”We don’t see the point in waiting for a perfect and sustainable packaging to appear”
On the challenges when recycling beauty packaging
June 06, 2023
Who are you?
— I am the CSR Manager at IDUN Minerals, leading our packaging transformation project and in charge of all our sustainability work.
How did this packaging transformation come to life?
— In 2018, we launched our haircare line in bottles made of ’recyclable’ plastic. We were quite happy with this ’eco-friendly’ packaging until a customer asked why the packaging was black since black plastic is more difficult to sort and recycle. No one at the company was aware of this at the time, so we started to read more about materials and packaging and realised that we had a huge room for improvement. Almost all our makeup packaging was made in Asia out of black acrylic or ABS plastic with mirrors and metal details. Since then, we have reviewed our entire packaging range to update and improve its design and many of our products today have new packaging in light-coloured PP, PET, or PE plastic. Our aim is also to reduce our packaging materials, use more recycled or renewable resources as well as mono-materials or design packaging that is easy to separate to facilitate recycling. A couple of packaging solutions have been very difficult to find in Europe but our goal is to have 100% European production by 2025 — to reduce transportation distances, provide better manufacturing insights, and increase greener energy mixes in production. Now, we can finally see the end of the tunnel — I am confident that we will reach this goal in time.
”It’s important that brands keep demanding more environmentally friendly packaging to make the manufacturers start investing in real solutions”
What’s been the most difficult during this process?
— I would be lying if I said that everything has gone smoothly — we have faced many challenges. One of them has been the natural resistance to change. We have had many loyal customers since the start and even though most of them have appreciated the new and more modern design, some are still attached to the original ’luxurious’ design. We have hence understood the importance to be transparent with them because once we have explained the situation and motives, we have sometimes managed to change the opinion on even the most critical, says Agardh. She continues:
— It’s also easy to think that we are making big savings when we use less materials and simpler designs but moving the production to Europe and using more sustainable materials most often means a price increase. We have had to deal with many of our margins but it’s a compromise we have to take. Further, we believe that the range of European cosmetic packaging is still quite narrow, so it has clearly been a challenge to find solutions that fit our needs with the right materials and design. But we don’t see the point in waiting for a perfect and sustainable packaging to appear — instead, we try to meet as many criteria as possible with today’s offerings. I think that sustainability is still a rather new subject and discoveries are constantly being made, so knowing what information to follow has also been a challenge. For example, we have realised that the recycling processes can work differently in every country. But to be sure that we optimize the design for the recycling systems in our biggest market, Sweden, we have a close dialogue with FTI, the biggest collector of packaging. To get even better insights, everyone at the company has also had the opportunity to visit the biggest plastic recycling station in the country. I do recommend similar trips for all industry insiders in their respective home markets!
Is there anything else you’ve learned?
— It’s always good to seek information. Sustainability is a buzzword almost every manufacturer wants to be associated with and some solutions are not always well thought through and can be easily detectable if you have made a little research first. I think it’s important that brands keep demanding more environmentally friendly packaging to make the manufacturers start investing in real solutions. It is certainly moving in the right direction, but it is still not the priority for many of them, hence it is important to keep requesting and questioning. Moreover, knowing which solutions are better from an environmental perspective can be difficult but we shouldn’t be afraid to do any changes, no matter the size.
What about material innovations? Will plastic remain your main choice for packaging?
— The new paper packaging for our bronzers and blushes has been very appreciated and we are looking into more solutions with paper. We are open to all materials and new innovations but we must always consider which materials that are working best with our formulas, both compatibility-wise and to enhance the texture and colours. Even though we want to reduce the amount, plastic is still one of the most durable and non-reactive together with cosmetic formulations. We are then looking to use more recyclable, recycled, and bioplastics. We have been investigating others, such as upcycled materials and biodegradable plastic, which come with many upsides. But we can also see some issues in the barriers protecting the formula and some confusion when having industrial composting as the recycling method. I am sure that the research is moving forward and that we will have a wider range of innovative and durable materials to choose from in the near future, says Agardh. She adds:
— As mentioned, this is a never-ending journey for us, we will still be looking for new and innovative materials and solutions to keep improving our products. Actually, we have just completed a long project together with environmental consultants from U&We where we calculated our climate impact on two of our previous packaging compared with the new packaging. We wanted to have real numbers on our packaging transformation to give an indication of whether we are really on the right path. We just received the result yesterday and need to study and analyze the results before we can claim anything, but the overall indication is that we have chosen the right way in terms of production in Europe and choosing different materials, so that feels great. The aim of the project has also been to gain valuable knowledge that we can apply to our future product developments.
This year, you’ve also initiated the work to set Science Based Targets. How’s it going?
— We have started to look at our Scopes 1-3, calculated our Scope 1-2, which is required for an SME, and will hopefully be able to set our Science Based Targets after summer, Agardh shares. We have also started to calculate our Scope 3 to understand where our biggest footprint lies and where we have the possibility to change. But Scope 3 is very complex, so this is also a journey that has just begun. All in all, the beauty packaging industry moving forward when it comes to sustainability, and we see more and more innovations. However, I believe that we will finally see more directives and regulations from the EU in the near future. It will make sense to have clear and common directions to follow and will push the industry to move even faster.