I was approached by a lovely year 12 student who was working on a school project about eco friendly commercial make up packaging. She asked me three questions and I found I had a lot to say about them. I am sharing the questions that were asked of me and my responses below. If you are interested in reducing plastic waste and revolutionizing the industry, this might be of interest to you.
1. What do you think is the most important aspect of sustainable packaging (e.g. reusable, recyclable, biodegradable) and how do you implement it into your current packaging solutions?
There is a lot of hype right now about switching from a single use economy to a circular economy where things are used more than once and reused into something new. This is contrary to the existing economic model where everything is single use and chucked out into the trash. Switching from a single use economy to a circular economy is not as simple as it is may seem. It possibly could take generations and a lot of education to switch peoples mindsets and get them to act differently. Humans in general do not like new things and we get caught in a psychological battle between fight and flight and usually end up frozen in indecision.
This would tie into the reusable mindset where consumers returned the packaging to be reused. Although there are some companies now rolling this out and implementing this, its possibly not the complete answer. Just for example the new company Zero Co has developed a business model around taking the plastic waste out of the ocean, creating "forever bottles" where they fill up the plastic bottles with reusable pouches that the consumer buys and fills up and sends back for them to be washed, refilled and purchased and used again. While this is a fantastic idea, and I personally have bought their products and use some of them in my home, there is still a problem with this.
The problem is that even someone like myself who is switched on to the idea of a circular economy, supports new start up companies with revolutionary ideas and tries to be as eco friendly as possible; I did not like some of their products. Some of them where, in my opinion, sub par quality and the fragrance load was too strong for my liking. Knowing what I know about formulation, I questioned the safety of them. I found myself torn between saving the Earth and buying the products that I enjoyed and had always bought - even if they are in single use plastic bottles. Ultimately, I use some of their products and some of the previous products I always had used.
This left me jaded when they launched their new line of personal care products. I found myself not trusting the quality and worried about the fragrance load of them. I never ended up ordering the new products. Not just because I could make them myself, but because of my previous experience with their products.
An easy remedy to this is to have more selection on the market, more companies implementing similar business models. This would work for myself as I could just go look elsewhere for another product to replace the one that I did not enjoy. I noticed recently that ecostore the New Zealand company (and one of my favorites) uses sugarcane to make their plastic bottles. They are 100% recyclable and they also have some aluminum bottle and bulk buy bottles (5 liters).
But again another problem - recycling. Recycling requires two things in order to be successful. The first is a responsible person to clean out the packaging and take it to a designated recycling depot. The second is then the recycling that has been collected has to actually be reused. This is the biggest problem because there are dirty secrets with recycling. Most of it gets shipped off out of developing countries, such as Australia and sent to developing countries, to literally be dumped on their shores.
For the reasons above, I prefer compostable packaging. There is a big difference between biodegradable and compostable and a lot of companies "green washing" the market with lies on their packaging, Thar is a topic for another blog post though.
Compostable packaging is a wonderful solution to the plastic problem. This is because it does not really require anything special. The consumer buys it, uses the product and throws it away. This time, instead of trashing the planet it simply dissolves back into it. It does not require a responsible person to take care of it, it really would not matter if someone threw one of my lip balm tubes into the trash, out the window of their car, or into their home compost. Ultimately it eventually will break down and become part of the soil again. Yes, you can argue that if it ends up in a plastic bag it will not compost as quickly or something to that effect but removing plastic bags is something that is being worked on and can easily be replaced with proper compostable rubbish bags.
Compostable packaging does not require a huge mind shift in the consumer and is, in my opinion, a quicker and easier transition to moving society as a whole to a more eco friendly lifestyle. I use compostable bags for my products where small plastic bags would have otherwise been used. Mostly for samples right now, but I have plans to evolve my wax melts from the plastic cases into the compostable bags.
This Christmas I created a plastic free advent calendar for wax melts with paper boxes, paper stickers and plant cellulose bags. I seal the bags with compostable tape as well.
