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Making Sustainability More Economically Viable

Alessandra Funcia

Type the name of almost any company in the beauty industry into your favorite search engine, add the word “sustainability” and you’ll likely find pages and pages of information about its commitment to the environment—saving energy, eliminating waste, reducing water consumption and so on. The commitments companies have made publicly are significant, and the world is watching: Environmental groups track their progress and are quick to point out shortcomings; consumers, many of whom are also trying to improve their environmental profile and reduce their carbon footprint, shift their allegiance to brands with compatible ideals; and shareholders watch carefully for signs of declining profitability.

In the end, environmental responsibility is just a part of the picture. To be successful, a product needs to stand out on store shelves and entice consumers to buy it at a price that ensures the brand owner will make a profit. That doesn’t mean, however, that the two objectives—responsibility and profitability—cannot go hand in hand. In fact, at least one major beauty brand has publicly stated its objective to double the size of its market while simultaneously reducing its environmental footprint by half.

One of the places where you find the most synergy for this relationship is in plastics packaging. There are several different ways beauty companies, beauty brand owners and beauty product developers can realize their environmental objectives, and looking at the total package—including materials, manufacturing efficiency, productivity, etc.—there is almost always a solid business case for sustainable choices. The following is a rundown of some of those sustainable choices.

Using Less Material

It is possible to produce a plastic bottle that uses up to 30% less plastic and yet, compared to a more conventional package, there would be no observable difference in appearance and performance. With less resin in the container, there is a reduction in feedstock consumed, and the package will weigh less. This translates to reduced handling costs and less fuel required to transport finished goods and less plastic going in to the waste stream. And the lighter weight package is just as recyclable as the standard container.

In addition to the environmental benefits, it is easy to see that the material cost per unit will be reduced, but that’s not all. The same technology makes the plastic easier to process, saving energy in production and increasing productivity. This makes it more economically viable. By helping to keep manufacturing costs down, it can make it possible for brand owners to expand market penetration and bring attractive, engaging products to consumers who may be less affluent than the brand’s typical customer.

A Choice of Forms

Plastic colors and additives are available in either solid or liquid form. While this might sound like something of importance only to the bottle producer, beauty companies should be interested in the significant sustainability and economic advantages the liquid form can provide in many applications.

For instance, with liquids’ colors, you often can achieve the desired look while reducing the amount of color used by 50% or more. This is especially true for translucent or transparent colors in clear polymers. You are actually using less color and, because liquids can be metered very precisely, there is less risk of oversaturating the color.

Also, when it comes time to change from one liquid color to another or from liquid color to solid, the switch can be made in less time than it takes to purge solid color from the processing machine, so less scrap is generated. Liquid masterbatches also can be formulated so they improve the flow of the polymer, resulting in faster processing, increased productivity, reduced energy consumption and lower overall manufacturing cost.

Options for Biopolymers

Interest in biopolymers continues to grow. These plastics are made from renewable resources such as corn, sugar, starch and other natural raw materials, instead of fossil fuels, so they have an attractive environmental profile.

When it comes to coloring biopolymers—and making packaging that is appealing to today’s consumers—there are several options available to maximize both their environmental profile and their economic viability. All-natural colorants, made from plants, insects and other natural sources, can provide a completely renewable and biodegradable solution. Other options use conventional (non-natural) colors and additives to provide a broader, more economical choice of colors and functionality, while still meeting important U.S. and European standards for compostability and ecotoxicity.

Using More Recycled Plastics

Many consumers prefer packaging made from postconsumer recycled (PCR) plastics, but it can often be difficult to achieve bright, attractive colors in these materials. Other plastics—especially PET, the polymer used in soda pop bottles and one of the most commonly recycled materials—can degrade when reprocessed, and lose important processing and in-use performance properties when that happens.

Fortunately, with newer color and special-effects technologies available, it is now possible to make PCR packaging more colorful so it is a good environmental choice that can compete effectively for the consumer’s attention on store shelves. For PET, additive technology can repair polymer chains that have broken due to degradation during recycling, so this relatively abundant recycled material can be used in higher-value applications, including beauty packaging. Interestingly, these same additives can also be used to improve the processing characteristics of biopolymers, so that they become more economically viable as well.

However, as attractive as these naturally derived and recycled plastics can be, you have to remember that they need to succeed in the real-world marketplace. They need to be economical to source and manufacture, and it must be possible to turn them into packaging that fulfills the promise of the brand and entices the consumer to buy your product again and again. Partnering with a packaging supplier with global experience, knowledge and premium services is ideal for brand owners and major packaging converters in new application research so that, together, you can make sustainability both responsible and profitable.

Alessandra Funcia is global head of segment packaging for Clariant Masterbatches in Muttenz, near Basel, Switzerland. A native of Brazil, she joined Clariant in 2001 and worked in the R&D and color matching lab in São Paulo. In 2004, she moved into regional key account management and was named head of segment packaging for Latin America in 2007. She became global key account manager in 2011 and transferred to Switzerland to assume her current position in January 2012. Her educational background includes a degree in chemistry from the Universidade de São Paulo and an executive MBA awarded by Fundação Dom Cabral. She also has completed postgraduate studies in finance and strategic marketing for packaging, and she is active in the Color Marketing Group.