Embracing the beauty of imperfection

Features - Product Pull-Through

Unilever brand Love Beauty and Planet uses 100 percent recycled PET in its bottles, even if it means they look less than perfect.

August 6, 2018

Images: Love Beauty and Planet

It is unusual for beauty brands to promote anything other than perfection. But, when it comes to Unilever’s Love Beauty and Planet brand, it is proud of the imperfect nature of its polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, which are made from 100 percent recycled material.

This attitude is in keeping with the vegan beauty brand’s overall mission, which is “to make you more beautiful and give a little love to our planet.” On its website, the brand further explains its objective: “We want to help make a little difference towards a happier, less wasteful planet with every shower. Our approach is a holistic one, encompassing the entire product life cycle and beyond. We’ve given careful thought to our ingredients, product packaging and social partnerships. We call it our passionate journey of #smallactsoflove, and we’re just getting started.”

The people behind Love Beauty and Planet also acknowledge that they don’t have an easy task ahead of them, adding, “we won’t always get it right the first time. There will be mistakes. There will be failures. But, for us, purity of intent is bigger than perfection.”

Embracing circularity one step at a time

Molly Landman, global brand director for Love Beauty and Planet at Unilever, with U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, explains why the brand is prioritizing recycled content in its packaging. “It was important for us to use 100 percent recycled plastic to create our bottles because we want to move towards a more circular economy, designing products so that more packaging is utilized beyond its first life cycle,” she says. “Every one of our bottles is made from 100 percent recycled plastic.”

Landman says insisting on 100 percent recycled content increased the technical challenges the brand encountered. “We had to ensure the bottle met our high standard of functional performance. Recycled PET has a greater level of variability than virgin resin, and therefore we had to ensure this variability did not impact the final packaging quality.”

She adds that while Love Beauty and Planet did not compromise on functional performance, the brand chose to embrace variations in color and transparency. “We realized that just because the bottle isn’t as perfectly transparent as virgin PET it doesn’t mean it isn’t as beautiful or unique.”

Landman acknowledges that Love Beauty and Planet has more work to do in the area of incorporating recycled content into its packaging. “Our caps and pumps aren’t there yet, but we’re working on it.”

She continues, “To have the right quality is critical as the caps contain some moving parts, which are potentially brittle.”

It’s a challenge that Love Beauty and Planet seems interested in addressing head-on as the brand has committed to producing a lightweight cap that contains a minimum of 50 percent recycled content by 2020, Landman says.

“One of the biggest opportunities is to leverage the growing supply of recycled polypropylene (PP) in the marketplace,” she says. “PP is a very recyclable material, which had historically not been collected. We see this changing and recycled PP becoming an increasingly valuable resin.”

Completing the circle 

Love Beauty and Planet is working across the supply chain and within the plastics recycling industry to increase demand for recycled materials, Landman says. “This includes understanding proper design for recycling as well as improving recycling infrastructure and educating consumers.”

Design for recycling, she says, is a “key pillar” of the brand’s development program. “We carefully consider the packaging materials as we make decisions throughout the packaging design process, including product impact, consumer use and cost.” Landman adds, “It is increasingly important to consider packaging materials beyond the first life cycle and to move away from the ‘make-take-dispose’ model. We consider this in every step of our design process.”

Love Beauty and Planet’s goal is to divert 450 tons of plastic from landfills by helping to improve recycling and using recycled content in its packaging.

To improve recycling, one of the steps Love Beauty and Planet is taking is incorporating the How2Recycle label on its packaging, she says. This labeling system is designed to help Love Beauty and Planet clearly communicate recycling instructions for its product packaging to consumers.

Landman says the brand’s research revealed that consumers want to recycle but don’t always understand how to properly do so when it comes to different types of material. “This is why we use a new recycling logo on our packaging, in partnership with How2Recycle, which is larger in size and details where and how to recycle our products after use,” she says.

The How2Recycle label began in 2008 as a project of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a project of GreenBlue, a nonprofit based in Charlottesville, Virginia. The goals of the How2Recycle labeling system include reducing recycling-related confusion “by creating a clear, well-understood and nationally harmonized label that enables companies to convey to consumers how to recycle a package,” according to the How2Recycle website. Additionally, the labeling system seeks to improve the reliability, completeness and transparency of recyclability claims by following Federal Trade Commission Green Guides and to increase the availability and quality ofrecycled material.

Broadening the goal

Unilever’s plastic packaging goals extend beyond its Love Beauty and Planet brand. The company, which has its global headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands, announced in January 2017 that it is committed to ensuring all its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. In a news release announcing this commitment, Unilever states, “Treating plastic packaging as a valuable resource to be managed efficiently and effectively is a key priority.”

In addition to committing to ensuring its packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, Unilever has renewed its membership in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for another three years and endorsed and supported the organization’s New Plastics Economy initiative. The company says it will publish the full palette of plastics materials used in its packaging by 2020 to help create a plastics protocol for the industry. Unilever says it will invest in proving a technical solution to recycle multilayered sachets, particularly for coastal areas that are most at risk of plastics leaking into the ocean, sharing this information with the industry.

Additionally, Unilever has committed to reducing the weight of the packaging it uses by one-third by 2020 and to increasing its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25 percent by 2025 against a 2015 baseline.

At the time of the 2017 announcement, Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, said: “Our plastic packaging plays a critical role in making our products appealing, safe and enjoyable for our consumers. Yet, it is clear that if we want to continue to reap the benefits of this versatile material, we need to do much more as an industry to help ensure it is managed responsibly and efficiently postconsumer use.

“To address the challenge of ocean plastic waste, we need to work on systemic solutions—ones which stop plastics entering our waterways in the first place,” he continued. “We hope these commitments will encourage others in the industry to make collective progress towards ensuring that all of our plastic packaging is fully recyclable and recycled.”

Polman concluded by calling for collaboration among all stakeholders to address the recyclability of plastics. “We also need to work in partnership with governments and other stakeholders to support the development and scaling up of collection and reprocessing infrastructure, which is so critical in the transition towards a circular economy. Ultimately, we want all of the industry’s plastic packaging to be fully circular.”

Collaborating on change

Love Beauty and Planet is exploring the possibility of partnerships and collaboration by funding The Recycling Partnership. The Falls Church, Virginia-based nonprofit has a mission to double the current U.S. recycling rate, capture 22 million more tons of recyclables per year, avoid 55 million tons of greenhouse gases annually and save $250 million in contamination costs annually.

As part of its environmental commitment, the brand has set a goal to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 percent by 2020. For each carbon ton of greenhouse gas emitted during the creation, manufacture and distribution of its current product lineup as of late April, Love Beauty and Planet says it will contribute $40 to The Recycling Partnership. Additionally, the brand is donating 100 percent of the profits from its 2018 holiday gift sets to the organization.

“We are on a long journey to make people and our planet a little more beautiful,” Landman says. “We believe this starts with small but impactful acts, whether that’s making our bottles out of 100 percent recycled material or reducing our carbon footprint and supporting incredible organizations like The Recycling Partnership that are changing recycling in the U.S.”

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

For more information:
How2Recycle, 434-817-1424, http://how2recycle.info
Love Beauty and Planet, www.lovebeautyandplanet.com
New Plastics Economy, https://newplasticseconomy.org 
The Recycling Partnership, https://recyclingpartnership.org 
Unilever, www.unilever.com, 800-298-5018