Hair care bottles made of plant-based materials, refillable fragrance flacons, skin care brands that take back tubes and jars for recycling, and cosmetic compacts that can be re-used—all are milestones within the beauty industry’s continual drive toward developing packaging that’s more sustainable. In addition, many brands and manufacturers have made huge strides in areas such as diminishing waste, capitalizing on solar or wind energy, reducing multiple coatings and creating packaging that fully evacuates the product.
Brands that hold sustainability and eco-friendly practices at the core of their DNA, often rely on the product’s packaging to tell their story through recyclable symbols, certifications, refillable products and noticeably lighter weight components.
“In general,” says Katherine O’Dea, senior fellow with GreenBlue, a nonprofit organization that includes the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, “Packaging is the consumer interface so the easiest way to get consumers’ attention in this regard is with the words recycled content and recyclable. Recycled content speaks volumes about being green,” she says, adding that packages made of recycled materials and those that can be recycled are today’s key trends because consumers understand (or think they understand) these terms.
But while these terms may convey an instant green message to consumers shopping with environmental causes at heart, the term sustainable packaging has evolved to also define what many now consider to be a necessary way of doing business, a way to think through the entire supply chain for the greatest efficiency when designing a package.
Thus the concept of sustainable packaging has changed as brands and suppliers learn what works and what doesn’t, what’s practical and what’s not, what makes sense now and what’s further down the road. But this doesn’t mean the goal has waned; it’s more that the emphasis may have shifted, and while some naysayers claim that the world’s current economic situation has put eco-friendly packaging on the back burner, in reality, sustainable packaging and practices have become essentials of remaining competitive in the beauty—or nearly any other—business.
Different Strokes for Different Suppliers
Taking this into account, Beauty Packaging interviewed a number of key suppliers in the industry to learn about their interpretations of sustainable packaging in 2012, and how they are fulfilling brands’—and society’s—expectations.
Dr. Gerald Rebitzer, sustainability leader, Amcor Flexibles Europe & Americas, tells Beauty Packaging from his office in Zurich, that sustainable packaging remains “a hot topic of growing importance.” He says: “Beauty and cosmetics packaging is related to emotion and reputation. The economic situation is irrelevant. In fact a positive aspect of economic consequences is that focus has shifted to basics and critical points.” For example, he says, “There used to be hype about biodegradable and compostable materials—now [these materials are looked at] just when it makes sense.”
Dr. Rebitzer maintains that when it comes to packaging design and material selection, you have to look at the complete picture—raw materials, how it’s being manufactured, how efficiently it’s used. “Like everything,” he says, “it needs continuous improvement for cost and social reasons. It’s a continuous process.”
At Amcor, Dr. Rebitzer says, “Our approach is to embed sustainability into the business product. Sustainability is similar to quality management.” Amcor’s focus on sustainability ranges from down gauging to refillable and reclosable packaging.
Carole Branchetti, vice president of marketing services and administration, Berlin Packaging, agrees that sustainability practices are alive and well. However, she also points out the paradox of consumers pushing for eco-friendly changes, but then resisting any cost that may be connected with the move.
“Every market survey or trend study we see shows increasing focus on sustainability, and we definitely see increased interest from our customers for their brands, says Branchetti. However, she adds: “We also know that sustainability often comes with tradeoffs that many consumers aren’t ready for. This reluctance on the part of the consumer is actually often cited as the largest hurdle to adopting new or better practices.” She says that when asked, consumers think CPGs should be doing more—but then the same consumers often aren’t willing to pay for the costs associated with early adoption.
That’s why Branchetti says it’s important to make sure the packaging sustainability strategy fits into a company’s overall strategy and goals for the brand. “So an overall trend we see is the dramatic increase in dialogue regarding the role of sustainability and the tradeoffs companies are considering to let it play a greater role in the product messaging,” she explains.
“What can be classified as ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘sustainable’ packaging has such a broad interpretation in this industry, it’s hard to define their meaning in such general terms,” says Rebecca Cohen, marketing specialist, Metsä Group, “but speaking generally, when we think of what ‘sustainable packaging’ means, we are talking about a package that has been designed holistically to optimize environmental performance and to contribute positively to the product’s sustainability.”