I also use paper tubes for my lip balms and deodorants.
I have thought about switching the metal tins that I use for body butters and creams to compostable tubs. Possibly a goal for the future. I choose glass and metal whenever possible as this can be seen in the room sprays, facial serums, bath oils etc. that I make. I still battle with the tops of the bottles always being made of plastic in order to dispense the product.
I don't think everything that I make is perfectly zero waste but I keep trying to think of solutions. I want to try to innovate more products into something that can be made into a compostable package. It's tricky and takes a lot of daydreaming. I do a lot of thinking, meditating and have notebooks filled with ideas that have yet to become a reality. Baby steps, hardcore belief in myself and continually working on myself personally, is really how I turn an idea into a product. I take a lot of chances, do a lot of research, fail and try again. I don't know what or where the end goal is, but I am heading somewhere with innovating more compostable products.
2. Why do you think some consumers find sustainable packaging/products unappealing?
This is an interesting question. I have found the opposite to be true, For instance, when I have attended the market at the Karijini Experience this past April 2021 and the people saw my lip balms they were pleased, They remarked that they had not seen anything like it before and they all agreed that it was a great idea to have the compostable packaging rather than plastic tubes. I do have to educate them on how to open and use the tubes because it is different than what they are used to. None of them had a problem with this though and were happy to learn and use the lip balm. They loved it! I have run into problems with the packaging being a challenge for some people who are not used to how they work but I wouldn't say that they found it unappealing.
Mostly in my experience, it has been that I have had to educate the purchaser on the packaging, it is something new for them and new can sometimes be scary. They might wonder if the product will be good, if it will work, or how it will compare and measure up to something that is made in a conventional plastic packaging. To combat this, sometimes it just takes time to get the reviews so others can be confident in what they are purchasing. I offer satisfaction guarantee with the products that I make, welcome feedback and evolve as necessary.
3. What is the most difficult part of producing, packaging, and selling eco-friendly cosmetics?
Without a doubt the biggest challenge that I have is sourcing appropriate packaging for my products. There is a very limited amount of suppliers that make appropriate packaging that is eco friendly. Then I have to choose from what they have available that would be suitable for my products, or the products that I want to produce. It's really tricky to get an idea out of your head and into the physical when what is available to you is really limited.
I have done a lot of searching, took chances on suppliers and imported appropriate packaging into my headquarters. The prices are crazy expensive to buy a few tubes or get samples made and shipped to you. The cost of creating eco friendly products when you are in the development stage is not for the faint of heart, or for someone who is on a tight budget, trying to make a quick buck with a side hustle. You have to be in it for the long haul with your commitment on creating eco friendly products.
I would love to see a plastic free solution to the plastic tops that are required for pump bottles and atomisers. It's nearly impossible to get around this without completely changing the product. An example of this is with specific skincare products such as serums which require a glass bottle with a dropper cap. I would love to see a company innovate the plastic tops into something else. The same with the plastic atomiser tops on the glass bottles of the bug spray that I make. We need a material that can be moulded the same way as plastic can without it trashing the planet.
I have had developed a range of lip sticks that went horribly wrong last year. The formula did not at all work for the paper tubes, the tubes ended up absorbing all the oil in the formula and the product became dry, crumbly and just yuck. Put that same formula in a plastic tube or metal tin and its wonderful. I went back to the drawing board on the lipsticks and still have not released them back into the market yet. Add in the fact that consumers want a vegan product that does not contain chemicals, the heat of the summer in Australia and you have a massive challenge on your hands.
I love it though - it is a challenge I take on with pride. There are so many products I would have made if there was a way to package them without plastic. I have more plans and ideas and innovation swirling in my mind that are waiting to be manifested. We will have to wait and see where technology leads up as a species but I have great faith that we will succeed in changing our mindsets as consumers and switching to eco friendly products and un-trashing the planet. Perhaps I am an optimist but I would rather dream big dreams than succumb to the mediocre mess that we have in our current reality.