Sulapac teams up with Lumene for beauty line using a biobased packaging of the future
Founded by Doctors of Biochemistry, the Finnish patented and award-winning material innovation startup is on a mission to save the world from microplastics, eco-toxic impacts, and plastic waste.
23 Jun 2022

Made of wood chips — a by-product of industrial side streams that originates from sustainably managed forests — and plant-based binders, co-founder and CEO Dr. Suvi Haimi explains that Sulapac has no eco-toxic impacts and biodegrades without leaving permanent microplastics behind.

— It can be manufactured with existing plastic product machinery, making the switch from conventional plastic to an eco-friendly alternative easier than you might think, she says, continuing,

— The company is primarily a material provider to brands and manufacturing partners who convert them into, for instance, cosmetic, supplement, and luxury packaging, as well as single-use products like straws and cutlery. The material is industrially compostable and an eco-friendly alternative to conventional plastic and can be used on customers’ and partners’ existing converting lines to replace these conventional plastics. and the processing of the Sulapac materials (granules) is possible with traditional plastic product machinery and technologies, including injection moulding and extrusion. Thus, to use Sulapac materials, no big investments are needed.

The company provides different materials and has already worked with several brands, such as Shiseido’s first vertical farm beauty brand Ulé (using lids made with Sulapac), CHANEL, UK-based Forest Spa Finland — and Lumene.

— The cooperation with Sulapac kicked off in September 2017, says Tiina Isohanni, VP of R&D and sustainability. Even when there were a couple of cosmetic products in the market using their jars, they were all waterless products. As most of the skincare products contain water, the use of the jars was rather limited. Together with Sulapac, we wanted to come up with a new, revolutionary innovation that would allow the material to be used in a wider range of products such as skincare creams with a water phase. We’re now the first company to bring such products to the market.

And how has the process been?

— Exciting and inspiring! It offered yet another opportunity for cross-organisational innovation. At the same time, it was challenging and time-consuming, including several tests on coatings on top of the jar. Some hydrating creams include up to 60-75% of water in the formula and the challenge was the fast evaporation in the Sulapac jar. It was all about finding the right balance between suitable barrier properties to keep the cream or emulsion structure stable and not let water to disappear. The shelf time had to be long enough and still allow the jar to start to biodegrade in a reasonable time frame.  

How will this partnership evolve?

— We are now collecting consumer and customer feedback and based on that, we will decide on the next steps. We do continue to work with biobased materials in general. It is part of our circular economy targets and allows us to decrease carbon emissions even further. 

Is this kind of packaging the way forward for you as a brand?

— Biobased materials are pretty new and more and more options are coming to the market. We need to be aware of all development and keep testing multiple materials on our products. In addition to Sulapac, we work with other pilot projects in this area. The circular beauty has changed our way of working — we have ongoing discussions with both packaging converters but also directly with material manufacturers. We aim to have more and more biobased materials but also developments in mono-material packaging, such as paper pod trials or serum droppers.

According to Sulapac’s Suvi Haimi, disrupting an industry requires activism.

— For example, the current recycling infrastructure isn’t built for novel, renewable, and biodegradable solutions like ours, although our material is recyclable via mechanical and chemical recycling in addition to industrial composting. Hence, together with our partners, we are actively participating in the development of the current recycling infrastructure to make it efficient also for novel sustainable materials. So far, we have piloted a take-back program and now we are investigating various chemical recycling options at industrial scale. 

Lumene’s Tiina Isohanni has similar experiences.

— The jar is not the only element to highlight in this pilot but our aim is to have inside-out biodegradable and biobased products. We tested the biodegradability of the product formulas according to the so-called OECD 301 B standard. Jars are circulating mostly in technical circle and naturally derived ingredients in biological circle. In an ideal world, both the jar and the formula should go to biological circle. However, the current recycling systems are not yet ready to circulate the packaging biologically. We keep challenging the existing recycling systems to allow biodegradable packaging to be processed in a more optimal way in the future, she says.

Lumene’s moisturizers made of Sulapac.

Suvi Haimi on how big of a threat microplastics are to the environment and the health of humans

— A study shows that we ingest 5 grams of plastic a week. Effectively, you eat a credit card on a weekly basis. And it’s not just adults who are consuming microplastics. Research has discovered that even bottle-fed babies swallow millions of microplastics, and bees are carrying microplastics on their bodies.

— The plastic waste we create eventually turns into microplastics. And as these bits of plastic travel in the environment, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, like grains of sand. Waste isn’t the only source of microplastics. As we chop our vegetables on the cutting board in our kitchen, we scrape off little pieces of plastic. As we open and close plastic containers again and again, they release more microplastics. It’s not enough to talk about climate change or our unsustainable ways of producing, consuming, and recycling plastic products. The plastic poison we are feeding the Earth and ourselves is already doing damage on a level that we can’t even see properly with the naked eye. We don’t even know all of the consequences this alarming spread of microplastics can have on the environment.

— There is a great need to move onto more sustainable materials on a large scale, whether we are talking about cutlery, straws, or packaging.