A holistic approach is also top of mind at RockTenn, where Jessica Kimbrough, vice president, marketing, consumer packaging, says, “With increasing emphasis placed on the development of packaging from a holistic perspective—with the packaging’s end of life in mind—innovation and sustainability have become inextricably linked. Developing packaging through the lens of sustainability is becoming an expectation by packaged goods companies that are continuing to design packaging that uses renewable and recyclable materials, meets cost and performance expectations, delivers the in-store ‘wow factor’ using sustainable technologies, all while reducing environmental impact.”
Even small changes can combine for a large impact. At Alpha Packaging, Marny Bielefeldt, director of marketing, says, “Eco-friendly packaging has evolved to encompass any incremental improvement in a finished package’s carbon footprint. While several years ago, beauty brands tended to think of eco-friendly as something that was either bio-based or 100% recycled, now brand owners have come to appreciate the cumulative impact of even small changes that incrementally reduce the environmental impact of their packaging.” For example, she says, “A lot of beauty brands are beginning to see how much paper and waste they can eliminate by moving from pressure-sensitive labels to UV screen printing directly onto the bottle.”
Rosalyn J. Bandy, sustainability manager, Avery Dennison Label and Packaging Materials, points out that brands are going beyond what they want—or don’t want—in their own packages—and ensuring that sustainable practices are in place down the line.
“More and more brands are developing comprehensive sustainability plans and external reports; consequently, they want a solid understanding of their entire supply chain. It’s not just the product you supply to them; it’s also how you plan to reduce your own energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and what kind of corporate citizen you are. They want the full picture that stands behind the product,” she says.
At Unimac Packaging Group, Pamela Conover, VP client services, agrees. She describes sustainable packaging as “packaging that reduces the environmental impact and its ecological footprint through the package design, choice of materials, processing and life cycle.” She says that eco-friendly packaging will reduce a company’s carbon footprint by using more recycled materials, and reusing more package components.
Conover says, “Sustainable packaging minimizes the use of materials, and takes logistics efficiency, energy efficiency, and the use of renewable energy into consideration during the manufacturing process.” This includes everything from recycled content, the recyclability of the package, and whether the packaging materials are biodegradable; all need to be considered, she says. In addition: Are any of the materials toxic to the environment? Does the process in which it is created affect the ozone layer, create greenhouse gases, or produce volatile organic compounds?
Weatherchem’s vice president of marketing, Anna Frolova-Levi believes that sustainable, eco-friendly packaging in 2012 has just as much to do with how the package is made as how it is used by the consumer. “Being a good steward of the environment involves many steps throughout the process,” she says. “Use less energy in package production. Reduce the weight of the package to not only affect the amount of material used but also reduce shipping and fuel costs to deliver that package. Reduce the amount of scrap when producing the package. Recycle everything possible throughout the production process—pallets, shrink wrap, corrugated paper, etc.”
“The definition of ‘sustainability’ has never been broader,” comments Malcolm Sinclair, export sales and marketing director, Tullis Russell. He says sustainable packaging decision-making not only includes the choice of materials through the design, print and construction of the box, but now extends into how it will be disposed of and whether it can have some longer-term functional use.
As an example, Sinclair cites Lancôme’s Aroma Blue fragrance, which was launched on Tullis Russell’s trucard 1 gloss recycled. “L’Oréal wanted to emphasize the use of natural ingredients by choosing a recycled cartonboard, but also wanted to deliver the type of look that needed a coated surface,” he explains.
Shannon Payne, vice president of sales, World Wide Packaging LLC, also views sustainable packaging as a combination of the actual primary package achieving some level of “sustainability” based on materials utilized, as well as the reduction in the carbon footprint to achieve some level of eco-friendly categorization based on process.
Beth Scherer, director of sustainability, Curtis Packaging, sums up the meaning of sustainable packaging as it stands today:
“There are three legs to the sustainability stool: people, profits, and planet—and a sustainable package will take all three into account. There is no single way to create a ‘sustainable’ package. Materials sourcing, production, product protection, branding and price all need to be taken into account. If a package is made of 100% post consumer waste but is not protecting the product and acting as the silent salesman, then it is not sustainable. Likewise if it protects the product and provides a space for advertising but harms the environment through natural resource depletion or pollution at end of life, it is not sustainable. To be sustainable, a package must be win-win.”
