By  on August 10, 2007

Corn, soy and sun may sound like the perfect elements of a Midwestern landscape. But, more and more, such formulas are coming to define cosmetics packaging.

As manufacturers in the beauty industry become more environmentally conscious—and concern about climate change helps mold consumer demand for more earthfriendly products—packaging suppliers have keyed in on one concept: sustainability.

The idea is beginning to change the types of materials used to make cosmetics tubes, bottles and cartons. In this area, manufacturers are looking at renewable resources like cornstarch-based plastics and soy-based inks. They are also reducing the amount of newly sourced—or virgin—plastics they use by employing recycled materials, which reduces the amount of material entering landfills each year.

This sustainability mind-set is also leading manufacturers to seek alternative energy sources, such as wind, water and solar power.

Agricultural crops like corn are becoming a popular source of packaging material, according to Nicole Smith, the environmental director of New York-based Design & Source Productions Inc.

"In general, you're going to see a turn to bio-plastics because there's a lot of research and technology going into it," she says. "Companies want to show their consumers that they are aware of issues in the environment."

In the bio-plastics arena, Smith cites cornbased, biodegradable polymers like polylactide, or PLA, which is produced by a firm called Nature Works LLC; polyhydroxyalkanoates, or PHAs, which are produced by a company called Metabolix, and plastic starch material, or PSM, which is made by PSM (HK) Co. Ltd.

"We're going to see it more and more," Smith says of bioplastics. "People are getting more creative with it."

Also emerging is the use of pulp-based packaging, Smith notes. She cites three different types of pulp, including bagasse, a by-product of the sugar cane industry, which can be renewed annually; pulp from bamboo, which grows to full height in three to five years, and recycled wood pulp."Renewable, or non-fossilbased polymers seem to be holding the scene in terms of growing interest," says Nicholas Thorne, director of innovation and development for Alcan Beauty packaging.

Thorne stresses three concepts when discussing what can be done in the name of green: "Measure," "reduce" and "replace."

Alcan is developing a proprietary tool to be released later this year called Asset, which is designed to measure the impact of packaging on the environment, including materials used and energy expended during manufacturing and transportation.

"Reduce" refers to scaling back the "amount of material" used in packaging not only as a costcutting move but also to lessen the impact on the environment, says Thorne. Thanks to reductions in materials that go into a new 200-ml. tube that Alcan makes, producing one million of the tubes now saves about 10 tons of polymer.

"Replace," says Thorne, refers to switching from "fossil-based polymers" to "renewable resourcebased polymers." He says that annually, about 300 million tons of polymer are used worldwide and only about 140,000 tons of this is PLA. "We are really embryonic when it comes to sourcing the material," says Thorne.

Switching to renewal polymers affects cost, of course. Because there are only small quantities available, according to Thorne, raw materials derived from corn "are often considered to be two [to] four times more expensive than a standard polymer today. The economies of scale are such that new materials [command] a significant premium."

Besides price, concern about these materials also centers on how they behave when coming into contact with actual product formulations. Additionally, critics contend that in order to maintain a container's stability, high volumes of a corn-based polymer needs to be used, thus defeating the purpose of reducing the amount of material that goes into a package.

Thorne suggests using corn-based polymers for secondary packaging—like folding boxes, blister packs and clamshells—because they don't interface with actual product formulations.

David Lunati, director of marketing at New Hampshire's Monadnock Paper Mills, says the quality of paper made from recycled materials today is far superior to that of the past. As interest in the sector grows, he adds, customers will have even more choices.He notes that using postconsumer recycled content is a popular way to be eco-friendly these days. For some companies, post-consumer content means paper or paperboard—think office paper and boxes—that has been used by the consumer. In other cases, it can mean old soda and milk bottles.

Lunati says Monadnock, which uses hydroelectric energy to power its plant and also purchases renewable energy credits for the electricity it uses, has created a "comprehensive packaging solution" called Envi.

The paperboard boxes, tubes and bags produced within the Envi program use 80 percent post-consumer paper or paperboard. Some in-store signage produced by Monadnock, Lunati notes, is made of 100 percent post-consumer materials.

Envi paper is also certified by one of 12 global Forest Stewardship Council-accredited certifiers. The FSC describes itself as a nonprofit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world's forests. Its certifiers evaluate both forest management activities and tracking of forest products, according to the FSC.

