There has been a big increase in understanding what makes packaging sustainable and eco-friendly.
The Soil Association works with the sustainability experts, ‘Waste and Resources Action Programme’ better known as ‘WRAP’*, to set their packaging standards. All companies certified by the Soil Association, including us, are required to show that the packaging meets these standards. This includes:
- Minimising the use of single use plastics
- Not using problem plastics such as PVC (which is almost impossible to recycle, due to there being many different formulations that are extremely hard to separate out) or plastics developed from GMO’s
- Seeking to use only 100% recyclable plastic, and use recycled plastic where possible
- Paper and card products to be at the minimum Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF). In the past, Chlorine was used to bleach the material and created considerable pollution. As less and less is in the system, totally chlorine free (TCF) will become the norm.
- Use packaging made from recycled material. Currently, due to hygiene standards, second user plastics tend to be used for non-food and drink containing products. This in turn means that by the 3rd or 4th recycle the plastic is only suitable for things like plastic building cladding, plastic furniture, and recovery. Recovery is a final option, above only landfill, as this is essentially incinerating the plastic to recover the energy.
Our recent brand refresh gave us the opportunity to look carefully and thoroughly at how we could improve the chances of our packaging being recycled, as well as improving sustainability. We believed we could do even better than our previous packing, which already met the Soil Association standards.
Our research highlighted that recycling centres find is almost impossible to sort black plastic. Their scanners are rarely able to separate out which plastic they are made from so black plastics are largely sent to either the incinerator (which is labelled as energy recovery) or to landfill. In addition, black plastic can only really be used for making other dark plastics, again limiting their post-consumer market. Official data shows that white, clear, and opaque colourless are the most sought after, with PP (polypropylene) and HDPE (high-density polyethylene) being easily and widely recycled in kerbside collections. We therefore decided to use only these forms and colours of plastic in our products, where no alternative to plastic is available.
Most of the lotion pumps in use today are not easily recyclable. While there is a specialist centre that can deal with these items, kerbside collections, where most of the consumer recycling takes place, cannot. The key problems with those pumps are the use of mixed plastic materials and the steel spring locked inside. They nearly always head to the incinerator or landfill.
We are delighted to have found and received our initial batch of the world’s first fully recyclable lotion pump, that can successfully be recycled from kerbside collections. They were launched late in 2019 so are very new to market. They are made from polypropylene (PP) and use a unique design of an outer concertina moulded spring instead of the steel spring to recharge the chamber. Therefore, they do not require any specialist recycling.
Official data suggests that consumers are significantly more likely to recycle metal packaging, compared to plastic packaging. Aluminium bottles are around 30% more expensive than an equivalent high-quality PET plastic bottle and around double for cheaper plastics, so moving away from plastic bottles does come at a cost. However, metals can be recycled indefinitely, whereas plastics are generally limited to 3 or 4 cycles.
It is a lot easier to be eco-friendly with packing for delivering products these days. There are now companies that produce high quality cardboard boxes made from 75% to 100% recycled materials and using only certified sustainable materials for any new content. While paper and cardboard fibres break down over time, mixing new and old fibres significantly improves the strength of the recycled material. There are others that sell used boxes that are in good condition. At |Topline Naturals, we use a mixture of both.
We also put a lot of thought into how to fill the voids between products, how to effectively protect the contents and how to seal up the boxes ready for the delivery. It seemed obvious that plastic sticky tape can be switched to gummed paper tape, however we chose not to use reinforced paper tape as is not recyclable due to the glass fibre reinforcing. Aluminium bottles and tin cans do not spring back into shape when dented, unlike most plastic bottles. The inevitably means they require more outer packaging to protect them to ensure that they arrive in the perfect condition. For us, we found that using a wrap of recycled corrugated cardboard, held in place with a full wrap of gummed paper tape helps us deliver pristine bottles without compromising our principles.
We are always looking at ways to improve the sustainability and eco-friendly credentials of our packaging, as well as reducing plastic use and reducing waste.
You may like to read our blog about sustainable carbon offset delivery here
* The full Soil Association Health and Beauty standards can be viewed here: https://www.soilassociation.org/our-standards/read-our-organic-standards/health-beauty-standards/#:~:text=Soil%20Association%20Health%20%26%20Beauty%20Standards%20Applicable%20for,certified%20before%201st%20January%202017%20for%20non-cosmetic%20products.
WRAP, the sustainability experts can be found here: www.wrap.org.uk
Recycling data: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/918270/UK_Statistics_on_Waste_statistical_notice_March_2020_accessible_FINAL_updated_size_12.pdf