It’s no surprise, sustainable packaging is a hot topic and always on our minds. One of our most frequently asked questions is “When are you going plastic-free” or our most common comment on social media is “not if that’s plastic packaging”. We hear you loud and clear, you want to go plastic-free and you want to know why we and other businesses haven’t already. We’ve put hours and hours into research, discussing different options with various manufacturers, sampling and test filling alternatives. And, honestly, the truth of the matter hurts – there are lots of recyclable options for skin care packaging (including plastic!), but some recyclable materials don’t actually get recycled by our council programs because it costs them too much to recycle some things and the sorting capabilities are limited.
But first of all, there is great controversy and misunderstandings about packaging types and their impact on the environment. What this plastic-free debate really comes down for product packaging is the bigger picture of carbon footprint… when you look at everything from the energy it takes to obtain the raw material, the emission of shipping and manufacturing that material into its useable form, then shipping it again to be filled with product, then again to a warehouse, then again to our happy hippy tribe of customers. Not to mention wastage from manufacturing faults or breakage in transit. Then once it’s got to its use-point, the recyclability of that packaging comes into play to start the cycle again.
Then if you consider the most sustainable option, not buying anything packaged – so nothing to recycle. Making everything, anytime you need it from local or home-grown ingredients… doesn’t really fit the lifestyles, or schedules that us humans have evolved to, does it?
There is so much to consider, we want to explain what we’ve found out to you, and so we set a challenge: What is the best packaging material for Cosmetics products in Australia?
Four options in packaging are; Glass, Aluminum, Paper, Plastic. So, let’s dive right in!
Glass was the first option that came to mind for us. It’s infinitely recyclable without loss of quality, reusable and it looks great for skincare in your bathroom. The one initial downside we saw was that it’s very heavy, so that’s an added environmental impact to account for in shipping, especially if it breaks in transit so we have to ship more.
Most people expect to be able to recycle glass as we put it in our yellow top bins or take them to a local recycling centre. BUT, is it actually getting recycled?
A few years ago the Glass Recycling industry was non-existent in Australia. Luckily, this is starting to change with new recycling centres popping up with incentives to drop off your sorted recycling. But let’s talk about what happens when you put glass in your recycling bin?
In co-mingled recycling, like that yellow top bin, glass is becoming a contaminant to other recyclables like paper, because when it breaks in your recycling bin it is lowering the value or ability to recycle the other items.
Broken glass can also be hazardous to workers and damage machines at sorting facilities. It’s also extremely difficult to sort broken glass as most manufacturers require glass to be sorted by colour in order to recycle these into new high quality glass bottles and jars. When it’s too difficult or expensive to sort, these facilities put it in landfill.
Overall glass is not the best solution for single-use items until our recycling, sorting and recycled manufacturing can evolve. Ultimately it makes a great re-usable item as long as it doesn’t break. Did you know there are even whispers that the wine industry may change from glass to a new solution, we’ve already seen a spike in beer packaging moving to aluminium cans… so let’s talk about that next!
Probably a step better in packaging options is aluminium. It is number 1 when it comes to recyclability because it’s infinitely recyclable and doesn’t require sorting like glass. It’s lightweight, so the transportation footprint is lower than glass too.
So, why aren’t we using aluminium everything? The main problems with Aluminium packaging can be summarised into two parts; production and sturdiness. Also, sad but true, some aluminium packaging isn’t getting recycled despite your best efforts, as it can be compressed so small that it slips out in sorting facilities or the facilities cannot tell if it’s recyclable aluminium tube or if it’s a mixed material – so those tubes are likely going into landfill!
Production - Only a handful of Australian manufacturers have the technology required for sealing aluminium tubes. In contrast with plastic ones that are filled and sealed with heat; aluminium tubes are filled and then rolled to seal. For small brands like us - when you already have long-time established relationship with a local family manufacturer, it becomes a challenge to change your provider, process, and we don’t want to take our manufacturing offshore for a number of reasons. When it comes to the production of making the actual tube, jar or bottle, aluminium costs the environment a lot. Aluminium takes a lot of energy to mine from our earth, it is expensive, then it causes a heap of emissions in the manufacturing of it into the packaging shapes.
Sturdiness - Aluminium packaging can be easily damaged. The outside surface can easily dent, bent or perforate. For efficient transportation, extra wrapping material would be required. Extra wrap equals more waste – and no one wants that, we even get complaints from customers that the orders are packed too well. Many of you probably wouldn’t mind receiving or buying a bit of a bruised container, but for stores shelves and some consumers, product presentation is everything. We’ve had many complaints or returns of our Aroma Balm and Restoring night Cream due to damaged containers, so we did give it a go!
Okay, so we understand there has been a lot of information about going ‘plastic-free’ out there. We get comments and questions nearly every day about the use of plastic for most of our current packaging.
Before making the final judgement on this material, it’s important to understand there are many different types of it. Single-use plastic like (not long ago banned) shopping bags and other soft plastics are some of the most commonly found plastics in our oceans. Why? Because most councils don’t accept this plastic in their recycling process, so in order to efficiently recycle them you need to take it back to big shops (like Coles) where they have special collection bins. Very limited recycling options for such a widely use plastic.
Now let’s talk about the type of plastic we use in A bit Hippy. Our Shampoo, Conditioner and Wash bottles are a hard plastic that is 100% recyclable and is the most widely recycled plastic in the world! In contrast with glass, there’s a huge industry behind this making sure it gets recycled as it means money. For this reason, we believe that until recycling industries like evolve in Australia, or we find a more efficient way to work with aluminium, plastic bottles are the best option for our bottled products.
We’ve also considered doing re-fill pouches, but these can’t be recycled and unless they are refilled twice they actually have a higher environmental impact.
A common suggestion is to create solid Shampoo, Conditioner and Wash bars. We’ve looked into them too and discussed with a few chemists, but A bit Hippy’s effective scalp formulas can’t be created in a form of a solid bar – so we might have to look at a new formulation if we bring out a bar and it may not be as effective for those with a sensitive scalp.
Okay, so how about tubes? All of the tubes we have currently are made from 30% recycled plastic and are themselves recyclable. But, there are a lot of different types of tube materials out there, some of which are not recyclable, so some recycling sorting facilities can’t tell the difference between different tubes so they aren’t always recycled either.
The plastics industry and recycling plastics has been around so long that there are constant developments, and you’ll see a few of these coming out later in the year to improve our packaging efforts as well as helping you recycle them in a way that will actually get recycled.
I know what you’re thinking, you can’t put your products in paper… and you’re right, mostly! We’ve been looking at new paper board packaging construction and are working on a plastic-free solution for our Dry Shampoo to reduce our reliance on plastics with a highly recyclable alternative that also has a low carbon footprint. We will keep investigating options here when developing new product formulations and use paper where possible.
As always, we’re open to your suggestions and comments. Perhaps you know of another material that can work better now that you’ve understand the challenges we face. Can’t wait to hear from you if you do!