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Is Refillable Packaging The Path To Sustainability In Beauty?

Is Refillable Packaging The Path To Sustainability In Beauty?
This week we kicked off the first of our small business conversations in an IG live giving you an insight into what goes on behind the scenes of running LUXE Botanics. Welcome to our world!
After 5 years, we're excited to share that we are looking at new product development, and with this, it has been an opportunity to revisit our packaging. In our IG live we delved into this topic deeper, sharing some of the limitations small business have despite the best intentions to be truly circular. Here are some of the takeaways...

Reusable and refillable models are the gold standard
But we face challenges around physical and behavioural limitations to achieve circularity. 
The Behavioural Limitations
  • There's a customer problem: Most of us say we will support recycling and refillables, but in practice, very few actually do buy refillable packaging and use recycling programs. Be honest with yourself. How many have you taken part in? The real solution lies in systemic change and reform of the total beauty and packaging industry. The responsibility cannot be down to a handful of brands or passed onto the customer 
  • At present, because so few customers actually buy refillables this poses a considerable cost problem for brands - do they join the refill revolution only to have customers not buy the refills?
  • There's also a customer perception problem - a refill insert is perceived to be of significantly lower value and so a discount is expected, when in reality it often costs more to fill as it requires specialist equipment so can end up costing a brand the same as normal packaging

The Physical Limitations
  • Most refillables are currently made entirely of plastic and at the moment there are only a handful of refillable options, which means that everyone would have the same packaging
  • It's very hard to find a glass outer jar/ bottle and the cost to small brands is huge as we'd have to buy the mould which we then own, without guarantee someone won't copy the design 
  • If we did develop our own packaging mould, the MOQs (minimum order quantities) to do this are very high, we're talking 5-10k. A possible solution is for brands to band together to meet MOQs, but we then face the same problem - we all have the same packaging - will customers and retailers support this? Is our brand strong enough to survive taking away their unique packaging as a visual identity?
  • Even with glass outers the inners are still plastic. The plastic PET refillable inner cannot even be refilled because the process of autoclaving (the sterilisation of packaging) would effectively melt this. It means that refillables at present still generate plastic waste, but at least waste is reduced and can be recycled

What about refillable pouches?
  • For liquids you have to use packaging with a liner - which is usually plastic - to protect the product from leaching into the packaging and vice versa. This means when you see a brand packaged in what looks like a cardboard refill pouch, it actually has plastic inside and needs specialist recycling equipment to separate it so is unlikely to be recycled. It's just a like a tetra pack!

 Or how about Aluminium?

  • For liquids this always has a plastic liner inside - so when it's recycled this needs to be dissolved before you can separate the aluminium
  • The good news is that aluminium has the highest recycling capture rate and many countries can properly recycle it

So what’s the solution in the meantime? 
  • While refillables are out of reach for us and a lot of small brands at present, we can continue to ensure the materials we use are easily recycled which is why our packaging is predominantly made up of clear glass and aluminium
  • Design - keep our designs light, use monomaterials, rigid/firm packaging, if we're using mixed materials, make sure they can be disassembled easily to increase the likelihood of recycling
  • Education and labelling. Clearly and accurately labelling packaging materials so that customers and Material Recovery Facilities know what they have in their hands and what to do with it. Wouldn't it be cool if we could add QR codes on our packaging too so that in the moment, you can scan each piece on your phone and know where exactly what needs to be done to each piece and where it needs to go to be recycled? Watch this space!
All in all, what we've learnt is that every solution has its own set of problems. Even with refillables, transporting reusable packaging creates additional greenhouse gasses, and while glass is a fully recyclable material, it weighs more than plastic to transport. But we also know, this is progress. It's good to have honest and open conversations, because only once we talk about the realities can we then collectively find a solution. Imperfectly green, we keep doing what we can together.

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