Our journey towards sustainable packaging
As part of our ongoing commitment to minimise our impact on the environment, we will be changing most of our packaging from recyclable plastic to glass. It’s been a long time coming, as I wanted to make sure I chose the material with the least impact on our environment, and the most potential for circular closed loop systems. The more I researched sustainability and different material options, the more complex I realised this issue is. Some materials can seem like brilliant solutions at a first glance, but actually have negative impacts on our environment and communities when viewed as a whole.
Assessing material options and sustainability factors
* Bioplastics - These are plastics made from other biological materials, such as sugarcane, rather than petroleum. They are 100% recyclable, 100% renewable, and often technically carbon negative, as the crops absorb CO2 as they grow. You can see why people might refer to this as the ‘green’ polyethylene. However, it’s still ultimately resulting in the production of plastic, which behave exactly like petroleum based plastics, taking hundreds of years to biodegrade and polluting our land and seas with microplastics. Large areas of land would be used to grow the crops for polymer production, rather than keeping our resources for food production, and the pesticides required would pollute our groundwater.
* Compostable bioplastics, such as Polylactic Acid (PLA) - Made from biological materials such as corn starch, these often single use plastics boast 100% compostability. However, industrial composting facilities often sort and BURN these bioplastics. The labour required to compost these materials simply outweigh the benefits they bring to the compost. We need to start thinking in terms of whether materials will be recycled, rather than whether they can be recycled. Many companies have now banned industrially compostable items from their shelves because of this. Recycling them isn’t an option either - they can contaminate normal petroleum based plastics and cause the entire load of recycling to be sent to landfill.
* PCR (Post Consumer Regrind) aka Recycled plastics - Up to 50% less energy is used making rPET plastics compared to making PET from scratch(1), and of course using recycled plastic prevents bottles ending up in landfill. I believe this is a great option for the future, but unfortunately recycled plastics are simply not developed enough currently. Packaging options are minimal, and those that are available hold minimum order quantities of 25,000+, which completely outrules this option for small and medium businesses.
A little bit about our decision to go with glass packaging
The total energy required to produce, package and transport a 500g glass jar is 34 mega joules (MJ), which is almost the same as an equal sized PET container at 32 MJ (2)(3). But with only 61% of plastic packaging being recycled(4), avoiding plastic waste in our oceans is our priority. Plastic takes thousands of years to decompose, and the micro-plastics they break down into are very dangerous to the maritime flora and fauna. With glass being made from only natural raw materials, if any of the containers were to end up in landfill or our oceans, it poses much less of a threat to our ecosystems and is not considered a pollutant.
Another advantage of glass is that it is infinitely and easily recyclable. Not only does recycling save our natural resources, but most importantly, recycling requires considerably less energy than is needed to melt raw materials for production.
Even better than recycling is to reuse, so please keep your pots! We’re working on a refill system where you’ll be able to download a Freepost label to return your empties and we’ll sanitise them for reuse.
Our decision to keep the polypropylene airless container for our Nutrient Rich Face Cream
Our formula is reliant on living in an airless container - exposure to air would dry it out, making it thicker and less readily absorbed on the skin. I searched far and wide for glass airless containers, which I later learned cannot exist. This is because glass is blown into shape, so each bottle is not completely uniform in size. These small shape variations means the airless mechanism (a flat disc that moves upwards pushing the product out which each pump) cannot achieve an airtight fit in the bottle.
I found glass bottles with thin collapsable plastic bags inside, so are equally airless with much less plastic use. Unfortunately this design has been patented and all the suppliers I found have prices that are triple the plastic version and hold minimum order quantities of 5,000+. This unfortunately is not an option for small businesses.
I looked into reusable airless pump containers, but these are not recyclable. As I can’t guarantee the use of our refill system for all of our bottles, I decided to stick with our polypropylene (PP) pumps. They are fully recyclable and are collected by most local councils.
Samantha Smith —
Thank you for this, I found it really interesting. I have an Eco shop in Cornwall & so very interested in sustainability along with the practicality of packaging etc
I love your skincare products and your vision for your business. Long term customer here 😊👍