Lunati contends that Monadnock's so-called "high brightness" paper "rivals virgin paper. It's not speckled, like virgin materials." He also notes, "We send zero waste from manufacturing to landfills," meaning that the leftover scraps from Monadnock's manufacturing process are "beneficially" reused, as everything from animal bedding to soil fertilizer.

Aveda, the Estée Lauder Cos.-owned hair care brand, is big on post-consumer content. Bottles for the brand's new men's hair care line feature 80 percent post-consumer content, according to Deborah Darling, the brand's director of packaging development.

This is where the milk jugs come in. Aveda's men's products contain post-consumer content in the form of high-density polyethylene, which is sourced from milk jugs that are recycled by an Alabama-based firm called KW Plastics.

"For Aveda, the foundation of the organization has been [built] on renewable plant-based products rather than petroleum-based products," states Dean Maune, executive director of package development. He notes that because of Aveda's use of post-consumer high-density polyethylene, "We've been able to save 300 tons of [material] from going into the waste stream annually."

He says the cost of post-consumer high-density polyethylene is attractive. "The recycled [highdensity polyethylene] resin is sold as a commodity and it tracks close with virgin resin. And as petroleum- based resin goes up in price, likewise the recycled material is falling right behind it."Aveda also uses paperboard that's 55 percent post-consumer content. Furthermore, scraps from the manufacture of this paperboard are reused. In its lip and eye pencils, Aveda has implemented FSC-certified wood, and the firm uses soy ink on all its folding cartons, as well as letterheads and business cards.

The hair care brand claims to be the single biggest purchaser of wind power in Minnesota. The firm's corporate offices, which are located in Blaine, Minn., are powered by wind energy, as are its main production facility and distribution center. The brand also points out that its major folding carton supplier, Johnson Printing in Minnesota, uses 100 percent wind energy.

While consumers are largely believed to be driving the trend toward eco-friendly packaging, there's another factor called the Wal-Mart effect. For marketers who do business with Wal-Mart, sustainability will be a key issue going forward. The retailer is set to implement its "packaging scorecard" in February of next year. Wal-Mart's goal is to reduce packaging across its global supply chain by 5 percent by 2013.

Some marketers say they believe incentives—like extra shelf space—will be given to vendors that have a smaller environmental footprint or ones that use less packaging.

"The industry is starting to look at concepts like recycling everything we can, meaning plastics and metal," says John Delfausse, vice president of global package development and chief environmental officer for Estée Lauder corporate packaging. He characterizes this as a "cradle-to-cradle" philosophy as opposed to "cradle-to-grave"—that is to "use materials over and over again" rather than dumping reusable materials into landfills.

A second philosophy, Delfausse notes, is "zero waste. If you can't reuse it, repair it, recycle it or compost it, you shouldn't make it at all. These things are driving how we design packaging—design for recovery at the end of its life."

Of the polymers derived from corn, Delfausse says he believes PHA looks like it has "more promise. It's much more stable than PLA. PLA can deform at temperatures that aren't very high."

In terms of cost, "PLA had been at a 20 percent premium [compared to virgin polymer]," says Delfausse, "but with the cost of fossil fuels going up, it's almost at parity." PHA, on the other hand, is "expensive right now."Speaking to alternative energy sources, Delfausse notes, "We have made a commitment that the only supplier Origins will buy their folding cartons from will be using wind energy." Also, outer cartons of some Origins products are FSC-certified.

Companywide, Delfausse notes, "We made a decision that every single brand would use a minimum of 80 percent post-consumer paperboard for their gift sets."

Kyla Gruen, sales and production coordinator at Greener Printer in Berkeley, Calif.—which is 100 percent wind-powered—agrees that postconsumer content is one of the biggest trends in eco-friendly packaging, as is soy ink.

"We offer two [paper] stocks with 100 percent post-consumer waste," she says, adding, "We use soy-based ink."

She explains that there are two parts to ink: the pigment and the vehicle that carries the pigment onto the paper. "In the past, the vehicle has been highly-chemical based, high in volatile organic compounds. VOCs hurt the ozone; they are toxic. In soy-based ink, the vehicle is soy oil and vegetable oils."

She adds, "A lot of ink manufacturers are still playing around with it, coming up with technologies to produce it efficiently."

"The consumer is driving this market," says Gruen, "and the overall trend in America is to be environmentally conscious. We [Greener Printer] wouldn't exist if there wasn't a need for environmentally conscious products."

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