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Green Packaging – The sustainable future

The pressure on all industries has been great when it comes to sustainability. It is essential to offer alternatives to reduce the use of plastic and seek more sustainable packaging options. In Europe, from 2022 there will be a tax on the use of non-recyclable plastics. This is just the beginning of a serious movement that involves measures to enable an environmental transformation.

The beauty industry has been considered for years as one of the industries that most generates plastic waste in the world. However, this same industry has shown a great creative capacity to respond to offer green alternatives, demonstrating their great respect and commitment to this cause.

The culture of R’s – Reduce, Reuse Recycle

The concern for the future and the guarantee of the preservation of life for the next generations has motivated world leaders to come together to find solutions and plan actions that can make the world better.

The concept of the R´s appeared in 1992, during a meeting of world leaders with 170 countries, which happened in Rio de Janeiro and became known as Eco-92. As a result of this conference, an “Agenda-21” document was drawn up, which defined a global action plan for the 21st century, and from then on a new concept regarding waste disposal emerged: the policy of the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Almost 30 years have passed and this policy is still very current. Sustainable waste management based on the R’s principle is still a challenge and we as a society still need to practice and learn more and more with this concept.

In times of circular economy, pandemic and concerns such as sustainability, practicing the concept of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is still essential. And if the intention is to reduce your company’s carbon footprint, considering the implementation of this policy is still important.

The idea is to reduce consumption, resources and energy expenditure as much as possible. This is the first mentality that needs to be assimilated. Then try to reuse the available resource as much as possible. It is necessary to understand the need to keep an active resource, for the maximum time, in the production chain.

Reuse, giving the packaging a new functionality and avoid unintended disposal. After the product’s useful life is over and has been reused to the maximum, it is now time to Recycle. This way, it will be possible to put this resource back into the value chain to reduce environmental impacts.

Main Trends in Sustainable Packaging

A new culture demands a change in behavior both on the part of the industry and on the part of the consumer who needs to engage and support the new choices. It is a joint effort between brands and consumers. Study and testing are essential to make this option satisfactory and viable.

By associating some trends that have emerged, to each of the main concepts of the 3R’s, we will try to understand the benefits and challenges of each proposed sustainable option.

1. Charging Stations – REDUCE

The idea of refilling the packaging is based on the concept that we buy what is inside the bottle and not the packaging. Charging stations appear as an important bet for the reduction of packaging and bring a different concept from the one we are used to, which is to refill.

The adoption of refillable packaging by all the beauty industry could lead to a 70% reduction in carbon emissions according to the source LCA Center. It is likely that the number of charging stations will increase at the most varied retailers and also at luxury brand stores.

In late 2019, some retailers started taking the first steps to test charging stations in a limited number of stores. The movement was noticed in UK supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and M&S, and also in beauty retailers like Boots and The Body Shop.

Challenge – The main challenge will be to invest in the charging stations themselves and find spaces in stores to make such operations feasible. In addition, it will be necessary to educate the consumer, creating a new culture and encouraging adhesion through benefits to use this channel. Behavior change will require creativity on the part of industry and retail. This is a solution that only works in the physical store.

“The challenge with refills is that only 46% of personal care consumers say they would consider refill systems in-store, so there’s still some work to be done to improve this.” – Matt Maxwell, Director of Strategic Vision at Kantar, according to the Cosmetics Business report. (source: Cosmetics Business)

2. Refill Packaging – REUSE

The refill itself, can be done at home by the consumer and is already a solution more familiar in the market and common as in cleaning products. Refill packs are thinner, simpler, consume less plastic and are cheaper. Products can be positioned on the shelves normally, requiring zero physical structure in retail. However, it needs the consumer to realize the benefit and engage with it, filling their products at home.

Challenge – Requires prior purchase of a common packaging, does not need the physical store to be marketed. And if handled poorly they can lead to product losses and waste.

“In Japan, about 80% of all beauty products, fabrics and home care sold by Kao today are refill packs, which has led Japanese consumers to use 70% less plastic.” Japanese manufacturer Kao of the brands Bioré, Kanebo and Curél. (source: Cosmetics Business)

3. Circular Plastic – RECYCLE

The concept of plastic as the villain and its total withdrawal from the market has been revised. At the moment there is talk of creating a complete sustainable circle for plastic. This concept provides that it can be reused several times and thus remain in the productive chair, without being discarded.

The way plastics were produced made recycling very difficult. Today, new alternatives and technologies have been implemented to ensure easier, cheaper and more effective recycling. New advances are allowing the plastic most used in the packaging of the cosmetic industry, Polypropylene (PP) to be recycled in a high quality propylene (rPP) in a closed cycle. This will help to recycle (PP) and favor the reduction of spending on new resources.