Scherer adds, “Unless customers see environmental sustainability as important to their brand, they are unlikely to pay more for ‘eco-friendly’ materials and often do not take advantage of the eco-conscious logos we offer at no additional charge. However, most of our customers prefer to work with a company they feel is sustainable provided it does not come at an additional cost. In many cases we are able to meet this demand by implementing innovative measures that improve efficiency, decreasing our costs and environmental impacts simultaneously. It is that kind of sustainability thinking, incorporating both environmental and cost concerns that our customers value.”
One overall practice that’s beneficial to people, planet and corporate interests is reduction.
GreenBlue’s O’Dea says, “An ideal sustainable package pushes the envelope with recycled content and materials reduction.”
Amcor’s Dr. Rebitzer reminds us that we can’t look at packaging in isolation. “What’s more important,” he says, “is to look at packaging and product together; look at portion packs, smaller packs, reclosable packs, depending on application.” Rebitzer emphasizes that the role of packaging is to protect the product, and that the impact of the packaging is actually small (maybe 5%) compared to the waste of the product contained, in environmental terms. Packing efficiently, according to Dr. Rebitzer, is key to eliminating the most waste.
Cutting back on waste is also a primary concern at Weatherchem, where Frolova-Levi also references the end user. Once the product reaches the consumer, she says, the sustainability loop continues. “One aspect that is often overlooked but can have a significant impact on sustainability, she notes, is ensuring that the closure is appropriate for the product.” A closure that allows just the right amount of product to be dispensed ultimately reduces waste. With an appropriate closure, the consumer receives the most value from their purchase, and will not prematurely invest in an additional package because they have consumed the product too quickly due to waste. Not only is this good for the environment, it helps enhance the consumer/brand relationship. When the package is ultimately recycled, sustainability has come full circle.”
At Alpha Packaging, Bielefeldt says customers look at the whole package as a means to make an environmental statement. “Because we make the primary package, customers look to us to provide a bottle or jar that uses only as much resin as necessary to protect the product through filling, shipping, retail and use. There is also a trend toward direct screen printing (instead of pressure-sensitive labels) for colorful and environmentally friendly decorating,” she adds.
Bandy says, at Avery Dennison, reduced material and recyclability is the most widespread combined approach. To this end, she describes the company’s new Greenprint tool that helps converters and end users understand the environmental consequences of labeling and packaging choices. It’s a product life cycle assessment tool that quantifies the impact of label choices across six areas: barrels of oil used in the raw materials, number of trees used in the raw materials, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste generated, and energy used. “This knowledge can help create a powerful sustainability story about packaging that can elevate a brand and accelerate sales,” explains Bandy.
“When you think about the hierarchy of waste management,” says Bandy, “the very first step is to reduce. A reduced material package means less waste you have to deal with later.” Avery Dennison recently launched Global MDO, a reduced-material film label product that has both a lighter-weight facestock and a lighter-weight release liner. In addition, the release liner contains up to 25% recycled content.
A key sustainability trend among RockTenn customers, says Kimbrough, “is an increasing interest in ways we can help them quantify the value of the packaging we provide, from the standpoint of cost, performance and reduced environmental impact. Our supply chain approach identifies opportunities to reduce total cost and environmental impact—from material selection and designing right-sized packaging to optimizing production processes and freight scenarios.” She says many of their customers/brands are placing focus on zero waste initiatives, which underscores the need to select packaging materials that are renewable and recyclable, as well as developing waste and recycling programs in their operations.
Weatherchem’s Frolova-Levi says the company is so committed to reducing waste that it has invested significantly—and made great progress—toward its goal of becoming “landfill-free.”
Not only has Weatherchem invested in new electric presses that consume 30% less energy and consume fewer gallons of water, company employees led an initiative to reduce scrap, and initially cut levels by 50%. The company began recycling pallets, shrink wrap and corrugated paper to reduce landfill content, to the point that actually very little is going into the trash now.
Focus on Recyclables and Light Weighting
Dennis Bacchetta, director of marketing, Diamond Packaging, says, “We mostly see brands approaching sustainability through right-sizing and utilization of eco-friendly materials (e.g., FSC-certified, recyclable paperboard and recycled materials with high PCW content).” They are also adapting their graphics through the use of eco-labels (e.g., mobius loop, FSC, wind energy) and the inclusion of an environmental statement.
