Last October 28, together with several customers and partners, the Albéa Group announced they signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This represents a huge challenge, since the Group commits to making 100% of their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. They also intend to use 10% recycled plastic in their packaging by 2025, and undertake to implement measures to get rid of any unnecessary or possibly problematic plastic packaging, and to deploy packaging reuse systems, “where relevant”. Marketing, Innovation & CSR Director Gilles Swyngedauw made an update on this leap into a “plastic circular economy”.
Premium Beauty News – Could you explain the concept of plastic circular economy for novices?
Gilles Swyngedauw – The circular economy involves stopping to design, produce, and consume in a linear way, based on the I-take-I-use-I-throw-away model. It requires reusing and recycling as much as possible.
As regards industrial sites, we need to reduce our energy consumption, stop putting waste into landfill, and instead, recycle it as much as we can. Now, generally speaking, as far as packaging is concerned, the idea is to keep relying on eco-design and life cycle assessments to reduce our environmental impact. Today, we must go even further, by devising reusable and recyclable packaging and integrating recycled materials.
Plastic has been used in beauty packaging for decades: it is fantastic in many ways. Cosmetic plastic packaging can be produced in any shape, and it is lighter, cheaper, more efficient, more protective, and more easy-to-use than ever. There is constant progress in this field. Beauty packaging results in wonderful, functional, high-performing, high-quality products that preserve formulas on our bathroom shelves and can be carried with us in our handbags or on holidays. Today, our challenge is to make it sustainable and develop an efficient circular economy in the hygiene-beauty sector. It involves rethinking the value chain, taking into account our whole ecosystem, in order to enhance waste collection, sorting, and end-of-life recycling.
Premium Beauty News – That is a huge challenge, especially since consumers increasingly feel concerned about these issues!
Gilles Swyngedauw – Indeed, it is a very important challenge, and there is no time to lose. Transparency and responsibility have become conditions for consumers to make a purchase. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is no longer just a nice extra. Beyond the obvious advantages for society, is it profitable for companies to give priority to sustainable development: 90% of the people surveyed would be ready to change brands to favour those associated with a social or environmental cause. As a result, emphasizing the positive impact increases loyalty and trust, both on the part of consumers and employees.
Four years ago, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation started gathering companies and governments around a positive vision: a plastic circular economy. Today, the Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme join to speed up these dynamics, by launching the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. Albéa has signed it and is fully committed, of course!
Premium Beauty News – Where to begin?
Gilles Swyngedauw – Everyone knows that, since 2002, Albéa has placed sustainable development at the core of the company’s strategy: thanks to our expertise in eco-design and life cycle assessment, we have invented packaging with a lower environmental footprint, reduced the quantity of plastic used, developed recyclable packaging, and used recycled (PCR) and biosourced plastics. Today, we also want to proactively contribute to developing a high-performing circular economy in the hygiene-beauty sector. Obviously, for packaging to be recycled, it needs to be collected and sorted. And it is not that easy, because it is often made of “small” objects. So, we also use refillable solutions. As for plastic materials, we will obviously have to replace those that cannot be recycled in close collaboration with manufacturers.
Premium Beauty News – Can you give us a few concrete examples?
Gilles Swyngedauw – There are many. For example, you can hardly find anything lighter than our Slim Cap + Thin-Wall tube. Designed to be flat and compact with sharp lines, Slim (which is made of PP — polypropylene) is one of the lightest caps on the market. The total tube weight was reduced by 33%, compared to a standard cap and apron. It represents the equivalent of 8.8 tonnes of plastic saved for the production of one million Slim Cap + Thin Wall units, i.e. an emission reduction of 36 tonnes of CO2: that is 36 Paris/NYC round trips for one person. These tubes are perfectly recyclable by the existing PE/PP industry and contribute to the circular economy through the integration of PCR: Post-Consumer Recycled — plastic that has already had a first life.
As a reminder, the PCR plastic used in our tubes is based on drink or milk bottle packs used and upgraded by households through the recycling industry. Every year, Albéa produces about 33 million PCR tubes that are fully recyclable by the existing plastic collection industry. For example, our foam pumps also contain PCR now, thanks to the development of a solution comprising 100% PCR plastic in the cap, neck, and pushbutton.
Since 2010, we have also offered tubes and bottles made of biosourced plastic. These plastics are based on sugar cane from Brazil, which absorbs a high quantity of CO2 as it grows. As a result, producing one kilogram of biosourced PE absorbs a total of 3.09 kg of CO2. The carbon footprint related to the manufacturing of biosourced plastics is 76% lower than that of a standard plastic tube.
Here is another example in the field of perfume: Spiral, our refillable pump, can be unscrewed to make the bottle both refillable and recyclable. Its carbon footprint is reduced by 21%, compared to standard metal screw-pumps.
Lastly, My Style Bag is designed in one piece made from a single material (PP), which makes it considerably easier to recycle. These palettes use about 30% less plastic than conventional palettes and feature a more convenient opening/closing system, thanks to a flexible hinge. My Style Bag can accommodate pressed and poured formulas, as well as makeup accessories. The arrangement of its containers is fully customizable.
We will soon have many other examples to give: our R&D services are on a war footing and new materials are about to appear. And of course, beyond mere products, we implement new partnerships with the recycling industry, both in Europe and Indonesia, where there can be a lack of collection facilities.
Premium Beauty News – Figures just show we could not go on like this!
Gilles Swyngedauw – Absolutely, and as I showed you, the Albéa Group has been aware of it for a long time. We have been acting for environmental preservation in many concrete ways. Plastic consumption is booming all around the world as demographics, urbanization, and access to consumer goods grow — and packaging is obviously part of it. We cannot but take action.
Premium Beauty News – What is the next step for Albéa?
Gilles Swyngedauw – We have just conducted a materiality study of our teams and external stakeholders, customers, suppliers, investors, and partners. The objective is to identify “material” environmental and societal issues that everyone considers a priority for the years to come. This assessment will help us update our CSR roadmap. We will structure programmes, define objectives, measure progress… and openly communicate about them with an extra-financial report focused on CSR.
To me, the change in consumers, companies, and governments as regards the circular economy goes with a fundamental change in our approach: it is crucial to work together, rethink the whole value chain, act out of our own scope of activity, share information and ambitions, but also constraints, think together, and co-imagine solutions. The materiality study and the CSR report illustrate this new reality. It is a huge challenge, and we are all concerned by these issues, as employees, citizens, and parents. I strongly believe we will succeed if we work together.
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