Consumers have an intimate relationship with cosmetics, applying them to their lips, face and hair. But makeup and shampoo traditionally has been laden with chemicals and wrapped in packaging that could be sent only to a landfill.
Just as some green-minded companies have tried to use safe, nature-based ingredients, others are taking on the waste their goods leave behind by collecting packaging most recyclers can’t handle.
Aveda, which prides itself on its high levels of organic and plant-derived ingredients, is the latest to make such a move with the debut of its Full Circle program this month. Running in Aveda’s 107 Experience Center retail stores in the U.S., the program will accept any Aveda packaging that isn’t commonly accepted by local recycling services, including bottle caps, makeup brushes, tubes, pumps and certain bottles and jars.
“Aveda has long committed to the idea of zero waste as part of our product stewardship,” said Dave Rappaport, vice president of earth and community care for Aveda.
Many of Aveda’s packages contain 100 percent recycled content, a few hold Cradle to Cradle certification and most of its plastic tubes are easily recycled.
Aveda dipped its toe into waste diversion with a bottle cap recycling program in 2008, which allowed anyone to bring in bottle caps from any brand’s products — and not just cosmetics — to Aveda stores. To date, more than than 115 million caps have been collected since the program’s inception. Bottle caps, made from No. 5 plastic (polypropylene), are not commonly recycled.
That program wasn’t just a gesture of goodwill, but a means to attain raw material that can be recycled repeatedly without degradation. Aveda recycles the caps into new ones and sample tubes. The program in part let to the creation of Full Circle.
“We thought that it was time now to make a greater focus on our own packaging,” Rappaport said.
In addition to collecting packaging, Aveda, part of Estee Lauder Companies, plans to work with its recycler, G2 Revolution, to funnel recycled materials back to suppliers to be used in new Aveda packaging.
Making waste a resource
The recycling programs that Aveda and other personal care companies operate focus on the primary packaging of their products, such as the tubes, compacts and other containers directly used for makeup and other items, not the plastic or cardboard packaging.
While plastics labeled No. 1 and No. 2 are taken in most curbside and drop-off recycling programs, most cosmetics packaging is made with other types of plastic or mixed plastics that aren’t widely accepted. What’s more, general recycling programs don’t give people the means to recycle items such as makeup brushes.
G2 Revolution’s main purpose is to provide a way for companies to recycle packaging, products and other wastes whose final destination is a landfill.
“We try to turn things back into usable products,” said G2 CEO John Graham.
The company works one-on-one with clients to determine what items to collect and what can be done with them.
“We routinely achieve north of 92 percent recycling rates on the majority of our programs,” he said. Some products reach the high 90s, and many even hit 100 percent.
Bringing it all together
G2’s advantage, Graham said, is in serving as an aggregator, both by working with companies that have lots of locations and also by working with companies that have similar items they want taken.
A typical G2 partnership involves G2 sending pre-paid mailing boxes to a company’s stores with instructions on what goes in the box. Once it’s full, it’s sent to G2’s 200,000-square-foot processing center in Findlay, Ohio, where the contents are sorted out. Each box is weighed and each material recorded to provide clients with detailed measurements of how their programs are progressing. Materials are combined with like materials and eventually shipped out to be recycled by other companies.
In some cases, G2 works with a client to sell its recyclable materials to its suppliers so it can ensure its own products are turned into new ones.
G2 also does some recycling of its own. The company produces a line of cleaning products calledSecond Life, made using a mix of soaps, lotions and other cleaners that it collects. G2 has chemists at its processing plant that check each product’s ingredients and chemical composition to combine compatible ones into products with names such as Dumpster Deodorizer and Sloppy Joe All Purpose.
“It’s not overly complicated,” Graham said, “but there is a very finite path we take to each of these formulas.”
Graham noted that while some programs have a waste-to-energy component, or using incineration to produce energy, G2 uses that only as a last resort in certain cases, such as if a shipment is contaminated by a spilled drink or food.
“We are not a trash collector that picks through and picks recycled goods,” he said, adding that companies pay for the program based on the average weight of the boxes they send in. “Don’t waste your money sending us your garbage.”
Other recycling efforts in the industry
Although Aveda’s collection system is the newest program of its kind, it’s not the first.
All materials collected through the Return to Origins program are recycled, and any that can’t be are incinerated to produce energy. Since its start, the program has handled 34,000 pounds of packaging collected throughout the U.S., Canada, U.K. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
L’Oreal brands Garnier and Kiehl’s both recycle packaging through TerraCycle partnerships that end up with their materials — tubes, jars and more — upcycled into new products and items such as benches, waste bins and pump bottles. The Kiehl’s program has collected some 500,000 empty bottles since launching in 2009.
MAC, also an Estee Lauder brand, put a twist on packaging recycling by offering one free lipstick for every six packages — compacts, mascara, lipsticks tubes and the like — that customers turn in, either at a store or by mail.
Incentives are a central component to Lush‘s take-back program as well. Lush, known for selling products such as its Bath Bombs and shampoo bars without any packaging at all, collects the black pots in which items such as face masks and shower jellies are sold. Trading in five clean, empty black pots will net a customer a free face mask.
The pots collected in North America end up at recycling facilities in Vancouver and Toronto, where they are turned into paint containers or garden tiles. In the U.K., where the pots are originally produced, the used pots are sent to Lush’s packaging manufacturer where they are ground up and used to create new pots.
While Lush started recycling its pots in the U.S. in April 2011, stores always had taken the pots back, a tradition carried over when Lush expanded from the U.K., said Lush Green Officer Shama Alexander. But because the pots are made of No. 5 plastic, they aren’t commonly recycled.
“It occurred to me that the shops weren’t able to recycle them,” she said. “We already had an established takeback program, but weren’t dealing with managing the material side of it.”
Lush’s U.S. recycling plans look to expand with plans to start producing packaging within Canada and testing pots made with compostable material, Alexander said. If successful, the compostable pots can be returned to Lush and, just like in the U.K., turned back into new pots endlessly.
These kinds of moves from the industry likely will lead to cosmetics packaging getting green makeover after green makeover.
Date: July 2013