an era in which they naturally think in terms of environmental responsibility.”
For more on Environmentally Responsible Packaging, please see articles in this issue from frontrunner brands Aveda and Tarte; and from Victor Bell, president of Environmental Packaging International, a consultancy specializing in global environmental packaging and product stewardship requirements.
More info: www.beautypackaging.comwww.beautypackaging.com