At World Wide, Payne says, “PCR seems to be gaining momentum in some areas/market segments, while light weighting of primary packaging continues to gain interest and has been building momentum for the past few years.
Unimac’s Conover notes, “When we used to think of ‘recyclable paper products,’ we used to think of unattractive brown or grey board products, molded fiber products and kraft paper products. The biggest problem with creating a package using those products was the unattractive appeal of the package to the consumer. Since the aesthetics of a package play such a significant role with the consumer, innovative thinking was necessary to change the mindset of the people.” She says paper companies began creating colored kraft paper products with the option to utilize many different embossing patterns. This slowly began to change the mindset with the developers and allow more environmentally friendly packaging to be created and sold in the marketplace.
When it comes to plastics, Bielefeldt points out that “virtually all of the bottles we manufacture are recyclable.” Many of Alpha’s bottles and jars have been light weighted to an optimal gram weight that offers raw material savings while still ensuring performance of the primary package. “For companies that want to take it to the next level,” she says, “post-consumer (recycled) materials are the most popular request from customers concerned about the environment.”
Alpha recently worked with TricorBraun on a 100% recycled (post-consumer) PET bottle and UV ink decorating for Pangea Organics. The amber PET bottles are not only made from recycled plastic, but they can be recycled again with dark post-consumer regrind. The inks used on the bottles are UV-cured and contain no heavy metals, and no volatile organic compounds or other toxins, explains Bielefeldt.
At Berlin, Branchetti says, “We see the most interest in the approaches most easily visible to consumers. This includes recycled content, greater recyclability, and light weighting of components through design. Also formulation changes to concentrates and the real or perceived reduction in wordy chemistry. But we also see some of the most effective improvements in the supply chain, which are often less visible to consumers—such as redesign for greater pack-out and freight efficiencies, as well as relocating manufacturing closer to the filling operation.”
While Amcor’s Rebitzer and GreenBlue’s O’Dea agree that, except in certain cases, companies seem to be in “a wait-and-see mode” as far as innovative packaging materials such as bioplastics, O’Dea says, “One of the most exciting innovations at the moment is the plant bottle—made from a bio-based PET that is fully recyclable. The polyethelene from sugarcane is identical to petroleum-based, and these plant bottles can go directly into the recycling stream.” The material has been used successfully by beverage companies Coca Cola and Pepsi, and in beauty, with P&G’s Pantene.
Lageen Tuboplast Ltd. has maintained its focus on the benefits of bioplastics in packaging, developing renewable and “green” polyethylene biopolymer extruded sugarcane tubes that have just launched for personal care, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Steven A. Gallo, Lageen’s director of business development-North America, says the whole process is environmentally friendly, from planting the sugarcane to the production of the biopolymer. As GreenBlue’s O’Dea described previously, Gallo explains that the technical properties of the sugarcane tubes are very close to the regular polyethylene tubes, but with the benefit of not using petroleum. The sugarcane tubes are also 100% recyclable.
To complement the plant-based tubes, Gallo says Lageen has developed a tube cap that contains wood fibers, and which “falls into the category of products using renewable raw materials.” He says the chemical characteristics of the “wood cap” are polymer-blend based on polypropylene (PP) with natural fiber compounds (wood-plastics-composites: WPC) and a fiber content of about 50%.
“We find these new offerings are of special interest to those brands filling natural and/or organic products and to those companies that also have serious ‘green’ initiatives,” says Gallo, who adds, “Lageen is also ISO14001 certified for environmental management and has completed shipping optimization and component down gauging as part of our green initiative.”
Another tactic taken by many companies to improve sustainability is to combine manufacturing operations.
Diamond Packaging’s Bacchetta, notes, “Customers continue to seek more value-added in a single-pass operation.” He says, “The goal is to produce more sustainable decorative effects through in-line processes without requiring a separate stamping or embossing pass, thereby reducing material and energy usage.” Bacchetta explains that this is often achieved with minimal added cost, and may reduce costs if off-line processes are eliminated.
