The ethics of packaging

Features - Product Pull-Through

Cosmetics brand Lush extends its ethical buying to its plastics packaging, which is made solely from postconsumer resins.

Subscribe
April 30, 2018
DeAnne Toto

U.K.-based Lush makes “fresh” cosmetics by hand using vegetarian ingredients and little or no preservatives or packaging. The company says it believes words like “fresh” and “organic” have an honest meaning beyond marketing, and one could say the company takes the same view when it comes to its commitment to using recycled plastics in its packaging.

“Lush’s core value in sustainable packaging is to use 100 percent recycled content,” says Gary Calicdan, an ethical buyer for the company who is based out of its North American headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We’re consistent across our plastics and paper packaging not only in North America but [also] with the rest of the Lush manufacturing sites globally.”

The company’s plastic packaging, from its iconic black pots to its clear and black bottles, is made from 100 percent postconsumer resins (PCR), including polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE.)

“Last year, we used about 400 metric tons of recycled plastics in total,” Calicdan says of the company’s North American operations.

Confronting challenges

Lush has had to overcome several challenges to be able to use this much-recycled plastic in its packaging. Chief among them is obtaining a consistent supply of high-quality PCR, as North American infrastructure is still developing, Calicdan says.

Additionally, some packaging manufacturers do not welcome the chance to work with 100 percent PCR, he says, because of inconsistencies in quality, possible contamination of their current processes and a technical inability to work with the material.

Lush, however, has been able to find two manufacturers in North America that are willing to work with 100 percent recycled feedstock, Calicdan says. “Both of them understand the need to be more ecofriendly in packaging and that using recycled plastic is our best bet,” he says.

Lush’s Vancouver and Toronto manufacturing facilities get their plastic pots and bottles from local suppliers instead of from the company’s former suppliers in Taiwan, Japan and the U.K., according to the company’s website.

“These two converters also have their own in-house grinding machines that are able to process their own plastic waste and trimming and use [it] back in their own production,” Calicdan says. “Recycling is in their core values as well.”

Finally, Lush has had to make some compromises in the area of packaging aesthetics to use 100 percent PCR, he says. “Using recycled materials sometimes produces inconsistency in color, shade or clarity.”

These inconsistencies affect the company’s clear PET bottles, with Calicdan noting they can sometimes be a bit yellowish or grayish. Most variations in quality result from the technology and processes employed by the reprocessors, he adds.

“We understand using recycled plastics will result in such variance and have explained to our customers that we don’t use virgin materials in our major plastic packaging,” he continues. “We’re promoting recycling as an end-of-life solution.”

Members of Lush’s ethical buying team also seek to understand the company’s packaging supply chain with the goal of making it as resilient as possible, Calicdan says. “As a buyer, I’m involved in identifying the feedstock source: where recycled plastics are coming from (which province or U.S. cities or states), how they’re being processed into usable feedstock/resin and how they’re being converted into our finished plastics packaging.”

He says he visits resin suppliers and plastics processors to learn about their processes and their challenges. “I do basic audits and check to ensure they are adhering to Lush ethics and values.”

Lush’s buyers attempt to improve the company’s packaging supply chain by sourcing material locally when possible to reduce freight costs and Lush’s carbon footprint and by identifying the right source of feedstock and the right processor, which also help to improve the quality of Lush’s finished packaging and to control costs, Calicdan says.

“We try to look for local source options, as local sourcing has a ton of positive impacts,” Calicdan explains on the Lush website. “This might not be the cheapest option for the company, but the overall value of local sourcing means less freight costs, less inventory space, less carbon footprint and shorter delivery time.”

Enumerating the benefits

Just as Calicdan points to three challenges Lush faced in using 100 percent PCR in its plastics packaging, he mentions three primary benefits to the company as a result of its commitment to using PCR. First and foremost, he says, is the carbon footprint reduction Lush realizes. “Using recycled plastics cuts the energy required to produce the feedstock by half.”

Calicdan continues, “We’re also able to help increase awareness on [the] importance of plastic recycling, with the end goal of zero waste and landfill reduction.”

The third benefit the company sees is perhaps the most critical to the overall health of the plastics recycling industry in North America, and that is ensuring ongoing demand for PCR. “The creation of markets for recycled plastics helps the industry and government create infrastructure and technology around recycling,” he says.

The benefits Lush has seen from using PCR in its packaging do not extend to price, however. PCR prices are comparable with those for virgin resins, Calicdan says. “Although they follow different trends based on supply and demand, prices of recycled plastics tend to match the prices of virgin plastics.”

“The creation of markets for recycled plastics helps the industry and government create infrastructure and technology around recycling.” – Gary Calicdan, Lush ethical buyer

Doing its part to encourage recycling

The health of the PCR supply chain also hinges on consumer participation in recycling programs, whether they be curbside programs or the in-store takeback program that Lush has developed for its PP packaging.

For every five empty black pots customers bring back to Lush stores, they receive one free face mask.

“These returned black pots are being processed back into feedstock form and added back into production of new black pots,” Calicdan says.

Lush has concentrated on in-store takeback of this form of PP packaging because it is what the company is producing in the greatest volume, accounting for roughly 80 percent of the plastic packaging Lush customers take home.

“We’ve extended our in-store recycling program to our black lip tubes and black mascara packaging, which are also No. 5 PP,” Calicdan says.

By concentrating on its PP packaging in-store, he says, Lush maximizes the environmental benefits of recycling, “especially since the reverse logistics of returning packaging also has an impact that we need to consider.”

The company is working to address recycling challenges that still exist with its packaging. Calicdan says Lush understands that the pumps or sprayers used in its bottles pose challenges for recycling and adds that the company is looking into metal-free options as well as those that only use a single type of plastic. “We’re in discussions with a pump manufacturer to address these concerns,” he adds.

Lush also is working to reduce packaging waste initially by producing “naked” products. Calicdan says, “Our product inventors are based out of the head office in the U.K. and are always pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation and creating products that don’t require packaging at all.”

Thirty-five percent of Lush’s products are unpackaged. The remaining 65 percent are packaged using recycled and recyclable materials.

“It’s always been the goal of Lush buyers to create that positive impact while at the same time reducing the negative one,” Calicdan explains on the company’s website. “I make sure that we use the most sustainable options available to us.”

The author is managing editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at dtoto@gie.net.

For more information: Lush, 888-733-5874, www.lushusa.com