”The solution is not to stop using plastic but to find alternative materials and increase the usage of recycled plastic”

On ups and downs of using virgin, bio, or recycled plastic in packaging
March 01, 2021

The chemical engineer has a background in R&D and is currently working at IDUN Minerals as Sustainability Manager, in charge of the Swedish skincare and cosmetics company’s sustainability work. 

Over the last few years, the entire industry has experienced a transformation not only in terms of using more sustainable ingredients and formulas but also better packaging. And, even if there’s still a long way to go, IDUN is a clear industry leader.

— Due to the pressure on brands to be sustainable, the interest in better packaging has increased, Abdi tells. Cosmetics packaging has usually been quite heavily consisting of a mixture of materials due to the ”luxurious” feel that customers relate this with. A few years ago, it was quite difficult to find packaging in recycled plastic, bioplastic, and, generally, plastics that are recyclable. It is also difficult to find packaging in ”good” materials that are compatible with the products that we sell since the cosmetic formulations can be sensitive to light, temperature, and bacteria. Now we can see that many producers are getting much better with their own sustainability work and a part of that has also been to offer a range of packaging that has better sustainability factors. We still have a long way to go but it has become better.

What do you think about virgin plastic in packaging?

— The way that we are using and producing plastic right now is not sustainable at all. We need to minimize the use of fossil-based plastic, get better at recycling what we actually put out on the market, and find alternative materials. Plastic as a material is very durable and non-reactive and sometimes the only material that works with cosmetic formulations. So, the solution is not to completely stop using plastic but to find alternative materials and increase the usage of recycled plastic. I think that we need a larger variety of materials to use for different purposes as to not depend on plastic solely. 

Bioplastics, Abdi tells, can be a good alternative to fossil-based plastic, due to either deriving from a renewable resource or being degradable. 

— However, it is important to know which bioplastic is used and how the aftercare for this should be. Green-Polyethylene for example, which is produced from a sugarcane waste product, should be handled and recycled exactly the same as fossil-based polyethylene since they are the same, except for the raw material. Polylactic acid, on the other hand, is a degradable bioplastic and should therefore not be put in the recycling bin since there is no system for recycling these degradable materials. This will instead contaminate the purity of the other recycled plastics. It is important to find a varying source of renewable raw material for producing bioplastics as to not stress just a few of the resources. 

What about recycled plastic? Is that a good option?

— Yes, the usage of recycled plastics should become more of a standard in the industry. We need to make sure that the plastics we put out in the market are used again. It has been a challenge in the switch to recycled plastics since there are some difficulties in establishing a continuous source for the material and also ensuring purity and non-contamination. The demand for recycled plastics is increasing and since we are moving towards new innovations in the recycling sphere I think that the usage of recycled plastics will increase during the next years. 

What’s the major challenge for you as a cosmetic brand regarding packaging?

— The offered assortment of packaging that is more sustainable has been scarce since this has not previously been such a big issue in the cosmetic industry. We have been working closely with suppliers to produce packaging that are better, more luxurious looking, and qualitative, as well as being compatible with our products’ formulas. 

How do you see the future of packaging? What will happen?

— I predict that there will be a larger variety of packaging to choose from. We can see now that a lot of new innovations in packaging are coming forward. I hope that the circularity of the packaging becomes more prioritized and recycling will be much better. Lighter, brighter, and more sustainable, says Abdi, adding,

— On our side, we are currently working with redesigning the packaging of our whole assortment to better be able to recycle all products and also try to minimize both plastic and the used material overall. We are also working on educating the consumer on why we do these changes and how they can contribute to it by recycling our packaging. We want them to know and understand that sustainability is the new and modern form of luxury.