Is the cosmetics industry moving too fast on green packaging?

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Recycling, Cosmetics

Consumers would probably give a firm ‘no’in response to this question. But scratch the surface a little harder and it becomes evident that there is more than a little truth to the statement.

Although industry remains far from exonerated from its duty to the environment, the big hurdle is ensuring that the squeaky green packaging everyone has worked hard to develop is actually recycled when it is finished with.

The problem occurs once the recyclable packaging is disposed of, because unfortunately not all local refuse facilities are created equal.

Whether it is in North America or Europe, the situation changes from state to state, country to country and county to county. Often there is even huge disparity between individual suburbs in the same city.

If a consumer has gone out of their way to buy a personal care product with 100 per cent recylcable materials, then what happens to that packaging once it is carefully disposed of for recycling​ often depends on geographic location.

If the local refuse authorities have a highly developed collection system that incorporates all aspects of recycling, then the consumer’s conscience often remain in tact.

The other scenario, which is all too often the case, is that packaging may well be scrupulously sorted for recycling by the consumer, only to end up in a huge municipal land fill because refuse authorities do not have adequate recycling facilities in place.

Speaking to Cosmetics Design during a recent audio podcast, John Delfausse, chief environmental officer – corporate packaging, Estee Lauder, underlined how this dilemma sits in the luxury packaging segment.

Delfausse stressed that despite the short falls in recycling facilities in many geographic areas, his belief is that industry has to work even harder and in conjunction with suppliers in an effort to plug the gaps.

Delfausse’s suggests that the industry as a whole – including suppliers, retailers and brands – has to work hard in conjunction with consumers in an effort to plug the gap.

If the recycling of packaging cannot be guaranteed, then the only viable solution is for industry is to go the extra mile to ensure that their packaging does not end up in land fills.

This means solutions such as in-store recycling schemes, whereby the consumer takes used packaging back to the store to ensure it will be re-used or recycled.

This is an old solution that the Body Shop tried with mixed results, but with consumers better informed than ever about recycling, the chances of a better take up for such schemes are higher.

Likewise industry needs to communicate amongst one another. A fragrance bottle might have 100 per cent recycable credentials, but if components such as pumps, caps and the bottle itself are all made of different materials and cannot be removed, it makes the recycling process much more complicated or even impossible.

There is no question that industry has worked hard on the issue of greener packaging, but shortfalls remain and the reality means more hard work to come.

The fact is that the availability of recycling facilities is relatively low on the consumer radar; whereas, cosmetic and personal care companies remain very much in the public eye and are consequently more accountable for their actions.

This may seem a little unfair, but it is a fact everyone in the industry has to face up to. It also means that, despite all the hard work, the only thing that industry can do to avoid further criticism is work even harder to solve the problem.

Related topics: Packaging & Design, Sustainability

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