‘When you know better, do better’. - Maya Angelou
When I started looking into packaging and subsequently, a refill system for Harlo, I thought I had a pretty good idea on what would be considered ‘better’ eco conscious packaging.
I knew I wanted to avoid conventional plastics. Plastic free is integral to both our business model and also my own personal way of living. After a long stint of enquiries, research and testing, I came to discover that many of the standard alternatives and practises didn’t really excel at reducing environmental impacts.
Today’s journal provides a brief overview of the packaging and refill options in the skincare industry, the pickles we have faced during our selection journey as a small eco consious business, and why we decided to do things a little differently.
Plastic – Just plain old petroleum-based plastic.
The skincare industry is globally one of the top offenders for plastic waste. Tipping hundreds of billions of units back into this earth each and every year. Its production has significant impacts on the environment (and some would argue our health) and with only approximately 10% of our consumption being actually recycled here in Australia, it sparks the question – why do people still invest in it?
Well from a cosmetic manufacturing point of view, this demon actually has a lot going for it. It’s cheap for starters (very very cheap). It’s hygienic, has a long shelf life, and is durable. You’ll generally find suppliers who offer it with very low MOQ’s (minimum order quantity's AKA every small business’s nightmare), making it the ideal option for money poor start-up businesses, and money hungry large cooperation’s - did I mention it is cheap?
Whilst the soft plastic refill options do offer less of an impact – it’s still plastic, and it still ends up as cheap plastic waste with very costly impacts on our mother. Relying on non-renewable materials, unsustainable harvesting and averaging around 400 years to break down.
With the global demand for plastic set to increase by some 40 percent over the next 10 years the idea of post-consumer recycled was an attractive one. A smaller carbon footprint, less microplastics and less use of fossil fuels. But it does come with its barriers.
Recycling plastic is a very energy intensive and costly exercise, making this material more expensive than its new counterparts. Additionally, alongside the use of harsh chemicals and exposure, the recycling processes cause a substantial degradation in performance and therefor quality. Because this material is more expensive and less popular, it does require high MOQs and needs to be purchased and stored in large bulk.
There is limited infrastructure within Australia for post consumer recycled packaging. Many manufacturers even globally haven’t quite mastered the sterilisation processes and are therefore unable to guarantee vital aspects such as quality and contamination control.
Glass – which isn’t as great as you think it is…
Despite it being one of the most costly packaging on the market, our choice to house our formulations in biophotonic glass was an easy one. Endlessly recyclable (unlike plastic) and abundant in additional energising and preserving properties, this material has so much to offer the botanical world that goes way beyond its average short valued life.
Despite all this, our considered material also comes at a significate environmental cost in its making. An average of 50 billion tons of sand per year to be exact. Made from a mix of limestone, recycled glass, sand and soda ash, and formed with high heat, our glass consumption is significantly impactful in terms of natural resources, energy and consequently pollution.
With a higher average recycled rate here in Australia of about 50 percent, glass recycling is a closed-loop system and unlike plastic, doesn’t release any toxic chemicals when it finally starts to break down (astronomically taking anywhere from 4,000 to 1 million years).
During our research phase, we had considered and had hopes for a return bottle system for our violet glass. Unfortunately, this was proven to be just as energy and resource intensive by the time the postage, washing and sterilising processes had taken place. The best way to reduce our carbon footprint was to somehow encourage the in-house reuse of our bottles and jars.
Bio Plastics are derived from renewable raw materials such as plant-based starch, sugarcane, and cellulose. This material is proven to produce less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastics over their lifetime, and reduce the dependency on limited fossil resources.
It’s important to note that not all Bioplastics are considered biodegradable. Over 75 percent of Bioplastics are Bio-Based and are made out of non-biodegradable materials.
A compostable plastic will biodegrade rapidly in the right environment without leaving any toxic residue, breaking down into carbon dioxide, water and biomass.
Whilst these traits are great for the environment, this produces a problem in terms of longevity and is something we have had to compromise on. Additionally, this material is very very expensive. As a less popular product, manufacturers have to buy in bulk and therefore use in bulk to avoid waste, making the pricing for Bioplastics anywhere between 400 to 900 percent more expensive than conventional plastic.
And, if despite all this, you’ve still made the investment for biodegradable materials and you want the world to know it, strict scrutiny on claims and certifications with ongoing annual fees are sought in order to advertise your product as ‘compostable’ here in Australia.
Even in light of all of these challenges, we still think it’s worth it.
Our biodegradable refill pouches are 100% food safe, European certified industrial compostable, made from the starch of non-consumable corn, potato and other plants. Housed in compostable, 100% post-consumer paper, printed with vegetable ink.
The efforts of any genuine ( and I’d like to emphasise genuine here because the misrepresentations, misconceptions, and greenwashing in the cosmetic marking world is phemoninal) conscious cooperation or consumer should be celebrated.
It’s never a straightforward task, there’s always easier and a more cost effective way to do things or cheaper products and materials to support. There’s always timely and convenient purchases to make that won’t require hours and hours of researching, enquiries and questioning.
Admittedly, we at Harlo alongside the broader industry, have a long way to go. Where we can and when we can, we are making changes and will continue to do so. With every decision we make, we hold deep responsibility at heart so that our offerings are brought to form ethically and thoughtfully. We are incredibly excited to be introducing the very first of its kind in cosmetic compostable refill packaging. We hope this brings an abundance of new life to our premium biophotonic glass packaging and pays a step forward to new, environmentally sound, innovative possibilities for our future.
As always, thank you for supporting us on this journey.