At the beginning of June, international beauty major L’Oréal announced the commercial launch of its paper-based cosmetic tubes under the La Roche-Posay Anthelios sunscreen brand in France. The tubes – made from a blend of bio-based, FSC certified paper-like material and plastic and co-developed with global packaging firm Albéa – would soon be rolled out across other European markets and eventually globally.
The paper-based tubes contained 45% less plastic and were 25% lighter with an improved carbon footprint but were not yet recyclable because of the mixed plastic-pulp content needed for barrier control.
CosmeticsDesign-Europe caught up with two senior executives at Albéa Packaging to find out just exactly what was in store for the next-stage of development and reflect on the initial launch.
‘We were running at full speed’
“It’s a long-term project with L’Oréal,” said Barbara de Saint-Aubin, VP of business and general manager for tubes Europe at Albéa. The paper-based tubes launched last month, Saint-Aubin said, took one year to develop with L’Oréal, from concept to commercial rollout.
“We were running full speed,” said Gilles Swyngedauw, sustainability director at Albéa. “We did something in one year that I believe five years ago would have taken us two or three.”
Swyngedauw said the only reason it had been accomplished so fast was thanks to a close working relationship with the beauty firm. “With L’Oréal, we are fully aligned on the end game (…) This was really why we were able to achieve the project in a very short time, because both organisations were 100% aligned with what we had to achieve. There was no debate at any point.”
Step 1 – paper content inclusion
Swyngedauw said the initial goal was to launch a tube with less plastic and an improved carbon footprint but the same functionality.
“The first step was really to show we will be able to replace plastic with paper, or with pulp, and we knew we would not be recyclable straight away,” he said.
“…What was important for us was to keep a certain level of barrier because we’re here to protect very sensitive formulas in cosmetics, especially skin care. The idea was immediately not to use any aluminium in our tubes – it was an aluminium-free laminate we wanted to use from the beginning – and we had to keep a certain amount of plastic to achieve this barrier (…) We also had to protect the paper from humidity from the outside.”
Inclusion of plastic barriers at an overall higher percentage than pulp, he said, meant the tubes were not recyclable as paper.
Asked why the tubes were launched before they were recyclable, Swyngedauw said: “That’s a really good question, and we asked this question at the beginning of the project. Are we going to launch it before we know it’s perfect? And this is the issue: if we wait until we’re perfect, we will never be ready.”
L’Oréal and Albéa, he said, both understood this launch represented just “a milestone” and there would be many more to reach before the tube was what both firms wanted.
Step 2 – recyclability
The next step which both companies were now working on, Swyngedauw said, was to increase the level of pulp in the tube to at least 50% or more, enabling them to be recycled in cardboard streams.
“It’s part of the plan we had with L’Oréal,” said Saint-Aubin. “We wanted to launch a very innovative product including paper, with an improvement in terms of carbon footprint, and the second step is to really make it recyclable.”
The initial launch of the current paper-based tubes, she said, would enable L’Oréal to gauge consumer response, which in turn would speed up the next stages towards a second-generation tube. “It’s truly a step-by-step process. …If we manage to make this tube recyclable, I’m very convinced it could be a very great product for the future of the packaging industry.”
Ultimately, Saint-Aubin said the end goal was to ensure whatever plastic remained in the tubes was post-consumer recycled and eventually bio based.
Can we imagine a future with 100% paper cosmetic tubes?
Asked if it might be possible to design fully paper tubes, Swyngedauw said: “This, we are sure we will not achieve. To have zero plastic packaging, for us today, that’s not something we can reach, and we will not reach that in the next five years. …We know we can reduce the amount of plastic, for sure, but to what level? We don’t know yet. That is what we’re working on.”
Plastics were needed to provide a barrier, for formulas and packaging, he said, and this need would only increase as more cosmetic and beauty firms worked on natural, preservative-free formulations. Natural formulations were far more sensitive to the external environment and so would require even more barrier protection, he said. Innovation in the paper industry would help, he said, “but not to an extent we’ll have zero plastic”.
“…There is a long journey from where we are today and the ideal of a circular economy for packaging in the beauty business,” Swyngedauw said.
And, importantly, he said there were “many different routes” industry could take. “There will not be one silver bullet. Even for cosmetic tubes, there will be different routes.”