Diamond has addressed this demand by investing in two state-of-the-art Heidelberg Speedmaster XL 105 offset printing presses that can apply specialty metallic coatings in an initial flexo dispersion coater prior to printing up to eight colors and two additional specialty coatings—all in a single pass.
Bacchetta says that some brands are taking a more comprehensive approach by working to minimize environmental impact through materials and more sustainable converting methods, including the in-line application of specialty coating and holographic effects. This, he says, “often results in lower material and energy usage (compared to off-line processes), with reduced costs and shorter lead times. The added advantage is that these additional decorative processes deliver enhanced shelf impact,” he says.
Diamond’s Green Chic packaging incorporates multiple technologies, all applied inline, making “a significant advance in the field of sustainable packaging design. Upscale or luxury brands can now support environmental concerns without sacrificing identity,” he says.
Strong interest in the use of printing and finishing options and technologies that reduce environmental impact, and can be more cost effective than the traditional processes, are also sought by some of Rock Tenn’s customers. “Our customers are incorporating inks, coatings and graphic enhancements such as cold foil, transfer foil processes and textured effects to provide ‘sustainable bling’ to their packages,” says Kimbrough.
Unimac Packaging has also added several processes that decrease steps and energy use, but increase the “wow factor,” says Conover, including Cast & Cure and Cold Foil embellishments, “which are more sustainable and eco friendly than conventional hot foil stamping and holographic printing, but still catch the eye of consumers.”
Sustainable attributes of Cast & Cure include: fully recyclable films; recyclable UV coating or UV varnish; no harmful VOCs; and less energy use than traditional holographic processes. Cold Foil is an inline process that eliminates the additional steps, tooling and dies needed for hot foil stamping. Like Cast & Cure, Cold Foil does not prevent paper from being re-pulped, recycled, or de-inked, says Conover, and both are recyclable and compostable.
Fueling New Energy
Like many of the other companies mentioned in this article, Unimac has taken great strides to reduce its entire carbon footprint.
Conover says, “The trend to ‘lower one’s footprint’ at point of manufacture is a huge trend and lends a leg up to everyone becoming more eco-friendly, just by doing business with those manufacturing companies. This past January, Unimac installed a solar energy system, which generates 1,000,000 kWhs of clean renewable solar energy. Conover says that as Unimac received ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Certification, and FSC and SFI Chain of Custody Certification, “installation of solar energy was a logical next step as we continue to execute on our overall master environmental plan.”
One effort Metsä Board is undertaking is to build a biopower plant at its Kyro Mill in Finland. According to Sophie Fily, marketing communications manager, the plant will not only produce electricity and heat for the mill, but it will also be used to heat the adjacent village of Hämeenkyrö. Metsä Board is investing $65 million in this project, says Fily, and the plant’s main fuel will come from wood—more specifically, bark, whole tree chips, crushed stumps, and other wood fractions—in an effort to replace fossil natural gas with CO2-neutral wood energy. Fily says waste from the Kyro mill will be utilized as fuel as well. “We estimate that through the introduction of this new bio power plant, we will be able to reduce CO2 emissions by 100,000 tpa or the equivalent of about 60,000 cars.”
Small Steps Add Up
From light weighting and using recyclable materials, to plant-based bottles and tubes, streamlined printing processes and bio power plants—there is an ever-increasing amount of opportunities for packaging companies to achieve goals toward sustainable packaging. And, even better, there are many business advantages produced along the way—making sustainable packaging and practices throughout the supply chain an essential component of product design and corporate planning.
At Amcor, Rebitzer says, I think our big customers—like Unilever and P&G—all have sustainable packaging goals. It’s at the heart of packaging.” He adds, “Amcor has a comprehensive plan in place. The company sees sustainability as an integral part of doing business today.”
Cohen says the Metsä Group anticipates that sustainable packaging developments and considerations will continue to gain momentum in 2012 and onward. “More and more,” she says, “brand owners are outlining their own sustainable requirements, and they fully expect their suppliers to comply with them. It is evident that the sustainable movement is quickly becoming an integral and key consideration in packaging, and those companies that embrace eco-friendly practices will be seen as assets in the industry.”
Finally, GreenBlue’s O’Dea predicts, “There will be increasing interest as companies find out there are ways to save money while moving sustainable packaging strategies forward.”