In May this year, The Body Shop kickstarted two sustainable packaging initiatives: a ‘Return.Recycle.Repeat’ scheme, in partnership with TerraCycle across the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada, and a sustainable sourcing program in partnership with Plastics for Change to replace recycled PET packaging with waste plastics collected from the streets of Bengaluru in India.
Last month it also secured B Corp Certification – one of the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance; pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050; and joined ‘The Business Declares Network’ collective, supporting the aims of climate activist group Extinction Rebellion.
Over the coming years, The Body Shop said it wanted to roll out its ‘Return.Recycle.Repeat’ scheme across all global markets and integrate sustainably- and ethically-sourced Fair Trade waste plastics across all recycled PET plastics used in the business.
A ‘complex supply chain’ for industry’s best option - recycled plastic
“Until we all find suitable alternatives to plastic packaging, using recycled plastic is the best option,” said Lee Mann, global community trade manager at The Body Shop.
Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe ahead of next month’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Paris, Mann said The Body Shop was committed to investigating plastic alternatives and had prioritised using recycled materials.
“We currently have an abundance of material available to harvest in the form of used plastic. By turning our back on this, we lose the chance to make a difference. By reusing, we have a material that uses the least amount of energy to process when compared with other alternative mediums.”
Mann said The Body Shop had spent the last two years developing a “complex supply chain” with Plastics for Change in India to access Fair Trade recycled material and was now ready to upscale this.
“We have agreed a responsible scale-up plan with our partners which will allow us to introduce Community Trade recycled plastic across all PET plastic used by The Body Shop within three years. This will enable us to reach up to 2,500 waste pickers in Bengaluru who will receive a fair and predictable price for their plastic waste, and access to better working conditions,” he said.
The company had already started using the Community Trade recycled plastics in its 250ml shampoo and conditioner bottles; currently 15% of the 100% recycled plastic bottles, excluding bottle caps. The goal over the next three years was to replace all recycled plastics with this Community Trade recycled plastic.
Tackling consumer concerns on ‘cleanliness and safety’
Mann said one hurdle in up-scaling use of recycled plastics was consumer perceptions and “concerns about the cleanliness and safety of the packaging”, especially for products ingested or applied to the skin.
However, he said the recycled plastics used by The Body Shop were re-manufactured to the same standard as virgin equivalents and tested to ensure any additional risk from contamination was removed. “Plastic for Change’s science-based approach to segregation uses ISO standard procedures for quality assurance and control to develop the highest quality recycled plastic – creating India’s first food-grade PET,” he said.
This was vital in protecting The Body Shop’s products it transported worldwide to around 3,000 stores across 60 countries, along with business on its e-commerce platform, Mann said. “Without a suitable container we would have greater spoilage and the product would have a shorter lifespan and more products would end up as waste.”
Over the next three years, he said The Body Shop would be heavily invested in the careful design of all new products with these recycled plastics, integrating a maximum quantity of the materials “where technically possible”.
The future as a B Corp certified beauty major?
Many industry onlookers and environmental experts have criticised the beauty industry for not acting fast enough or significantly enough in the war on plastics and push towards true sustainability. Some have claimed it will take the major players to act before real change was felt.
Asked if he agreed with this idea, Mann said yes, it was certainly important for the bigger players to be leading change.
“Our ambition is to be a regenerative business, working backwards (backcasting) from what the planet and society needs: an ambitious and very long-term target, with some challenges included that in truth we don’t know how we are going to tackle yet,” he said.
While The Body Shop’s B Corp status was an extremely important part of this, and an aspect it would work to improve score-wise, he said it was “not the final destination” for the business.
“…While this may not be a comfortable or common place for businesses to be, there seems to be increasing consensus as we are seeing the climate crisis having risen so quickly up the agenda, that we have to stop orientating ourselves by what is possible and work with what is necessary,” he said.
Mann will be presenting alongside a number of industry professionals and experts at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Paris on 4-6th November, providing more depth on The Body Shop’s efforts and future plans on integrating recycled plastics into its global business model.