PARIS — Green is the fastest-growing theme for beauty packaging these days, with some manufacturers taking a grassroots approach — literally.
Take Sprout. The Taastrup, Denmark-based company just launched a plantable makeup pencil as an offshoot of its original, patented Sprout pencil, used for writing, that was introduced five-and-a-half years ago. Each has a capsule at a tip containing seeds.
“Instead of throwing out the pencil stub, you plant the end of the pencil,” explained Michael Stausholm, Sprout’s founder and chairman. “The first time you water it, the capsule will dissolve, and then you just have to take care of it like any other plant. You will have cherry tomatoes, forget-me-not flowers, sunflowers — or herbs, soon.”
Since makeup pencils require different formulas than traditional graphite pencils — more than 14 million of which Sprout has already sold — the company teamed with Schwan Cosmetics and Faber-Castell on the new project.
“The cosmetics industry today really wants to be sustainable, so the demand is huge,” said Stausholm, adding the cost of making plantable pencils is just slightly higher than the unplantable kind. “We see a nice niche market for our plantable makeup pencils, because they are 100 percent natural and sustainable.”
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So far they have garnered interest from mid- and high-range cosmetics brands in Europe and North America for private-label use, said Stausholm, adding it’s possible the types of seeds used can be changed according to a brand’s wishes. As a next step, Sprout will launch its own plantable makeup pencil for retail later this year.
Another company producing sproutable beauty packaging, which is custom-made for private-label use, is Botanical PaperWorks, headquartered in Winnipeg, Canada. It is billed as the world’s largest seed-paper maker, selling to clients in 35 countries.
Botanical PaperWorks, which began working with the beauty industry in 2012, has for the past decade been crafting and manufacturing eco-paper that grows into flowers after being put in the ground.
“When you plant the seed-paper box, it composts away and leaves only growing plants,” said Heidi Reimer-Epp, the firm’s chief executive officer and cofounder. “The wildflowers are an important habitat for endangered pollinators like butterflies and bees, and the herbs and vegetables provide food for a healthy lifestyle.”
Compostable beauty packaging takes many guises. In early April, Nationalpak introduced its Compostable Stone Massage Oil Packaging at Luxe Pack Shanghai, where it was awarded a best sustainable packaging solution prize in the Luxe Pack in Green competition.
The Hong Kong-based supplier’s Compostable Stone Massage Oil Packaging, designed in the shape of a spa stone and containing three bottles of massage oil, is made with compostable bamboo fiber mixed with resin, which is fully biodegradable. After the packaging is placed in soil, it takes about two to three years to totally decompose and convert into carbon dioxide and water, according to Kinsen Au, managing director of Nationalpak.
He explained that the bamboo is an environmentally friendly and sustainable material grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or irrigation. It grows rapidly, is harvestable every three to five years, and produces 35 percent more oxygen than an equivalent cluster of trees. Further, bamboo is a great inhibitor of erosion and can be grown in many environments.
“It is a critical element in the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Au.
The Compostable Stone Massage Oil Packaging, the executive explained, “contains no harmful substances and [contributes] zero pollution to the environment. It is tested and certified by the European Union.”
Paper is the eco-material of choice for Seed Phytonutrients, the sustainable beauty label owned by L’Oréal. Twelve months ago the brand came out with its bottles made with paper packaging that is removable and compostable.
“When we first launched the paper bottle on Earth Day last year, it was 60 percent less plastic than a standard bottle,” said Seed Phytonutrients’ founder Shane Wolf. “We gave ourselves the challenge of increasing this number in one year, and are proud to say we did it in six months, as our new bottles are 70 percent less plastic. We will continue to challenge ourselves to eradicate the plastic entirely and find a completely sustainable solution.”
The Seed Phytonutrients bottle was conceived to be easily deconstructed to maximize composting and recycling. Its inside liner is thin and made with postconsumer recycled materials. The pumps can be returned at no charge to the consumer, since the brand pays the postage, and its partner TerraCycle turns those pumps into items, such as fences on farms, resulting in zero waste.
“A lot of work has been done in the industry to make the switch from virgin plastic to Post-Consumer Plastic. This is an important and positive step in our industry, as there is a slim chance of plastic being recycled in the U.S., and the situation has only been made worse over the last year as a result of [the] trade war in China,” said Wolf.
“It was clear we had to replace our packaging with paper, as this is the most recycled material,” he continued. “To go a step further, it seemed obvious to use paper derived from beauty industry waste as our packaging’s main structure.”
To ensure the Seed Phytonutrients bottle was shower-safe yet still compostable, certain minerals were added to the paper.
“When we first discovered our packaging vendor Ecologic, they only had the ability to glue two halves of a paper bottle together,” said Wolf. “We wanted to make the packaging more scalable and even more sustainable by eliminating the glue.”
So Seed Phytonutrients invested in Ecologic and bought a machine to create paper bottles without glue.
HCT Group, for its part, is developing biodegradable and compostable materials for injection.
“The challenge with injection for these materials is that in order to be molded into a cosmetic packaging component, such as a compact, they must be strong, so that they can pass all required testing — for instance, opening force, hinge-breakage test,” explained Denis Maurin, executive vice president of sales and global innovation at HCT, based in Santa Monica, Calif. “It is a common misconception that when you use a biodegradable raw material that the component itself will then be biodegradable.
“What we are finding is that once it has been injected and is strong enough to be a compact, the component itself is no longer able to compost under natural conditions,” he continued. “With a special design, it could work under industrial conditions, but that means that samples must be collected properly, like any recyclable product, in order to be treated by a specific composter.”
HCT is undertaking extensive testing of compostable and plantable options as part of its eco-program.
“There are other processes where a compostable package is possible, but it can be very limiting in terms of design,” said Maurin. “We are exploring ways we can innovate this process, so that beauty brands have more options of different types of packaging in this category.”
The ultimate in sustainable beauty packaging, if each country had an optimal recycling process and consumers were better educated, would involve the use of recycled plastic, he explained.
“We can today mold our components in 100 percent Post-Consumer Recycled materials. You can still get the same function, but not use any virgin materials,” said Maurin. “There are a lot less limitations when it comes to these materials versus compostable/plantable options.”
Yet lots of recycling systems remain imperfect, and many of the small parts of cosmetics packaging still become landfill.
“Right now, a compostable/plantable option is the safest if we want to make sure packaging doesn’t end up landfill or in the oceans,” said Maurin. “But we all have to be careful and understand that certain biodegradable/compostable materials will not fully degrade in a natural environment.”