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Beauty Makers Strive for ‘Zero Waste’

Product and packaging manufacturers are aiming to up their sustainability game.

PARIS — Zero waste: It’s a philosophy morphing swiftly into a goal for beauty industry players, not least when it comes to product packaging.

Numerous phenomena have been converging to drive this mounting trend: climate change, pollution and the dwindling of natural resources.

“Sustainability and waste is — and has been — a hot topic for a while. However, it has really come into the spotlight in beauty as consumers increasingly scrutinize every aspect of their lives,” said Roshida Khanom, associate director, beauty and personal care at market research provider Mintel. And Millennials are the demographic helping lead the charge.

“Recent years have seen issues such as the environmental impact of disposable wipes and micro-beads, which have contributed to consumers looking at what they are using more closely,” Khanom said.

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Multinationals have taken note. “We know that consumers want to buy sustainably,” agreed David Blanchard, chief research and development officer at Unilever. “Our own research shows that one-third of consumers are now buying brands based on their social and environmental impact, and over 50 percent are more likely to buy products that are sustainably produced. It’s up to us to make the sustainable choice the easy option.”

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Further, recently set governmental goals have raised the bar when it comes to packaging, which in the beauty industry creates 70 percent of the waste, according to Unilever research. Early this year, the European Commission, as part of a transition toward a more circular economy, put in place a Europe-wide strategy on plastics, including that all plastic packaging in the EU market must be recyclable by 2030, for instance.

It’s by no means just the major beauty players heeding the call. “We’ve seen indie companies base their entire business practices around sustainability, showing consumers that it is possible to do so and leading them to question bigger companies,” said Khanom. “As a result, established companies can no longer sit back on what is a movement rather than a trend.”

L’Oréal, the world’s largest beauty group, has long taken waste reduction seriously. “In the context of the growing shortage of resources, we have since many years deployed a veritable waste-management system, based as much on a rigorous definition of the concept of waste as on very ambitious goals we have set for 2020,” said Jean-Michel Pille, director of the environment at L’Oréal operations.

Waste reduction is a pillar of the group’s Sharing Beauty With All sustainability program, which incorporates fixed objectives for its factories and distribution centers worldwide. These involve lowering by 60 percent the waste produced in 2020 versus 2005, calculated in grams of waste generated by finished products; having more than 99 percent of this waste recovered via reuse, recycling or energy recovery; having more than 70 percent of the material from the waste recovered by reuse or recycling, and attaining zero waste to landfill.

Already, the company has made substantial progress. “In 2017, while our production was up 33 percent since 2005, L’Oréal generated 17 percent fewer tons of waste, demonstrating, like for our water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, our ability to de-correlate our growth from our environmental impact,” said Pille.

“Similarly, in 2017, 98 percent of the waste generated was recovered, 62 percent of the material was conserved and zero percent was put into landfill — excluding specific regulatory constraints,” the executive said, emphasizing that was the group’s first zero-waste landmark to be attained.

Today, the production of a finished product makes 40 percent less waste than it did in 2005, and L’Oréal aims for that level to hit 60 percent. “We also want to develop circular-economy measures and gradually move toward the capability of being able to reuse or recycle everything that we’ve generated. That’s what nourishes our vision,” said Pille.

Sustainable product initiatives from the company already on shelves include L’Oréal Professionnel’s La Source shampoo with packaging that’s refillable at hair salons, the refillable jars of Absolue from Lancôme and Kérastase’s Aura Botanica, which comes in 100 percent recycled polyethylene (or PET) bottles.

Lancôme Absolue has a refillable jar
Lancôme Absolue has a refillable jar. Courtesy Photo

In 2010, Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan that sets out to halve the waste linked to its products and reduce its packaging used by one-third by 2020. So far, its packaging has become 13 percent lighter, and Unilever has introduced new refill packaging, helping the company to reduce its total ecological footprint per consumer by 29 percent.

Last year, Unilever also committed to ensuring its plastic packaging will be designed to be 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Also by then, the group will use a minimum of 25 percent recycled content in its plastic packaging.

Chanel is among other multinationals taking a greener approach. In early December it became the first cosmetics company to invest in Sulapac, a Finnish start-up combatting global plastic waste accumulation with biodegradable packaging innovation. Sulapac products use microplastic-free material made of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood chips and natural binders.

“One hundred percent biodegradable packaging outperforms other sustainable alternatives in terms of barrier properties, fast biodegradation and unique look,” claimed Sulapac, which aims to replace plastic altogether.