Challenge – The most difficult thing is to deal with the stigma that plastic is the worst packaging for the environment. Distinguishing the concepts well and educating the consumer about the advantages and disadvantages, compared to other alternatives, will be necessary. It is also important to explain, to the consumer, that plastic is already a resource, although not natural, and that it is present and needs to be used.

“Plastic is not the enemy, it is the way we are managing it that needs to be turned upside down” – Professor Edward Kosior, Managing Director, Nextek. (source: Cosmetics Business)

Important Concepts

Biodegradable packing
This concept means that the packaging components are capable of suffering the natural degradation of their material, whether through microorganisms, bacteria and fungi, or through other biological activity. In this biological process, the materials are metabolized to CO2, water and biomass.

However, being able to be biodegradable does not necessarily guarantee that a product is ecologically viable or correct. The time factor is very important in this concept. Plastics, for example, are biodegradable but can last for hundreds of years in the environment until they can decompose.

Compostable packing
Composting is a man-made process that creates specific conditions for the material to be biodegraded. To be called compostable these materials or packaging must be able to biodegrade into a nutrient-rich compost that can be used to grow plants.

Compostability refers to materials that degrade over a period of 180 days under composting standards and conditions. In these standards, there are codes and rules to ensure that under specific conditions officially a material can be considered compostable.

Products that meet these standards are certified and labeled and thus will be formally compostable. The most common standards used for packaging products are European EN 13432 (for packaging) and American ASTM D6400 (for plastic material in general).

Industrial composting guarantees and fully meets these standards. Materials must be sent to commercial composting facilities along with organic waste. Products placed in homemade compost bins can still compost, but there is no guarantee that they will completely biodegrade or decompose within a specified period.

Thus, it is concluded that composting is biodegradable but under specific conditions. Unlike compostable items, biodegradables also have no guarantee that they will decompose safely on land. This means that all compostable material is biodegradable, however not all biodegradable material is compostable.

Innovative Packaging – A creative industry

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” ALBERT EINSTEIN

Creativity and inspiration in the elements of nature has created alternatives for the market in packaging unthinkable until then. Much investment in technology and study by industries has provided advances and offered valuable solutions to the market. The great pressure on the brands has been the driving force to find greener alternatives or bio-based options. Below are some alternatives practiced by the market.

These plastics are made from renewable sources of biomass, such as plants, and not from fossil fuels, such as conventional plastics. Bioplastic can be made from sugar cane, corn, cassava, beet, among others. However, this term does not necessarily mean that plastic is biodegradable and it is important to be aware that there is no misinterpretation.

PLA (or polylactic acid) is a plastic made from plant-based materials – most commonly corn starch. This bioplastic is biodegradable, recyclable, biocompatible and bioabsorbable. Compared to conventional petroleum plastics, which take 500 to 1000 years to degrade, PLA gains by leaps and bounds, since its degradation takes six months to two years to happen. And when it is disposed of correctly it turns into harmless substances, because it is easily degraded by water. The disadvantage is that PLA is a more expensive production plastic and its composting only occurs under ideal conditions.

RECYCLED WOOD FIBER – The molded fiber packaging is made with renewable wood or recycled fibers, it is biodegradable and recyclable. Brands like Lush and the fragrance brand Floral Street have joined this innovation.

CORK – REGENERATIVE PACKAGING – Cork has been used for pots and flasks. In 2019, the Lush brand launched a cork pot. The packaging is lighter and biodegradable and is a good alternative to replace plastic.

CARDBOARD – BISNAGAS AND BOTTLES – Cardboard is easily biodegradable and recyclable as well as lighter than plastic. Packaging supplier Stora Enso has launched a cardboard tube that is suitable for the primary packaging of creams due to its barrier-coated material that is resistant to grease.

MYCELIUM – The packaging is made from the vegetative body of the fungi – mushroom. It is possible to produce a dense, resistant and malleable material, which can serve as a raw material for packaging. The substance is biodegradable and is an innovative alternative for packaging.

There are many alternatives in innovative packaging and this is just the beginning. It is worth remembering that all packaging needs to be evaluated considering the waste management capacity in the market that will be used.

Consumers have many doubts about what are the best sustainable packaging alternatives and how to proceed with disposal. It is important to create easy and effective solutions that ensure that the chosen packaging is actually disposed of correctly. Otherwise, all effort and innovation will be in vain.

As a brand owner it is important to find your green identity and establish the best way to make your business more sustainable. There are countless alternatives, either through ingredients, managing your value chain and even reducing the use of energy to produce cleaner products. But one cannot lose focus and consistency between all these strategies.


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