Burt's Bees is singled out for its sustainability.

In the mostly self-service mass environment, packages must tell the brand story, guard against pilferage and halt consumers from opening them to sample shades. Despite these challenges, mass market brands and retailers are working overtime to reduce waste.

“Consumers are driving it and looking to be more socially conscious than ever before,” said Ellen Friedman, executive vice president at RPG.

Like many beauty trends, Millennials and Gen Z-ers are leading the charge. Some influencers, said Amy Denoon, chief executive officer at Beach House public relations, are sparking conversations about waste, especially in regard to mailings for unboxing (her company has started a campaign called #changethebeautygame to encourage brands to use recycled materials).

“Sustainability always seems to be a high priority for our customers and we know that it is important in their buying decisions,” said Mary Catherine Horgan, beauty buyer for Pharmaca. “We prioritize sustainability and don’t love to see extra packaging, even if the intention is to reduce theft on smaller items.” But she added it is a balancing act. Because there still is a need to print directions and ingredients and some people still equate substantial packaging with luxury. Although technically a drugstore, Pharmaca has the advantage of on-site beauty experts who can assist when needed and who patrol the aisles. Still she sees the need for sustainability.

She credits the beauty industry with testing ways to reduce packaging and using more glass, metal containers with recycled content along with paper products that are Forest Stewardship Council-certified. A case in point is Seed Phytonutrients, a new brand for Pharmaca.

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“They figured out a way to use 60 percent less plastic in their bottles, and then wrapped that plastic in recycled and compostable paper that can still hold up in the shower for months,” Horgan said.

So critical is the issue of sustainability at Burt’s Bees that the brand has a director of sustainable business and innovation. “It isn’t a fallacy the mass market requires certain packaging,” said Paula Alexander, who holds that title. However, she added, Burt’s Bees is dedicated to finding better ways. As part of its 2020 Sustainability Goals, the company plans to increase recycled content of primary container packaging by 40 percent, increase recyclability by 20 percent, and reduce total packaging materials by 10 percent — while maintaining an average of 99 percent natural formulations across its portfolio.

The company is tracking ahead of its goal with a 41.7 percent increase in post-consumer recycled content of primary packaging over its 2011 baseline. The current average PCR content across the portfolio is 37.1 percent, according to Alexander. Improvements include closures on tubes and bottle caps where PCR content increased from 10.7 percent in fiscal 2016 to 13.8 percent in fiscal 2018 and a shift from rigid plastic closures to plastic film closures on facial towelette packaging. The latter resulted in the elimination of 108,000 pounds of waste from landfills each year, the equivalent weight of about 9.8 million yogurt cups. Retailers also noted Burt’s Bees’ Lip Balm and Lip Shimmer packages, which have a novel solution to prevent tampering that doesn’t require shrink wrap that keeps about 1,800 miles of shrink wrap out of landfills each year.

Pacifica’s new upcycling program is attractive to chains such as Target and Whole Foods who have put sustainability on the front burner. “Our customers love the idea and want this option, but we want to see higher participation rates,” said Pacifica’s founder Brook Harvey-Taylor. “We are also working on how we message the program better. We expect a lot of learns this year.” Listening to retailers’ feedback about a new foundation launching next year prompted Pacifica to remove it from being presented in a box. “Beauty buyers felt strongly that our consumer would be more excited to see the foundation outside of the box, would be more apt to find their correct shade and would seek out the rest of the information on their own.”

Bulldog Skincare for Men, with an eye on making its packaging better for the earth, is using plastic derived from Brazilian sugarcane. For every 100 tons of sugarcane plastic used in Bulldog tubes, 309 tons of CO2 are taken out of the environment, according to the company.

“Companies are taking [sustainability] a step farther,” RPG’s Friedman said, adding that fixtures and promotional displays are being made out of glass or PCR materials. “But we need to close the look to make sure the displays get recycled at stores.” RPG is making simple tweaks such as not gluing graphics to fixtures — by doing so they are recyclable (the glue rendered them not) and they can be reused for other promotions.

There’s still a long road ahead, said Pharmaca’s Horgan. “I think we’ll get there one day, but it’s going to take substantial infrastructure, education and committed customers to make it happen. We’ve seen how long it’s taken even eco-conscious consumers to move toward using reusable bags at the grocery store, so I would imagine we are looking at a similar trajectory.”