While the buzz about zero waste is building, no clear definition of it emerges. “What does it mean, zero waste?” asked Sabine Bouillet, global business development director for personal care at AptarGroup, the dispensing systems maker, calling it “a far [away] objective” coming from progressively reducing, recycling and reusing packaging.

“It’s difficult to speak about the future and zero waste, for at the moment it seems utopic,” she continued. “But innovation is always utopic at the beginning. At Aptar, we are totally concerned by this objective of zero waste.”

Bouillet said the company wants to participate in that “revolution” by offering solutions to its customers, and for consumers to be part of the circular economy.

As such, Aptar is setting priorities for its catalog and proposing — step-by-step — sustainable products, such as those made with recyclable resins, including post-consumer, post-industrial and bio-sourced varieties.

Sustainable packaging from Aptar Group
Sustainable packaging from AptarGroup. Courtesy Photo

Recycled resins remain complicated to use. What percentage is put in packaging can impact its transparency and color. Pure post-consumer resin, for instance, has a gray tinge.

It’s also unclear at this point how many times recycled resins can be reused. Meanwhile, use of post-industrial resin allows for zero waste at a factory level. And bio-sourced resins remain tricky, since they generally are made from Brazilian sugar cane.

“So if you import sugar cane from Brazil to produce plastic in France, it doesn’t make any sense from a sustainable point of view,” reasoned Bouillet.

Other focuses for Aptar are on reducing the weight of packaging and easing its recyclability. “If a product is made of several materials, it will be difficult to recycle,” she explained. “So we are working on innovation for products that will be easier to recycle in the future. But it’s not only our job — the recycling industry has to progress, too.”

Executives noted changes are needed in the collection and treatment channels, as well as in the sourcing of materials.

For starters, there’s one big hurdle to surmount: Today only 14 percent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling.

Numerous small and mid-size beauty companies are keen to be super green, too. Take Ren Clean Skincare. The brand created in 2000 opted to be clean from the start in terms of formulation, but a year ago it decided to achieve “zero waste” by 2021.

That’s after Ren chief executive officer Arnaud Meysselle talked with Chad Nelsen, ceo of Surfrider Foundation, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting waterways and the coastline. The two took a walk on a beach in Los Angeles and saw plastic debris strewn there.

“We should also champion clean-to-planet,” said Meysselle, who explained by the end of 2021, all of Ren’s packaging will either be 100 percent recyclable, recycled or compostable.

The company this summer introduced its first bottle made 20 percent from ocean plastic and 80 percent from recycled plastic for the Atlantic Kelp and Magnesium Anti-Fatigue Body Wash.

“We also launched the smallest 30-ml. jar on the market for our new product, Overnight Recovery Balm,” said Meysselle. “These products are costing us more money to produce…but the consumer demand is amazing.”

The shower gel, for example, moved swiftly. “We sold the equivalent of six months in six weeks, and we’ve gone out of stock a few times already,” the executive said, adding the balm immediately became Ren’s number-one selling stockkeeping unit.

“It was in the top five of when we launched,” said Meysselle. “So clearly, there is an appeal for the consumer for this type of initiative.”

Ren, which is Unilever-owned, is also ceasing to use secondary packaging and will employ 100 percent recyclable tube packaging for its upcoming sun-care product. “It’s probably the cleanest SPF on the market,” Meysselle asserted.

He explained Ren had faced setbacks with some suppliers peddling 100 percent recyclable packaging that really wasn’t. “All the green tech is very active in terms of cleaner and sustainable packaging, so we’re talking to a lot of inventors and start-ups to find solutions of the future,” said Meysselle.

Ren is also forging partnerships to help raise awareness, and it’s using reusable merchandising.

“We have an industry — especially in skin care — which is producing not millions but billions of sachets, which are not recyclable. So we are moving away from those,” he continued, adding Ren will use small recycled plastic tubes instead.

He noted sachets are a big contributor to landfill, which then goes into rivers and then the ocean. “We cannot live in that world anymore,” he said. “We need to take action.”

It’s a virtuous circle. The more brands that use sustainable packaging, the lower its production cost will be and the more people will have access to buy sustainable products, said Meysselle.

“Consumers expect brands to take responsibility for their waste, and will be attracted to manufacturers, companies and brands that not only do so, but also facilitate waste-reduction processes for consumers,” said Mintel in its recent report, titled “Sub-Zero Waste.”