Is it more relevant to substitute plastic for glass? To choose refills? How to objectively analyse a product’s carbon footprint? Are consumers ready to adopt lighter packaging? To answer these questions, brands need to adopt a global thinking approach and take into account available technologies, some of which have only just emerged.

Gérald Martines, fondateur de In•Signes

Gérald Martines, fondateur de In•Signes

Preconceived ideas

To help manufacturers in all beauty categories, Pascale Brousse and Gérald Martines, founders of the Trendsourcing agency and In•Signes, respectively, have conducted a pathbreaking study [1] which puts into perspective the various applications possible.

As an introduction, the two experts warn about preconceived ideas. “Plastic pollution has become much visible and is a real issue, but it should not mask the problem of climate change, which prevails over all others as regards systemic risks. As a matter of fact, materials considered less polluting, like glass and aluminium, actually emit a lot of greenhouse gases. It is the target that should be taken into account: all consumers are not ready for the same sacrifices,” emphasizes Gérald Martines.

We tried to explain that companies need to carry out a life cycle assessment and take into account all stakeholders. The first step consists in analysing all scopes in terms of sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, use…,” adds Pascale Brousse.

The three Rs: obviously, but in the right order

The study clearly shows the need to focus on the well-known three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. “Provided they are taken in the right order. They are not on the same level. It is not because you choose one of them that you are over and done with the whole issue. Having recyclable packaging is not enough,” highlights Gérald Martines.

To start with, it is recommended to reduce anything unnecessary. “We noticed that even luxury brands could lighten their packaging without compromising on desirability,” note the two specialists. The notion of weight as a luxury marker seems to be losing ground to more uncluttered, minimalist versions. Other approaches aimed to simplify, lighten, or even remove secondary packaging should be mentioned, since the latter is widely perceived by consumers as “overpackaging”.

The second step consists in following the path of reusable packaging – the closest to the zero waste approach. “If there is room for improvement, it is definitely in this field,” explains Gérald Martines. Paradoxically, this approach puts the spotlight on the container. “Why throw an object for which resources have been extracted and energy spent? We are re-adopting habits dating back to the 1950s – a form of country wisdom which involves not throwing an object with a value,” he adds. This strategy is more or less easy to implement depending on the product categories. If things have already changed for perfumes and rinse-off products, skincare requires a longer transitional period. The study highlights initiatives like CoZie’s, whose technology makes it possible to deliver skincare from fountains, and also via white labelling, as a first answer.

Pascale Brousse, fondatrice de l'agence Trensourcing

Pascale Brousse, fondatrice de l’agence Trensourcing

The more brands will develop this model, the more economical it will be. We should bank on the fact that the bulk logistics chain will seduce many brands,” says Pascale Brousse.

In the meantime, the refill solution is finding its own place. “It is better than throwing away the whole jar, but capsules and Doypacks remain single-use solutions. In addition, the strategy should be adapted to the target. Certain consumers, in particular in the luxury segment, are not particularly fond of the refill system. But of course, younger generations more sensitive to budget and environmental parameters will definitely adopt it. It is all about being in line with cultural changes,” say the two experts. Again, the best is yet to come, with new technological developments which will eventually make it possible to recycle flexible bags – for now, these are based on plastic multi-layer materials.

There is a last aspect to consider: the fact that packaging should be recycled. “There are ecodesign recipes: packaging is not spontaneously recyclable, it should be designed accordingly. It should contain only one material or be easily separable, and above all, there should be a whole collection and sorting chain available. The European Directive will encourage this by imposing a double constraint by 2030: a minimum percentage of 50% recycled materials in packs, and the impossibility to market a pack for which there is no recycling chain. These two measures involving both upstream and downstream operations will help implement a circular economy,” explain the study’s authors.

As regards plastic recycling, the study mentions various actions complementary to mechanic recycling, in particular enzymatic transformation, which is more natural and less energy-consuming, and above all, adapted to all types of materials for almost the same result as virgin plastic.

Ultimately, as it is designed to be immediately applied to brands’ needs, the study provides a broad portfolio of examples. “It is a practical, pragmatic study filled with cases brands can draw inspiration from. They can just do their shopping,” conclude Pascale Grousse and Gérald Martines.