Premium Beauty News - What is the current state of play regarding the reuse of plastic?
Julien Tremblin - Today, there is a glaring inadequacy between the commitments of brands and the will of legislators, on the one hand, and the actual availability of recycled plastic, on the other. Brands are choosing to use recycled content and, at the same time, several European countries are starting to make the use of recycled plastics mandatory. The industry has high commitments, with high levels of recycled content being incorporated. As a result, demand is skyrocketing.
It is a sincere and unquestionable desire to improve things. But this is out of touch with the reality of the amount of recycled plastics available. In its report, "Plastics - The Facts 2022", Plastics Europe indicates that only 5.5 million tonnes of recycled plastic had been incorporated in 2021, which only represents 9.9% of European plastic consumption.
Premium Beauty News - Why is there such a disconnect between supply and demand?
Julien Tremblin - The problem comes firstly from the concentration of demand on a small number of materials. The plastics reintegrated into the packaging are often PET or HDPE. These plastics have many other uses and are therefore sought after by many manufacturers. At the same time, the increase in energy costs in Europe, due to the war in Ukraine, has a direct impact on recycling costs.
We can therefore see a bleak situation emerging. Today, a recycler has no reason to go looking for a material that is not in demand. Instead, the most demanded materials (aluminium, PET) are becoming ever more expensive. Once energy costs are taken into account, the integration of recycled content appears less and less viable.
To make the economic equation more advantageous, in favour of recycled content, the UK has introduced a plastic tax (a malus) on products that do not have 25% recycled content. But the situation today is such that this may not be enough to offset the extra cost of recycled material. More generally, the problem with these taxes is that revenues generated are not necessarily allocated to the development of additional recycling capacities.
Premium Beauty News – Will chemical recycling and, in the long run, enzymatic recycling allow increasing the quantities of available materials?
Julien Tremblin - Chemical recycling can be interesting, the problem is that it is not available yet on a large scale and that heating greatly reduces yields. Enzymatic recycling is a promising technology, but it has not yet been deployed on an industrial scale.
Today, we are even witnessing a decrease in recycling rates in some countries, and the global share of recycled plastic is decreasing due to an ever-increasing production of virgin material!
Premium Beauty News - What could be the short-term solutions?
Julien Tremblin - I think the first way to solve the problem is to abandon the "virgin mentality" that currently drives packaging design and which is based on an abundance of cheap resources. It’s a paradigm shift that would involve, for example, starting to design packaging in a closed loop.
A lot of cosmetic packaging is not made of PET or HDPE but uses other materials - such as ABS - for which there is no recycling channel because collection costs are considered too high. For these materials, we encourage companies to create closed loops. The first step is to approach a recycler and ask if they would be able to recycle a particular material if a source was available. Once this point has been settled, manufacturers can be sure that they have the necessary recycled material and will have avoided the landfilling or incineration of "less desirable" plastic materials. We have already set up many collection programmes at the POS with cosmetics companies.
Another solution is to design the packaging directly from the waste. This concept is very similar to the previous one but is not a closed loop. The idea is to work with recycling centres to find a source of waste that they do not recycle but whose properties match the characteristics of the packaging to be designed or source it themselves. One possibility is to focus on the collection of waste with an identifiable track record and therefore with a traceable origin (e.g. litter or marine waste).
Premium Beauty News - In any case, it seems obvious that recycling is no silver bullet.
Julien Tremblin - This is an important message to convey! Recycling is essential but we know very well that if we want to change the situation, we need to set up new economic models, to move from disposable to reusable. We need to increase reuse rates in all areas! Some solutions are specific to the beauty industry, others are multi-sectoral and available on a global scale. This is our aim with the creation of Loop, our packaging reuse division. Other initiatives are being put in place by distributors.
That said, we cannot ignore the importance of reducing waste at its source. We must all contribute to a better future by consuming less, or at least differently.